Archives for the month of: October, 2010

A few months ago Matt gave me a call, asking whether I could check my e-mail.

“Well, sort of, but I’m walking down the street to have lunch with K.”

“Are you sure you can’t look now?”

“Well, I can look on my phone. What’s up?”

“Just something I’d like you to check out, and I think you’ll like.”

Matt’s surprise was a series of wireframe renderings he had put together (in fact I think his intern did these, but whatever). Looking at the renderings on an iPhone didn’t do them justice, although that didn’t stop us from huddling around my phone for an hour over lunch.

One dimensional floorplans and elevations are great. K and I are pretty good at interpreting architectural drawings–at envisioning how things will look when they’re built. Still, there’s no replacement for perspective drawings.

After all, we can all use a little perspective in our lives.

Check the title. The first 60. And yes, this means the first 60 yards of concrete. That’s a lot of concrete.

Last week I mentioned that I had blocked out how much concrete we’d use in this project. Well, I can’t avoid it anymore. So for those readers that relate to yards of concrete, and judging by the number of visitors coming here from the link on Build blog (thanks Andrew!), many of you will, we’ll use 325 yards of concrete. That’s a buttload (technical term) of concrete.

Misha and his merry band, with Carrie’s oversight, made tremendous progress today. And they worked very, very hard. I stopped by after work this evening, around 6, and Misha was still at it, and visibly more tired than at noon. I included a couple of pics of Misha today. Hard work, but good morale.

Carrie’s dog, Sambuca, was the only sad looking one on site, clearly unhappy that she was stuck on a leash while everyone else scrambled around.

Overall everything went well, although I was greeted by Carrie with the quote of the day: “Hi. So they had to bring the biggest pump truck they had to get a boom long enough, so we pretty much blew through our entire pump truck budget during the first pour.”  Not good, but not disasterous in the big scheme of things.

Up next are the rest of the house walls, then it’s on to the big-boy retaining walls next week. Good fun.

Lots of pics today. Enjoy.

We didn’t realize how heavily waiting for the permit was weighing on us. But we definitely felt a lift today when we finally got the good news. It almost felt good to write the check to the county. Two checks, actually–one for the permit and one for our septic field.

So our forms are schedule for inspection Tuesday, and our first of a few concrete pours will happen Wednesday. Good timing in a way, though. It rained all day Monday. It’s supposed to rain all day Tuesday. Then Wednesday the weather is (in theroy) supposed to clear up.

In any case, I think Misha and Carrie are excited to fill the giant forms. There are a couple of other pictures here too. One of K & L climbing on the rock. And another of Sacha rubbing in turkey poo. At least she didn’t eat it. This time. Dogs…


The past week or so has been a bit stressful. There’s been a ton of engineering coordination, like I referenced last week, and this has impacted the work that was happening on site. All is well–and we needed to break ground if we want to get dried in by winter–but it was certainly time consuming.

But all stress aside, some very cool details were finalized last week. One of the items K and I are most excited about is how the brackets and posts that support the roof have come together. I know, this is a nerdy thing, but they’re going to be stunning.

I’ve included a couple of screenshots below, but we have two types of support systems. The “y” columns are made from douglas fir glulams, and lean back at a 5 degree angle (roughly) so they meet a pair of bigger glulams that then support the roof. You can see this in the image from this post.

There are some very trick, but simple, details in this system.

Our friendly engineers insisted on upping the amount of steel in the brackets. This is because we have a 5,000+ s.f. roof, coverering a 2,200 s.f. house and 600 s.f. garage. It’s a big roof, and it faces a windy meadow. So there’s a lot going on with the roof in terms of load. Eastern Washington also gets a lot of snow, so there’s that, too.

Back to the brackets. You’ll see this in the picture, but we’ll have  1/2 inch steel plate mortised into the wood. This plate then extends, like meat in a sandwich, between two 16 inch tall glulam beams. The reveal–the gap the steel will create between the two beams–is going to be pretty trick. Check out the “Point House” image below, which shows a nice reveal detail. Then at the base, a similarly beefy bracket will get bolted to a separate “marriage” bracket that supports the bottom of the “y” column.

Originally this was going to be a much lighter look. But the heavily articulated robocopness (yes, I just made up a word) will be cool too. And I think we’re going to galvanize the steel, which should lighten things up visually.

The other brackets are much more subtle. Steel pipe that shares a similar kind of bracket detail, but it’s much simpler.

Combined, the two styles of posts and brackets will create a pleasing contrast, I think.

There’s also an upside to Matt’s design when it comes to making the brackets. Our friend Smitty, or Sean Smith, is fabricating these for us. But because the bracket system is primarily made of of individual pieces of steel, most of the “work” will be done by a CNC laser cutter. This makes things fast and relatively inexpensive.

I realize it’s been a week since we last posted. There’s good stuff to show–progress on site–but mostly we’ve been busy waiting for our building permit. We’re building the house from SIPS, or structural insulated panels. SIPS have some fantastic qualities. They’re strong (much stronger than a typical framed wall), provide amazing energy efficiency (we’ll be a bit north of R-50 for the roof), and because the panels are manufactured off site, in theory the house will go together very quickly (4-5 days from the beginning of installation until the walls and roof are complete.

