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SATURDAY, JUNE 30, 2007
It was time to get the deck railing
done. Not only did it need to be done because it needed to be
done (OK, Yogi), but our insurance company was breathing down our
necks about the issue--the tail end of a long, annoying saga that
started in January and came to a head with an unpleasant,
unannounced, and uncalled-for (and totally ball-dropped)
cancellation notice back in May. We resolved that issue, but
understandably the insurance company needed to see the railing
complete. No problem with that.
To that end, I knew they wanted to send out an inspector again, but I also knew last week that I intended to get much of the railing done this weekend. We were told that the inspection company would call before coming, and I had planned to suggest a date sometime after this weekend, so that the railing could be in place. So it was to my utter surprise and annoyance that the inspector--the same pleasant gentleman who inspected the house in January--arrived on Friday morning. Oh well. It's done now, and if they need to reinspect, that's their problem.
Anyway, enough about all that. I spent all day Saturday working on the railing, and made good and satisfying progress. Our design was pretty straightforward in keeping with the basic lines of the house: two horizontal rails between each post, one 3.5" above the deck and the other flush with the tops of the posts, 36" above the deck. Over this would be a 5/4x 6 caprail, and simple 1-1/2" square balusters spanning the distance between the top and bottom rails. All the material was western red cedar.
Heidi and I decided that it would look best to hold the horizontal rails flush with the backs (inside) of the posts, thus allowing the balusters to be "recessed" on the outside. This will all become clear later. So with the plan all set, I cut and installed the 2x4 cedar rails between each post. I nailed them in place with 2-1/2" stainless steel finish nails to start, and when all the rails were in place I returned and drove #10 x 2-1/2" "Beaver Bite" stainless steel decking screws at each joint to strengthen the connection. I installed the rails all the way around the front and side decks.
The space at the corner of the deck is where the stairs will go later--soon, even.
Next, I continued with the caprail, a
5/4 x 6" board (just like the decking boards). I nailed the
caprails to the top rail and posts, overhanging it equally on each
side. The caprails also corresponded nicely with the 6x6 porch
roof posts on the front porch. Once I had all the pieces cut
and nailed in place, I screwed them securely to the top rails and
posts with more of the 2-1/2" stainless screws.
Surprisingly, the deck seemed larger once the rails were installed; somehow, they defined the space and increased its apparent size, rather than shrinking it.
Next: cut and install all the balusters. That's on deck (ha!) for tomorrow.
SUNDAY, JUNE 17, 2007
Under some duress, I finally got
started on the deck railing. As with most projects on the
house at this point, the worst part was getting geared up and set up
to start working; no matter how carefully I try to plan and load
tools and equipment from the shop, I always forget several things,
forcing me to traipse back and forth to collect whatever item is
In the event, I got all the 4x4 cedar railing posts installed over about a three-hour period. I had 8' stock, so my first step was to cut each in half, and then cut a 45° bevel on the bottoms of the posts to make them more visually appealing where they overhung the deck framing. Then, I drilled 1-1/4" counterbores for the washers and lag heads that would secure the posts, and, after laying out and measuring for the post locations, cut out the overhanging deck boards in way of the post locations.
Finally, I secured each post to the deck framing with two 4" stainless steel lags and washers, ensuring that the posts were plumb. Then, I marked the proper height on the posts and cut them all off level with one another after marking them with a chalk line.
Though I was happy to be done with this part, I wouldn't have minded working a bit more; however, I didn't have the stainless steel fasteners on hand that I needed for other parts of the railing (nails and screws). Stainless is required with cedar, since galvanized will stain the wood. So I called it quits for now while I awaited the fasteners I had ordered. As it turned out, this was just as well, since shortly thereafter the weather deteriorated and we experienced a few thunderstorms and showers during the remainder of the afternoon.
Later, I finished up cleaning up the remains of the brush piles in the two locations, a surprisingly time-consuming job. There's a bit more work required on root and stump removal in the location in the courtyard, but then the whole courtyard taming process is still generally underway, as I continue working on debris removal and other cleanup in this work in progress.
I also finished spreading the remaining couple yards of crushed stone, completing that job.
SATURDAY, JUNE 16, 2007
On Thursday afternoon, the next--and
last, I hope--crew from McGee arrived to do the final soil work and
seeding. Using a Bobcat with a harrow attachment on the front,
one guy aerated the soil and smoothed it out. When I talked
with him, he asked if Pete Pickett had done the grading, since
clearly the man has a signature style, and further mentioned that
Pete hadn't even left a challenge for him, with nary a windrow or
out of place tread mark to repair.
