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Gotta Love Community May 29, 2008

Posted by jeff in Uncategorized.

Thanks for all the inquiries on the house plans!  Susan was able to arrange a deal, so they made back some of their cost and another Maple Forest House adventure has begun.

But not ours.  Ours continues!

Our geothermal still doesn’t have a solution.  Our winter electric bills were $700/month before we started running the fireplace 24×7 and we’d love to have a fix in place before next winter!  Know any good geothermal contractors who can fix our system?  Geothermal production companies – are you guys out there?  There’s a real bad buzz starting to run through the community that your products aren’t cutting it and they’re nowhere near what they’re hyped to be.  Wanna prove you can make this one work?  Free publicity if you do!

Otherwise the house is marvelous.  It stays super cool on the 80* days we’ve seen this spring and is so bright!  Our garden is established and ready to be planted.  We’re getting to work on the woodshed.  Grass?  Okay, there’s a bit of it.  Hey – we live here!!!


Maple Forest House plans for sale. Get’cher house plans! February 19, 2008

Posted by jeff in Uncategorized.

Buying the plans for this house is a serious commitment of money. I just found out one of our readers purchased the plans as she and her husband planned on building their house, then decided to follow a different path. Looking for a discounted set of plans in perfect shape to begin your Maple Forest adventure? Their complete set of Maple Forest house plans as designed by Michaela Mahady of SALA Architects and seen on HGTV are for sale. Send me a comment and I’ll forward it along so that you can work out a deal perfect for both of you.

Take a Breath February 14, 2008

Posted by jeff in Uncategorized.

For those of you who followed us through this adventure – and especially those of you who followed in order to learn from our experiences while attempting to build a house of your own – I apologize. But not too much! After all, I don’t really have a problem with forgoing online blogging in favor of living my life!

Kitchen SouthWith that said, what about the house?!? It’s beautiful! The layout is great – very comfortable. The best bit is how amazingly close to nature we feel. Living in this house is like tenting in absolute luxury. On those rare occasions when a lightening storm hits or we get owl calls floating in the windows, I have to check to make sure I’m still in my comfortable chair and not out sleepwalking! The photos I’m posting today were taken without a flash with all the lights in the house off. I didn’t have sunglasses on, but sometimes it feels like I need them!

There are still boxes in a few places. The fall was fraught was emergency surgery and illness, huge surges in workload and more. Heck, we didn’t get our official certificate of occupancy until 2 months after we moved in and the conversion from construction loan to regular mortgage happened 30 minutes before our 1-year rate lock expired. Living RoomYour builder tells you the build is going to take 4-6 months? As him/her if they’ll back that statement with some serious cash! I heard of these clauses before signing our almost non-existent contract and thought they placed undue pressure on the relationship. Now I’d have loved something that would have said “$10K penalty every month beyond 8 months if house not complete.” Not that it would have been signed, but it would have been fun!

We had Thanksgiving here and the house handled 13 sleeping here and 17 for dinner just fine. Okay, I need to build the table for the eat-in kitchen area, yes, but a card table worked fine for now. The bookcase around the low island is an original feature of mine that has been admired by almost every visitor. And if I ever get the pantry cabinetry done instead of using quick shelving, we’ll have no need for additional storage, either.

Kitchen NorthThe fireplace is worth its 600 lb weight in gold. Especially since we found out the geothermal system is working at 1/3 predicted efficiency! The electric/heating bills for Dec/Jan totaled $1300. It ain’t the lights since the entire house is running on CFLs. Heck, we have Mike from Advanced Building Analysis come back in to find the trouble and it’s definitely the geos. When both are running, it’s eating 21kW of juice – and they’re running far too often. So we’ve been heating the whole house via the fireplace at about 1.3 cords of wood per month. Almost no odor, almost no ash (I’ve emptied it once in 45 days of operation) and massive amounts of heat. If you have wood available and don’t like wood stoves, the fireplace xtrordinair is the way to go! The only problem I’d read about is the door sooting over every few days. Just grab a 4 inch razor/scraper and it’s a 1-minute chore. No problems.

