Jun 182017
 

**WARNING — this post contains graphic details of home medical treatment. Squeamish people may want to skip this one.

Have you ever hit your thumb with a hammer?

Have you ever hit your thumb with a screw gun (you know, a drill with a screw bit on it for screwing in screws)?

Until this month I could say that throughout this whole Hammond Forever House renovation I had done neither.

Now I have done both. And I have some advice (brace yourself).

If you see blood under your nail, you’re probably going to have to puncture the nail somehow to let the blood out and relieve the pressure. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.

Sometimes photos get flipped for some reason, so I don’t know if you are seeing this right side up or upside down. The thumb with the single red dot is my left, the one with the more impressive blood-under-the-nail effect is my right.

About a month ago I was squeezing a stud with my right hand against another stud so that when I screwed them together with my left hand they would fit nice and snug. (Okay, I know that sounds dirty but I’m talking about the vertical 2X4s that are in the wall, not the other kind of stud. Please note that I was doing this to reinforce the wall where the glass of the new shower wall is going to attach, so I could have added, “in the shower” but I didn’t. You can thank me now.)

Anyway, I was pushing hard on the screw gun and it slipped and the bit jammed into my right thumb. If you have ever done this, you’ll know that it really hurts.

Fortunately, the kids were home so I could go downstairs and grump at them for not doing chores while I put ice on my thumb and felt stupid. Neither action really made me feel better and by the time Leanne came home, I had decided that I would need to puncture my nail to relieve the pressure.

The screw bit had hit high up on the nail, just under the cuticle, so it wasn’t too hard to push a sewing needle through. We sterilized a needle with a match, Leanne held my iced thumb steady and I pushed the needle with a thimble. A drop of blood formed and we knew we had gotten through. After the pain of the “operation” had subsided, I knew I had done the right thing because the pain caused by the trapped blood was much less.

It didn’t look nice though, with a large blood stain under the nail. People said my nail would “die”, but it didn’t. A couple of weeks later–you can see in the photo–fresh nail was growing out and the top surface was flaking off, revealing new nail underneath.

That’s when I smacked my other thumb with a hammer.

I was putting finishing nails in the tongue-in-groove ceiling on the top floor (photos in a future post). Just a light tap and I instantly felt like the stupidest guy in the world. I could see the little spot of blood under the nail.

“Here we go again.”

This time I thought I could ice it fast enough that I wouldn’t need to puncture the nail. We even took some time out when Leanne got home to have a picnic at a local playground until I realised that another home operation was unavoidable. It was hurting too much. The kids were upset, but we went home.

I went straight to the bathroom with the sewing kit as before, but this broken blood vessel was under harder nail than last time. I couldn’t force the needle through and it was painful to push so hard.

So I did what you would do and got the drill.

I have a really nice tiny drill bit that would have been perfect, but my cordless drill can’t grip it. It’s too small. So I had to use a slightly larger bit–still very small, but…

This time I didn’t ask Leanne for help. Nobody came in the bathroom until I made that little macho pain sound. It’s kind of a grunt, like a cross between “Oh!” and “Ugh!”.

Then Leanne and our daughter came in and saw the drill on the counter with a drill bit, blackened from the match, with blood on the tip and nice little balloon of blood sitting on my thumb nail.

“Wow.” said my daughter.

“Your dad is a badass.” said Leanne.

The moral of the story can be gleaned from the photo. My left thumb is healing nicely with a small hole in it. My right thumb is also healing but it looks like a nightmare. I don’t think the needle hole allowed enough blood to escape. Next time I’m just going to get the drill right away.

“Or,” my daughter said, “you could quit hitting your thumbs!”

Feb 212017
 

When I finally have time to clear Leanne’s computer enough to download all the photos and videos I’ve been taking for the last six months, half of the posts are going to be gratitude posts.

There are so many individuals, companies and tradespeople who have been so generous with their time, labour and expertise that it is overwhelming, but I want to do them justice and give each of them a gorgeous, sloppy thank you post full of photos and video of their awesomeness.

While we wait for that day to arrive, here is a short time-lapse video that I took on my iPhone.

That is the brand new Master Bathroom and I am stapling down radiant heating pipes to the subfloor. The space on the right side with no pipe is where the bathroom vanity and sinks are now. We don’t need heat there. At the bottom of the screen is the border where the floor starts to slope down toward the shower drain.

The next step was to cover the pipes with sand mixed with cement and then tile it.

The result is a heavenly warm floor underfoot in the bathroom. The thermostat calls for heat, and hot water circulates through the pipes. The concrete and tile serves as a thermal mass, spreading the heat out evenly and retaining it for hours.

These days, if you can’t find the cat, she is probably lolling on this floor like a rug.

On the topic of gratitude, there is a lot to pack into this 17-second video.

