Progress Roundup Autumn 2010

It’s been a very busy autumn. A number of you have been asking me to update the blog, but I’ve been so busy I’ve hardly found the time to add new pics to the slideshow. Lucky for you I’m having a sleepless night.

Here we are nearly a year and a half after the fire. Our insurance guy asked me why it’s taking so long. The only answer that came to mind was that we didn’t start soon enough. That, and: everything with construction in Juneau takes longer than anyone plans, especially after a fire. Early on we had to make changes when discrepancies between the plans and reality were found. Renewing our permit at the end of the summer cost a couple weeks. The windows took three months instead of three weeks. The cedar shingle siding wasn’t in stock and didn’t make it here until late October. The roofer we wanted fell through (not literally) and we had to make adjustments. The Alaskan wind blew and weather changed more than a few plans. The electrical and plumbing took two months longer than estimated, pushing the insulation back, which pushes the drywall back, which… you get the picture.

Nevertheless, we’ve a variety of initiatives moving forward independently or in concert and our impatience towards an end product is not for lack of activity. Here’s a breakdown of what we’ve been up to the last few months.

The Windows

As I mentioned, the windows took a lot longer to get ordered and shipped than we planned. Most of this was due to the back and forth between us, our builder, and the company in Colorado. We opted for Serious fiberglass windows which are generally higher performing than your typical vinyl windows. We also didn’t go off the shelf but instead created a custom grille pattern to match as closely as possible the windows on the original house. The picture above shows the windows from the inside, with some holiday lights we tossed up for a little inspiration.

Painting the Siding

The side and back of the house (not visible from the street) are now covered with pink Hardie panel, which is an easy to install, flame retardant cement board. Once all the Hardie was painted, Laura and her awesome crew of volunteer painters (thank you Claudia Wakefield, Sarah Bosma, Cynthia Eckert, Angela Noon, Jill Taylor, Jay Donig, Jorden Nigro, Claire Fordyce) went to work on all the trim and cedar siding. For the cedar, first step is to prime it with a most noxious substance: Killz. This oil based primer will give you a prolonged head rush if you don’t wear a ventilator. We were lucky enough to be loaned warehouse space for painting. But as with all good things, they can’t last forever, and neither did our painting place, which we had to vacate shortly before Thanksgiving. So now we’ve got a *lot* of primed shingles sitting in our basement waiting until we can turn them pink.

Many of you have asked if the new house will be pink. And the answer is: yes, mostly. We’re using the same main pink color as previously, with the same blue trim color. We’re adding additional trim including a belly band. Below the blue band we’ll be using long cedar boards instead of shingles, and as you can see from the picture below, they’ll be a darker shade of pink.

cedar boards painted a darker shade of pink

If you’re hoping to get some of your painting groove on with us, do not despair. There are still tons of shingles to paint pink and the whole interior of the house to paint. So let us know if you want to get on the helpers list.

Finishing the Electrical

A couple months ago I took a crash course in residential wiring from my brother-in-law, and I’ve used my newfound knowledge to forge ahead and wire the whole house myself. This endeavor culminated with my successfully wiring both my electrical panels and getting a yellow tag from the city inspector which allowed the power company to switch us over to permanent power.

finished electrical panels

Our original wiring quote was $23,000. Less materials and pizza for helpers we saved over $10,000 by doing it it ourselves. I had help, so thank you Simon Taylor, Joe Hosey, Markus Beckman, Colin Osterhout, Jay Donig, Bret Connell. Also thank you Alcan Electric whom I hired to install the meter base. There is no need to mention the unquantified costs like all my time, frustration, or the 6 stitches in my left index finger. I learned a ridiculous amount and now know enough to NOT be dangerous (which is important when working with electricity).

During the process we also dug a 30ft ditch on the property so that the electrical and all utilities can travel underground. This means the house has no aerial wires attached to it and the power company’s meter base is out of the way on the back of the house.

Finishing the Plumbing

Learning the electrical had me plenty busy, thank you very much, so we’ve paid to have the plumbing done. This included the installation of all tubes for water (including the radiant heating ones), plus the propane piping for the fireplace and oven. Below you can see some of the drain plumbing and all the tubes for the radiant zones where one day (hopefully soon!) a manifold will be mounted.

drain pipes and radiant zones tubing

Larry, Alden and the team at Harbor Plumbing are graciously giving us a $500 donation. They’re also great to work with. Maybe it’s the fact that this is a large project and I’ve only previously hired plumbers for one-off tasks, but it’s nice to have a relationship with professionals like this who really know what they’re doing. The main guy on our project is Alden, and he breaks the stereotype. Contrary to cursory assumption he isn’t afraid to let his emotions show, as he did when he came in to finish a task and found some of my electrical wire run through one of the holes he’d drilled. He’s also strangely intuitive. When I called him up to ask for a training in how to join two pieces of the radiant heat tubing together, he said: “which one did you accidentally cut?”