With the smoothing done, two other guys hand-raked around the edges as needed and then spread seed and mulch hay. I wasn't around to see this happen, since I had to go to the boat that afternoon. But when I got back, the sweet smell of hay covered the obnoxious odor of the rich loam, and things looked great.
Saturday morning, bright and early, two dump trucks full of crushed stone (36 yards total) that I had ordered arrived, and the deposited it on the driveway in front of the house. I wanted the stone to finish up the walkway/driveway up to our main entrance in the basement, since clearly we needed the ability to drive up close to the house for unloading, etc., and this had been a mud pit all winter and spring.
I also wanted to spread the crushed stone over the parking area, to better define the space, to make it look better, and, most importantly, to reduce the mud problem in the winter and spring. When we returned from sailing on Saturday afternoon, I worked for a couple hours to move and spread the stone, making a vast improvement to the property in a very short time.
I know I'll be cursing this stone when I end up plowing it all over the place in the winter, but it's the easiest and least expensive way to deal with a complex and irritating problem...and it looks pretty nice for all that. I think with care, and thanks to the shady nature of the parking area during the winter, I can avoid pushing the stone around too much with the plow.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 13, 2007
At long last, the final steps in
anchoring this house to the property (from a visual standpoint, that
is) are underway. McGee Construction--represented once again
by the crusty, amusing, and highly experienced operator Pete
Pickett--was back onsite late yesterday and today to spread loam
(they pronounce it "loom" here, or maybe you want to call it topsoil
or just plain ol' dirt) around the house, the first step towards a
The material looked excellent--rich and dark--and reeked of low tide, since apparently the organic mixture is enhanced by the addition of something or other from the sea, whether it's seaweed or rotting seafood waste. I lost count of how many tri-axle loads (18 yards each) of the loam they brought in, but I estimate at least 10. I wasn't paying that much attention.
With his fancy bulldozer, Pete spread the loam all around the house and feathered it into existing grassy areas. The man knows how to spread dirt; the grade looked beautiful. Even the new dirt made things look so much better, covering up the hardpan, weeds, and the thousands of rocks that characterized the earthen base.
Some work remains: detail work, final soil preparation, and seeding. That should get underway immediately.
SATURDAY, JUNE 2, 2007
It's time to catch things up.
Last week saw slow, but continued, progress on the final siding and details, as Bob and Meister continued at their regular pace. I'm sure they were hoping to finish up on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, but with record heat on that day (near 100°), they knocked off shortly after lunch rather than continue to fight the heat.
That Friday, however, brought with it the final demise of the two brush piles near the house, as Gary returned to finish the job. This process took longer than I had hoped, but in any event it was finally done...and money well spent. It took him two full days (the second with a helper on hand) to remove and transport these piles with a large pulp truck and hydraulic crane. It's clear that I could never have disposed of them in any other way.
There would still be quite a bit of cleanup for me to do, but the final work would be at a manageable level.
Tuesday after Memorial Day, Bob and
Meister finished their work on the house, with the pine trim around
the windows and doors on the south gable end. While I planned
to take care of the remaining first floor window trim myself (yes,
it's still undone), I figured since they had the staging on hand and
so forth that it would be better to let them just do these four
It was great to finally have all the siding on the house, with only smallish details remaining for me. They left me with some piles of cutoffs and construction debris, which I consolidated that afternoon and disposed of the outright trash; later, Bob's son Will came to pick up the pine debris, since he likes to burn the wood in an outdoor fire pit that he has. He also had taken much of the log cutoffs last year during the house construction. This was great, since I have a 14' trailer and a 14' rack truck full to the brim with other construction debris that's still awaiting me to take it to the dump. More debris I didn't need.
Here is a series of pictures of the fully-sided house. Plus, our nice lilac hedge is in full bloom.
Other developments: now that the
major construction is done, I've made arrangements to have loam for
around the house delivered and spread so that we can finally get a
lawn. The grounds have been so long in their current state that it's
easy for me to almost forget that someday soon we'll have green
lawn, rather than rocky brown soil, around the house to tie things
back in with the surrounding landscape.
We don't have a big fancy landscape plan here--it's the country, after all--but over the course of the summer we'll keep working to "tame the land" around the house (the "courtyard" in particular) and make continuing improvements, and eventually to plant a few shrubs or trees here and there.
The loam and such will begin on June 12.
Finally, I have a large stack of cedar and pine for the deck railing and screen porch, which is visible in some of the photos above I think. This railing is the number one construction priority on the house at the moment (which isn't making it get done any faster), but there simply hasn't been time to accomplish anything yet.
We're also close to choosing our final stain color for the exterior, and look forward to putting that on and truly having a house that looks decent. More to come as progress warrants.