Thank you to Richard of Meadow Ridge Plumbing and Gas who let me borrow his modified nail-gun, supplied the radiant pipe and staples and taught me what to do. He and his company have done all our plumbing and heating, but also helped us save money by showing us how to do some of the most tedious tasks ourselves.

Thank you also to Ron, our neighbour and tile expert. He convinced me to put the pipes into the floor, (“I can’t see why you wouldn’t”) and we are so glad we did. He also helped us with the next steps, including installing the beautiful tile floor.

There will be more sloppy blog kisses for Ron and Richard in the future.

Thank you to everyone else who has pitched in, too! You are not forgotten. Do not worry. You will get your kisses.

Feb 102017
 

About this time last year, Leanne and I were stressed out and I was trying to

Keep Calm

&

Blog Positively

After three weeks of trying to get our contractor to give us a reasonable answer as to why our invoice was higher than their quote with the project nowhere near finished, they had up and left.

I wrote a rambling post which saying that we were going through a rough patch, but stopped short of pointing fingers.

Buried at the end of the post was this video with little context. Let me give you a little context now.

For three weeks in rainy January our contractor pressured us to pay their invoice while their crew continued to work. They had us over a barrel. The house had no roof so if they stopped working, what would we do? Over three meetings with their management (but not the owner) we paid them a further $35,000 in the hopes that we could work something out.

This photo might be upside down on mobile devices–sorry!

On January 26th, they packed up and left.

On that day, we took the first part of the video in which you can see how badly the make-shift plastic cover was working. Leaks were coming through the plywood “roof” and making their way into the heritage interior.

Our contractor warned us that hiring another roofer was a breach of our contract, which, it turns out, was BS. Was it a scam pure and simple? Did the contractor deliberately send the invoice through the roof right when we didn’t have one?

Whatever the case, we’re stubborn and don’t like feeling bullied so we set about finding a good roofer (which you can read about here).

That’s when the wind storm happened.

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Living next door in the Little Yellow House, we were sometimes woken by the sound of the great plastic sheets blowing in the wind. Our nightmare was that the cover would be blown clean off one night.

And it almost did. Two nights after being left in the lurch, on January 28th, while the kids slept blissfully on, Leanne and I woke up to wind, rain and plastic blowing free.

We ran over to Hammond Forever House and wrestled to get protection back on the house for over an hour. I was clambering all over the slick plywood surface in the dark while wind blew plastic in my face. Leanne worked below to fasten the ends that I handed down to her. We would secure one corner and move to another and then discover that the first one had come undone again.

Listen to my voice in the video. Listen to how difficult it is for me not to curse our contractor’s name. How reserved I was. How deep was my anger. We must take comfort that it was only wind and rain and not the 25 cm of snow and freezing rain that we are getting now, one year later!

Is this normal for the home renovation industry? You can share your experience in the comments if you like. I would love to know.

Feb 082017
 

I wish I could show you a photo of the house today. It is buried in snow. Unfortunately, Leanne’s computer is still too full and I can’t download the photos from the camera yet.

This photo from New Year’s 2017 will have to suffice.

January 1st, 2017 at 12:43 am.

We thought this was a lot of snow. (Ha!) Besides less snow, the other thing that is different in this photo is all the lights are on.

Over the past weekend, due to heavy snow breaking branches, we have had 6 separate power outages.

They are not the most relaxing events, but the kids love a good black-out. We light candles and revel in the adventure. “I love Earth-hour!” says my daughter.

Beneath the fun of it lies my worry that the decisions we have made on the house leave us vulnerable to power outages. Specifically, back-up power.

I have this insecurity that there is a silent mass of onlookers waiting for us to fail. “Let’s see how this ‘Forever House’ handles a power outage” they say in my head. “Bet they wish they had a gas generator!”

Well, I must admit it was a bit shaky, but we did okay and I remind myself that we’re not done yet.

Surprising to many, my master plan calls for no fossil fuels and no wood-burning. I want to keep the brick fireplace but insert an electric fire that looks good and gives a little heat. When the power went out, however, it was very comforting to be able to light a fire. It reminded us of the winter of 2014 when we challenged ourselves to live without buying more fuel oil and so we relied on wood and a little electric heat.

Leanne wants to keep the fire, but we don’t have to decide now, because we have a lot of other things to do before we come to that.

The fact is, we moved in before the house was done. I am not finished insulating and sealing the basement and top floor. The root cellar door is not sealed and insulated as well as we plan to. I’d also like to re-apply the weather-stripping to the windows, seal up the stained-glass transom lights in the front rooms, and improve the front door.

All this insulation and sealing is key, because we are counting on it to keep our heating bills down.

At the moment, our heat is supplied by the same water heater that used to heat our tap water before the renovation. Hot water is pumped through pipes stapled to the underside of the main floor and it warms the floor above.