Once more of the finish work is done we’ll add hydronic baseboards in the basement and an electric boiler to drive it all. The electric boiler looks very promising on paper, we’ve heard great things, and are looking forward to a house with no oil tank.

One interesting plumbing decision we made (contrary to current standard industry practice) was to use copper pipe for cold drinking water to the kitchen faucet instead of the easier, cheaper, more plastic PEX tubing.


I’ll be writing a separate post about this, but once the wires and tubes were all in place, we went through and sprayed expanding foam into every nook and cranny. It’s great for insulation and sound proofing, but not so great when you need to run wire or pipe through it. In the pic below you can see the coax wires I installed at the last minute, after the insulation was in. Luckily there was enough room to sneak them in without having to cut out any of the foam.

spray foam insulated ceiling with coax wires

Ordering Tons of Stuff

We’ve been selecting appliances for a long time, adding them to a spreadsheet with purchase links, details, etc. We decided to get everything from Sears since we’ve had great experience in the past with their small local shop. They don’t carry everything, but can order anything off the website and we don’t have to pay extra for shipping. They also have a lot of sales.

So, one fateful evening we brought our list to them and sat for a couple hours getting everything ordered. It was a one day sale, 15% off certain items of ours that qualified. We also got a discount on all Kenmore items. By using a Sears card we got further discount on some items. And the pièce de résistance was getting the senior’s discount by bringing Laura’s mother with us. All told we came in under our appliance budget and have two refrigerators, oven/range, microwave, range hood, and washer/dryer en route.

We’ve also been painstakingly discovering the specs, selecting, and placing or beginning to place orders for all kinds of other household necessities like kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanities, flooring, countertops, doors, two bathtubs, sinks, and light fixtures.


Ahh, the dreaded budget. It’s quite simple when you look at it without all the zeros, or without all the nitty gritty receipts. Or as if it were Monopoly money.

The gist of it is that with our insurance coverage + our savings and PFDs + donations from last summer + the change from between our couch cushions we’re about $60-$75k short. Originally we were shooting (hoping) for total costs to land around $220k, but as these things go we’re looking at actual expense of around $300k. That includes contracted work plus all the labor done by ourselves and our lovely volunteers.

We’re talking with our bank about making up the difference through a “cash-out refinance”, which means we would refinance our current mortgage into a new mortgage with the extra chunk of change added in. For this to work the house has to appraise at considerably more than the original one, which we’re hoping will be the case since it’s new construction, in a great location, super energy efficient, modern amenities, etc. We figure, if we come out of this with a gently increased mortgage payment, with a longer term, and a brand new (albeit empty) two bedroom house with large basement, that we’ll be off to a good start.

Sometimes I have these fanciful thoughts of what life would be like had we been insured for a proper amount: $500k. This past year and a half would not have been nearly as stressful and draining. Instead of spending all our evenings and weekends working on the house while our daughter is at playdates, we’d have been able to hire an interior designer, a project coordinator, or whoever else is required to make it so that all we have to do is sit back and select colors and answer questions. Alas, if wishes were horses…

Currently In Progress? Drywall

I have hired the drywall master, Doug Stiner, who is a machine. He will drywall anything. If I didn’t tell him to stop at the front door, he’d be drywalling the tree, bushes, and car in the driveway. There’s a lot of “rock” to “hang” in the house, both on the walls and the “lid” (no they don’t call it a ceiling). We’re also using the thicker 5/8″ instead of 1/2″ in a few places, just because thicker is better (or because I ordered the wrong stuff, you decide). Here’s a pic of Meadow and I in our mostly drywalled living room:

dad and meadow in the freshly drywalled living room

What’s Next / Timeline

Next in line: finishing the drywall, getting the boiler installed so we can have proper heat, mudding and taping, painting, installing cabinetry and major appliances, flooring, and then all the trimming out and fixtures.

We’re desperate to be in our house months ago, and have now grown accustomed to the reality that projects like this take longer, and continue to take longer than anyone plans. As such, our new hopes reside on moving in by the end of January, as do those of our insurance company, which is tired of paying our rent.

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