Archives for the month of: January, 2011

We spent a nice morning tromping around the site. It’s fun to walk around the inside of the house, to check out where the rooms will eventually be and now that the roof is up, to see what the light is like at different times of the day.

Another fun thing for us is to look at the house from a distance. Because of where we are in the construction process this doesn’t happen as often as it should. Rather, we’re focused on a bracket, answering questions about a radiant heat manifold, or looking at roof/house connections. But just like with the rest of life, it’s pretty great to step back and see what’s happening.

Matt was saying the other night that the phase the house is in right now is one of his favorites. It’s like a sketch. The big patterns are all in place.

I agree.

Hey Matt: nice composition!

Driving into the site this morning I wasn’t sure I’d be able to see the house. No I’m not going blind, but we had a pretty thick blanket of fog covering the site.

On the news yesterday the weather-predictor-people predicted freezing fog for this morning. Our six-year-old daughter was very worried about this. “Oh no! How will we be able to drive through a frozen block of fog?” Funny.

I had the chance to meet with Greg Rehn, from HydroSci, this morning to talk about a couple of things related to the radiant heat system he’s beginning to install. While I was there, I also got to see Alexi’s crew lifting the last couple of roof panels into place. Trust me when I write that everyone is happy to reach this milestone.

The past few nights Matt Melcher and I have been out on site, sometimes by chance, together. From a pure entertainment perspective we’ve both  been anxious to see the final panels get installed over what will be the southside courtyard. Well, we’re there now.

Time to get excited about something else! Here are a handful of cellphone shots from a foggy morning.

The entry to the house will be stunning. We’ve been gaga for the entry hall design since we first saw it, but seeing the final roof panels being put in place, seeing the concept turn into reality, underlines how cool it will be.

As a reminder, you’ll enter along a 7 foot wide (roughly) walkway between the retaining wall and the garage. As you walk along it you’re under the shelter of the roof for about 50 feet, before you reach the front door. So it’s interesting because you’re covered, but in an unheated space. You’re both outside of the house, and in a way inside too.

(Click on these images to see a bigger version.)

That’s a long tunnel to walk through though, so Matt came up with a very slick design. He cut back the roof along the SIPs panel breaks to create a bit of a sawtooth, or dental, effect. The idea is it breaks up the lines as well as allows pools of sun or moonlight to filter through. Of course an idea on paper and the reality are sometimes different things. Not in this case though.

View from the north courtyard, marked "Court 1" on the drawing above.

I’m pretty thrilled with this. Can’t wait to see the entry when the rest of the panels are up.

Another busy weekend for me at the site for me. And for Jesse too, who spent today finishing up the third and final “Y” bracket. It took four of us to get the steel-covered glulams into place. It didn’t help that we were seven feet in the air and standing on a 16″ wide concrete wall. Good thing we took our macho pills this morning.

I think the crew is hoping to finish the roof tomorrow. They also had the membrane that will cover the roof panels delivered, and my understanding is that will go on too. It’s a big roof, but a shallow pitch and all one plane. So hopefully that helps…

Here’s a stack-o-photos. Some of the site, and some of a few details.


This post has little to do with our project. I’m planning to take a few new photos today when I go check on things at the site and will put them up soon, but in the mean time, here’s something you should check out.

I’ve read about Samuel Mockbee and his Rural Studio, part of Auburn University, a number of times. A documentary about the late Mockbee’s work and program–Citizen Architect–had been on our Netflix list, and last night K and I watched the movie. Amazing. Inspiring. Human.

Rural Studio architecture students design and build housing for people living in Hale County, Alabama. The materials they use are recycled or donated. It’s clear from the buildings that there’s an impressive level of creativity, yet the homes are designed for the way the people they’re designed for actually live.

If you’ve been touched by poverty, or spent much time in areas where poverty is as rampant as it is in Hale County, I think the movie will be especially moving. And if you haven’t, I still think you’ll be impressed and affected.

Here’s a video clip of some of Mockbee’s work. This isn’t from Citizen Architect, but gives a flavor of the program.

A short post after a long day. Also a productive day.

After relative quiet on site–over the weekend it was just me and Jesse, with Matt coming out a few times as well–we had a hive of activity today. Jesse kept cranking away on the brackets, while Alexi and his crew got started on the roof.

The SIPs panels arrived on two semis first thing in the morning. From there half the crew did some final prep (I even got in on the action again, using a router to detail the beams) while the other guys organized 45 panels into the right order. At up to 700 pounds each, this is no small trick.

We rented a big crane for the day to get panels into the most difficult corner of the house. Good call. And while the crew hoped to get a few more panels installed, we covered our daughter’s room, the guest room, bathroom and a bit more.

Starting a SIPs roof is a bit like starting a tile job. The first few pieces take longer. Why? Well the first panels set the geometry and rhythm for the rest of the project. If you’re off a bit on the first few, you’ll be off a lot by the last few.