The geo will be getting fixed. We spent way too much money on that puppy not to use it!

Got questions about a Maple Forest modification? Ask away. I might even be able to answer them now!

We’re in January 21, 2008

Posted by Heather in Uncategorized.
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Actually we’ve been in for about 6 months, but with any *new* house, there is quite a bit of work to do (and yes, we still have boxes to unpack).

What have we liked – everything. Some of the best things we did was the fireplace, and on this sub-zero morning it is especially nice. We’ve been happy with the geothermal heating system as well. Working on reducing the energy used by the house has been a priority – so switching out all of our lightbulbs to CFLs has helped immensely. But building with natural light as a focus has helped the winter*blahs* at bay.

Building a house is a process, once winter is finished we’ll be looking to work on landscaping and building a wood shed. We’re still figuring out what we’ll do about a garage in the future: architectual, barn like, or something else.

We’ll still update this blog sporatically, as events warrant. Good luck if building a custom house is in your plans.

Like a rented mule July 28, 2007

Posted by jeff in Uncategorized.

Front stepsIt’s amazing how fast things are getting done! Wonder why now? We should have had our landlords kick us out at the end of April!

The front steps are in place and the stairs off the dining room were being built Friday afternoon. I tell you, it’s going to be a lot easier moving into this house with those stairs there! Climbing ladders with large fragile boxes simply isn’t my idea of a good time!

The crew did a good job with the stairs themselves. I still have misgivings about them. The big one is that Ralph didn’t get the site work done on time. That means there’s still more fill to bring in to the front and side of the house. So the fill’s going to come up to the height of the concrete pad at the bottom of the stairs, I guess, and that’s probably going to have to be good enough! It’s tough to deal with because I’d been hoping to decrease the overall height of the front steps by bringing in more fill – perhaps changing it from a run of 9 steps to 7 steps. On the other hand, I understand that the current setup will save us a couple thousand in not bringing in the fill.

Compromise, huh? Compromise and get ‘er done!

The geothermal is up and running! We have air conditioning in the house! They apparently forgot to run the hoses that take the condensed water from the units to the outside of the house, but it’s all there now. We have a few holes they had to cut in the downstairs lav wall to run the hose to the system in the attic, but they’ve already proved they can patch and paint pretty easily.

I didn’t get much of a chance to play with the geothermal, however, because the floor crew was in the house when I stopped by on Friday. They’d already sanded and final-coated the upstairs and the steps and were just about to start putting the final coat on the downstairs. That means I snapped a few photos and got out of their way. The floors will be walkable by Monday morning at latest, especially with the geo pulling the humidity out of the house!

Island pendants in placeOur electrician appears to have finished his work. The pendants were hung in the kitchen and the lav light was up and running. Not sure about the upstairs because of the floors, but I’ll find out on Monday. The pendants look great following the curve of the island, but it’s hard not to be annoyed since they’re not the pendants we picked out!  Punch list.  It’s all on the punch list!

It looks like we missed something in planning the kitchen/cabinetry/fridge. We modified the back wall behind the cabinetry to recess the fridge to counter top depth. Then we set the projection of the side walls and built up the soffit so that the headband could continue uninterrupted. But no one took into account the fact that our fridge is a French door model! So the right door has to project beyond the wall in order to open more than 90 degrees! I’ve deduced this from the photos since I didn’t get to spend enough time in the kitchen looking at it. Take a look yourself and see if that makes sense. I’m pretty sure we’re out of options here other than carving into the wall, but we’ll take a look at it on Monday.

I’d ask Ralph, but he surprisingly hasn’t answered my last couple calls!

Monday is going to be busy! The remaining pieces of trim are supposed to be finished, the doors rehung, the house cleaned, the deck railings finalized and capped, the slate and granite should get another coat of sealer, the plumbing should be completed, the appliances screwed in and powered up (ovens, dishwasher & fridge) We’re still having a tough time getting the flue completed, thus a gaping hole remains in that wall and the wood & slate around the fireplace hasn’t been done yet. They’re going to have to cover the floor in that area to protect it now. Final door hardware has been a question forever now!  Ralph’s had our hardware order for oh, well, maybe 6 months?