But alas, not all is perfect. Although things are going relatively well, because the panels are pre-fabricated, all of the engineering and layout needs to be dialed before we pull the proverbial trigger. So, Matt has undertaken a heroic amount of coordination between engineers and R-Control. The short version of how this works, is Matt sends over our final building plans. Then R-Control’s panel layout engineer converts this into a SIPS layout (see the screen capture below). Then a structural engineer and panel engineer examine this work, in conjunction with Matt and to a lesser extent our builder, Carrie. Then the feedback loop begins. It’s all healthy, but time consuming.

So our final “permit set” is now with the county, and we’re waiting for our building permit to be approved, which we need before we pour concrete and fill the forms that are being finished up. Ordinarily we might have waited to start form work until we had the permit in hand, but we’re racing winter.

Last night I ran into a friend that runs a big architectural firm. He asked how construction was going and I showed him the picture below on my phone. His response? “That’s a big footing. Are you building a bridge?”

No, just some giant concrete walls. In the background you can see Misha and his fantastic crew of “concrete guys.” Amazing work they’re doing, and they show a huge amount of pride in the job they’re doing. Great stuff.

One door closes, another opens. No, I’m not going to get too philosophical here, but the first part of excavation is coming to a close. And the first part of building the forms that will become a house and retaining walls is now beginning. So yes, progress continues. We’re having a hiccup here and there, mostly related to the four, yes, four sets of engineers that continue to ply their trade. This is time-consuming, but necessary if we want a building permit. Nothing to get too worried about though, and things will all be finalized within the next couple of days.

In the meantime, here are a couple of cellphone pics that show a bit of progress. It’s a beautiful day in Spokane today. When I popped up to the site at lunchtime, Stefane (sp?), who is helping to create the forms, was enjoying his meal in the sun. Not a bad place to be.

We spent a cloudy morning tromping around in the various kinds of mud out on the site. You’ll see this in the pictures, but it’s amazing how many different kinds of soil we have. Organic topsoil, clay, ash, quartz, etc.

And the excavators have pulled out a hundred (or more) pretty fantastic stones. Fun stuff to climb around on for now, and they’ll be pretty sweet as a part of our courtyards, for landscaping, etc.

Later this week we’ll start building the formwork for the footings, and if the last of our engineering is done we’ll finally have our building permit. Good times!



Our little house project involves a lot of concrete. How much is a lot? Well I think I heard an actual number of yards at some point, but it gave me a mild panic attack and I’ve now blocked that number out. Plus, unless you’re a concrete contractor you probably don’t relate to yards of concrete.

Because we’re on a hill (a gentle hill, but still a hill), to build our house we need a series of retaining walls. So when people see our plans for the first time, one of top-three initial comments is something like, “holy crap, how long are those walls?”


The back retaining walls will stretch about 150 feet, give or take. These are eight feet tall and roughly 10″ thick. Then there are a series of lower walls…maybe 70 additional linear feet that wrap around the southeast side of the house. A couple of these are pretty impressive–16 inches thick so they double as seating for the outdoor spaces.

The majority of the concrete will be board-formed. If you’re not familiar with this technique I’ll attempt to briefly explain it. Most modern concrete walls are built with smooth sheets of coated plywood. When it’s setting, concrete of course picks up whatever texture is next to it. So smooth plywood gives a smooth wall.

Board-forming, on the other hand, is how concrete walls were formed way back when. It involves building the forms out of timbers/wood planks, rather than plywood. So when the forms are pulled off, you’re left with a wall that now has wood grain, as well as more texture on the concrete from where it seeped through the wood joints.

Generally speaking, board-forming is rare. Not impossible to find, but not something most concrete contractors do on a daily basis. So yes, it’s modestly more expensive to build walls this way. We’re crazy about how this looks though, and definitley looking forward to the walls being built, likely in the next couple of weeks.

My sense of things is that board-forming is a bit more common in the northwest of the country. There are great examples from Cutler Anderson and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson in particular. And closer to home, Nystrom Olson is doing some really impressive stuff.

Matt, our architect, is I think beside himself with anticipation about the walls. The other night on the phone he said some version of, “I can’t even let myself think about those walls. They’re going to be very cool.”

He’s right.

Have you ever noticed that the words “rock” and “cash” both have four letters?

Well, they do. And because we’ve run into quite a bit of basalt during excavation, we now have the opportunity to support the local economy in new and exciting ways.

Oh well. It will be cool to see a giant hammer at work, at least.

Hopefully none of our neighbors are planning to work a night shift this week. Sleeping during the day might be challenging.

The pictures I took last night look eerily similar to yesterday’s. So today, here are some happy snaps of a killer sunset and our neighbors’ kids playing in dangerous locations.

Our excavating friends, Dan and Tom from Northwest Excavation, went to town today. They’re mostly through cutting out the pad the house will sit on (and then some!), removed two trees, and did more work on the driveway and site access. Nicely done.

It was pretty shocking to walk into the site today. To state the obvious, things look very different. The entire scale of the land feels different. The rock stands proud and in some ways looks bigger than it did. Overally, an exciting day to be sure.

I only had my phone with me today, so bear with the pics.