Tomorrow should see big progress. I’ll be back at work, but it should be fun to swing by afterwards. The crew expects to have most of the house covered by the end of the day.


Sadly, this is the first post in a week. Not sure how that happened. Oh yeah, now I remember. Work has been busy, and we’re also building a house.

Good stuff has been happening though. Jesse Oviatt has been cranking away on getting the roof support brackets in place. More on this in a second. And Alexi and his crew worked Thursday and Friday to prep a few things before the roof panels are delivered Monday morning.

I spent this past weekend working with Jesse. I think he was happy for the help and it was fun to be on site, even if it meant working 10 hours a day. We made a ton of progress too, which always feels good.

To be clear, the work we are doing isn’t typical framing work. It’s more like the lovechild of cabinetry and bridge building. It’s fussy work. Were you to look around our work area this weekend, you’d see tools typical for framing a house–circular saws, framing hammers, squares, etc. But you’d also see two routers, a set of woodworking chisels, a japanese pull saw, files and a custom made wrench.

Our architect, Matt Melcher, came out for a few hours on Sunday to work with us. He marked the beams that need to be cut in the morning, installed a slope plate, checked measurements, and helped me cut a rabbet into one of the beams with a router.

This was shocking to Jesse. He had never seen an architect do actual work on site. What can I say? Our boy has some skills!

It’s hard for me to put in words how happy I am with the big “Y” columns. They’re insanely beautiful. I’m not sure how something that massive can look so elegant, but it does. And between the fir, the galvanized metal and the concrete, we have a pretty stellar group of materials working together.

You might expect that because I was on site for so many hours that I’d have a ton of pictures, but I don’t. At least not great ones–mostly taken with my phone. But here you go…

Hopefully the SIPs roof will go up without too many hiccups.

Oh, special thanks to our neighbors, Greg and Jackie, who risked their lives to help us install the posts. With the steel attached those suckers weighed at least a couple hundred pounds each. Not fun.

Saturday was the last warm(ish) day we’ll have for a while. It was also the day Mikel pulled off the last plywood form from our retaining walls. Something tells me he was pretty happy about this milestone. I spent the morning working with him, pulling brad nails from the forms and cleaning a few things up.

Misha: Happy to pull the last form.

Because it was a bit warmer I also pulled off more cedar boards from the concrete. This is tough work to be sure. We’ve had so much wet, cold weather, and the cedar is swollen and partially frozen into the concrete.

Part of why I wanted to do the work now though is because the concrete isn’t fully cured–it’s still “green.” Because of this, the ribs between the cedar boards are still fragile, so when I pull off the boards some ribs stay in tact, while others break off. And I like this look.

The work was much easier than last weekend though. It’s amazing what 10 degrees can do.

Finally, a more complete view of the wall, sans cedar.

Wood grain, concrete ribs and aggregate.

Just a snapshot, but I like the composition of this one.

I a recent post I mentioned that Jesse Oviatt is cutting slots and chamfers into our glulam posts to accept the new brackets. He invited me over to check on progress.

Jesse is a super-meticulous guy and he’s definitely paying attention and making suggestions about details on our project too. When I pulled up he was doing some work with a Japanese pull saw–not something you see people working with everyday.

He started the project by building a router template to help speed up the process. Judging by how clean the mortises look, I think it’s working well. It’s still early, but Jesse’s making progress and he is genuinely excited about the project. We’re definitely fortunate to be surrounded with the team we have in place.

We also talked about a couple of details (big surprise). Jesse is ultimately going to cut a 1/8″ chamfer on the slots at a 45 degree angle. This is super subtle, but will be quite nice.

Someday when I have a bit more time I’ll put up some other examples of Jesse’s work. In the mean time, if you need a builder or carpenter for a project, you can e-mail Jesse. [oviattconstruction (at)]


Jesse showing how the metal plates fit into his mortises.

Jesse was the only human out at his shop today, but luckily he’s working under a watchful eyesocket.

Jesse's supervisor.

A busy week at work has kept blogging to a minimum, so apologies for the lack of updates. Plus, crappy weather and a set of bolts we need that won’t be in town until Monday have slowed things down a bit.

There are actually a few things happening though. Smitty sent a text and picture of the back of his truck as he was leaving the galvanizer. Later that day I stopped by the site and noticed a green tarp. What was below? Something very heavy. Very silver. Very awesome.

On the macho scale, 1,000 pounds of galvanized steel pretty much pushes the needle to 11.

The brackets are beautiful though. Every time I talk to Matt, I say some version of, “those things are crazy.

Jesse Oviatt has also been hard at work cutting mortises (a fancy word for a slot) into 6″ x 6” fir posts to fit into and on the new brackets. Jesse is a seriously talented guy. I may stop by his shop this weekend to grab a few pics. The combination of the massive steel brackets and natural wood should be frighteningly beautiful.

In the mean time, here’s to a great weekend.


Happy New Year.