Heating water with electricity is 100% efficient, but it is expensive, so I have been steadily trying to finish insulating wherever I haven’t reached yet.

The first time the power went out for more than an hour, I was anxious that putting our eggs in the electricity basket had been unwise. However, we noticed that the house did not cool very quickly. The insulation we had done so far was having an effect. It was the front rooms with their thinner walls and heritage windows that cooled the fastest and that’s where the fireplace was.

I also noticed that the bathroom floor, where the water heating pipes are embedded in concrete just below the tile, stayed warm for two hours or so. I realized that one great advantage to heating with underfloor hydronic pipes is that once the water is warm, it continues giving off heat for some time.

Once the house is finished, we will be able to last a long time without feeling the chill, but maybe you still think we need a back-up source of heat for longer emergencies. They tell you to be prepared for 72 hours without assistance.

My answer to that is my father-in-law Dave’s idea which he has helped us implement: the Toyota Prius as back-up generator. Read more about how we’re doing that here. When the wiring to the garage is complete, we can use the Prius or any other hybrid or electric car to power important stuff in the house like the fridge.

A more obvious solution is a large storage battery like Tesla’s Wall. Charge it in the daytime with solar panels and charge your car from the battery at night. If there is not enough to completely charge the car, BC Hydro will tip it up.

Incidentally, this is the same principal we hope to implement with the solar hot water panels someone handed down to us: heat a large tank of water in the heat of the day and use it (or simply let it warm the basement) in the evening.

It seems I have to get used to the idea that the house will be completed bit by bit. There will probably not be a ribbon-cutting ceremony. That fantasy of moving back in with all systems working perfectly is just that, a fantasy.

Meanwhile, it looks like it will be sunny tomorrow so the kids will go back to school. Then, later in the day, another winter storm is expected. At least now we know we can handle it.

Oops, we’re a little low on dry firewood…

Anybody got some?

 

 

 

Feb 012017
 

Leanne, our two kids and I snuggle together in the living room of Hammond Forever House. The wood-burning insert is blowing heat over us as we cherish our togetherness in our incomplete home.

Outside and to the south, America continues on its troubled path.

Protests and confusion at airports, state, city and foreign national governments condemning his #Muslimban, and Donald Trump says, “it’s working out very nicely.”

It’s a technique straight out of 1984.

As surreal and frightening as Trump’s double-speak is, I can’t say it is unfamiliar. There are definite comparisons to be made with our former contractor.

I mean, I spent a lot of time itemizing problems with our project and questions about the invoice and earnestly presenting them. Then came the professional opinions of other trades, city inspectors and, most importantly, our structural engineer.

I think our contractor’s response can be summarized, aside from “just pay the damn invoice already”, in this paragraph from one of his emails:

[My company] is a well respected contractor and because you didn’t like [the Site Supervisor who was fired for incompetence] and blamed me doesn’t change how we build. You have a very well built house.

This from the owner of the company who was hardly ever on site.

In other news, Trump just confirmed that he will never release his tax returns. That sounds familiar, too.

On June 9th, 2016, I sent another email:

We haven’t heard from you in a while regarding our request for copies of all invoices for materials and wage records (pay slips) for labour which [your company] has listed on their invoices as well as a list of all employees who have worked on our project, their titles and their professional credentials. You promised to provide these on April 1st, 2016.
As part of that list, I would really like your clarification on the $11,141.62 that you have invoiced under “[Company Name]”. We learned last week that you are this company and we would like to know what service [Company Name] provided on our project.

It’s not like I expected a real answer, but this was the response:

You can contact GVHBA, Bbb all these places to try to pull down our reputation and if you can live with your lies and sleep at night great.

Yes, my facts are lies and asking for information is not even worth a response.

Finally, just as you would expect to be sued by Trump if you stood up to him, so we are being sued.

We are being sued for “breach of contract” because, apparently, the contractor did a fantastic job, the contract is clear as a bell, the invoices are 100% legit and all our questions and concerns are unreasonable.

Are you starting to see one of the biggest barriers facing people who want to preserve and retrofit their homes instead of bull-dozing them?

That’s right, the barrier I’m talking about is an unregulated and unaccountable home renovation industry. The many good companies are too busy, and the bad ones are, well, bad. More on that another time.

PS: I’m trying to ease back into blogging after our big push to get back into the house for Christmas dinner, but my most recent photos are trapped on the camera until I free up space on the one computer in the house that really works: Leanne’s laptop.

Fear not, I have much to show you so stay tuned!

Nov 182016
 

Dear Readers,img_2674

Hammond Forever House set out not to show people how to retrofit a house (We’ve never done it before!). No. The goal here is to go through it and find out why nobody except rich people are doing this.

Along the way, I wanted to share what we were learning as we learned it. Unfortunately, although I learned a lot and I have a lot to say, blogging daily, weekly or even monthly has proved impossible while we’re in the middle of it.

But don’t worry, I’m taking a tonne of photos and video and once we’re back in the house, I’m going to start from the beginning and give you all the details and share all the hard-won lessons.

Oct 012016
 

Ever since the spray foam was…installed? Is that the word? Sprayed? Anyway, ever since then, we have been working flat out roughing in electrical, building interior walls, building the basement stairs, putting a skin on the outside of the house and on and on.

imageIn the mornings I am back at ISSofBC teaching English to new immigrants and in the afternoons I pick up the kids and work on the house. I’m so busy I haven’t had time to share some significant events with you: the spray foam installation, the stairs, presenting at our MP’s townhall on Climate Change, to name just a few.

We’re finally nailing down the details of how we will heat our house–with water, as it turns out–and I remembered from my experience putting hydronic please pipes in the basement slab, that the City will probably want a heat-loss calculation done. That will show how much heat will be lost from each room of the house to ensure that the system we put in will meet that need.image

A Heath-loss calculation is not something I can do, so I asked Richard from Meadowridge Plumbing to get one done.

I think that these calculations are usually done assuming standard insulation values and I didn’t want that. We’re going far beyond the minimum in some places and if we use standard values it might mean installing a heating system far bigger than we need. For example, minimum wall insulation in Maple Ridge is only R20 and there will be R50 in some of our walls.

I thought it would help if I marked how much insulation will be in the walls and ceiling on a plan. Here’s what I came up with.

On the top floor, the spray foam gave a minimum of R28 to all the ceiling space. Wherever I can I will add more batt insulation below that. The number will vary based on the size of cavity–those attic spaces are triangular.

image

On the main floor the R-values vary in the roof spaces again and you can see that the front two rooms of the house will remain at R14 because we cannot add insulation in those walls due to heritage considerations.

image

Check out my previous videos to get an idea of what’s going on in the basement. It’s a little confusing from the drawing…

image

PS I always imagined this blog could be a play-by-play of our project as it proceeded but it looks like I will have to tell much of the story in detail later in retrospect. The story is complex and sometimes requires careful wording which takes time. Every moment I am not working on the house keeps my family out of our home for longer, so please accept my apologies if I paint an incomplete picture.

All will be revealed, I promise.

 

Aug 192016
 

On the same day I took the video of the basement insulation, I took this shorter one.

We’ve had two days of Element Spray Foam parking their trailer in the back yard and running their hoses into the house to coat the ceilings with upside-down snow drifts.

Can’t wait to share some of that video.

In the meantime, I wanted to show you what the back deck, sunroom, kitchen, bathroom and pantry looked like before the foam changed everything.

Enjoy!

Aug 172016
 

The kids are at summer camp this week so I’m tiring myself out working on the house.

Soon these walls will be 6 inches thicker

Soon these walls will be 6 inches thicker

Tomorrow Element Spray Foam is coming to insulate the house! It has been a lot of work to get ready for this day and I haven’t had time to write.

That’s why I thought I would shoot a video for you.

In it I show you around the basement and explain where the spray foam will go and how we’re insulating the walls down there.

I also demonstrate how tired I am!

Please remember that I am not an expert so if you are interested in doing something like this, make sure you get professional advice before you proceed!

Aug 102016
 

On the landing of the stairs heading to and from the kids bedrooms on the top floor is a vent. It looks like this.

The landing

The landing

Air vent on the landing

Air vent on the landing

It used to be connected the forced air furnace and it would blow warm air up the staircase. I suppose because there was no cold air return and the air already up there had no easy way to get down, the heat never seemed to reach the bedrooms.

We have pondered what to do with it. Could it be a laundry chute, a ventilation duct, or a cat passage?

Well, it turns out that because we are making the basement walls so thick, it can’t really be used to access the basement.

Looking up from the basement you can see the cupboard.

Looking up from the basement you can see the cupboard.

What about the cupboard under the stairs? Could it be a storage hatch?

No, the cupboard under the landing must be destroyed to make way for greater headroom as people use the staircase below.

It’s a little sad to destroy a hand-made piece of history, but the BC Building code gives us no choice.

The duct is boxed in through the cupboard to reach the basement ceiling. You can see where the spray foam insulation bust through from the outer wall. That’s why they used half-pound insulation instead of 2-pound insulation (which is what is going into our roof this week!); the denser foam would have busted these old walls apart.

The duct traveling through the cupboard

The duct traveling through the cupboard

There was no way to remove the duct intact, so I broke it out.

With the duct gone it looks like this.

With the duct gone it looks like this.

From the basement looking up at the ceiling, it looks like this:
DSC04358
Now we have a square hole in the landing that leads nowhere. What should we do with it?

We haven’t decided yet, but knowing me, it will probably have something to do with insulation!