Gotta go pack…

We move Tuesday! July 26, 2007

Posted by jeff in Uncategorized.

Main stairsYou may notice a slight difference between the title above and the phrase “We have our certificate of occupancy.”  While the CO may or may not happen on time, the most important bit at the moment is that the town’s building commissioner was kind enough to tour the house with me yesterday and will allow us to move in on Tuesday as long as we get the smoke detector inspection.  He pointed out some concerns around the fireplace flue, the lack of a bulkhead door, etc. as well, but Ralph will address those points soon.

Things have been flying on site this week!

  1. The main stairs are done (the photo’s a couple days old)
  2. Bathroom plumbing finish is 85% done and will complete on Monday
  3. The kitchen sink/faucet is functional
  4. The cooktop is installed, our propane plumbing is done & inspected, the propane tank was installed and connected and our cooktop is up and running.  The center burner on this thing is just a blowtorch!  Can’t wait to get our wok on that one!
  5. The dishwasher is installed and plumbed – it just needs a few final screws
  6. The ovens are installed and connected, also just awaiting final screws and trim
  7. Our backsplash is in place and will be grouted soon, then the hood/vent can be installed over it
  8. Outdoor spigots are running (finally!  We’ve gone through a lot of trouble not having water on property!)
  9. The geothermal is complete and was just awaiting a final visit from Excel energy to crank it up
  10. Our front and side stairs were being built yesterday
  11. The electrical finish is complete throughout the house with the exception of about 8 lights that have been slow to arrive and are hopefully being installed today.  Ralph says the pendant lights arrived broken, so he’s putting something else in place now and will replace ’em with the correct pendants next week.

Backsplash and working cooktopI think that’s all the stuff that’s recently completed.  There’s been a lot of fidgeting, changing and compromising to make it all happen, but that’s just part of the process.  I decided about 6 months ago that this was never going to be 100% perfect.  We simply can’t afford the change orders that would re required as the details came together (or failed to come together and had to be replaced!)   So…

Guest sink & faucetWhen we found out that the faucets didn’t fit because the drain lever hit the backsplash, I found a solution in removing the drain lever and using pop-up drains.

When the electrical whip from the ovens was too short, we put the connection box into the cabinetry – where there’s just enough space that it doesn’t interfere with the drawers.

TallyThe upstairs toilet ended up being located about 3 inches off the wall because of a joist location, so we’ll put some shelves on the wall above it and blend it in.

I know there are other compromises we’ve made, but I can’t think of them at the moment.  I guess that truly means I’ve accepted them, huh?

The site will be the rough spot.  The budget didn’t cover loam & seed, so we’re going to be dealing with that over time.  The driveway?  Will we be okay with the packed base we chose or will we end of paving it a couple years down the road?

So electrical and HVAC are due to conclude today, we hope.  Site work was supposed to finish yesterday afternoon, and we’re really hoping that was done! Floors are going to get their final sanding and coating on Friday and let dry through the weekend.  Monday is final plumbing.  Inspections?  We’ll see!

Not quite yet poopable July 21, 2007

Posted by jeff in Uncategorized.

Pardon the potty mouth, but I was hoping to, er, check out the facilities out the house today.  No such luck!

Kitchen faucetOur plumbers were on site as promised, however. They kept running into obstacles but were able to get in a full day, at least.  The electrician never showed up on Friday to finish the well pump/geothermal so they couldn’t fill & test that system.  The granite was drilled & assembled a bit too tight so the faucets didn’t have room for the drain levers to fit.  The dishwasher opening was 1/4 inch too small, so that couldn’t be finished.  The lav pedestal was an inch too low so the trap didn’t fit there.  All kinds of fun!

We’re hoping to have those issues resolved on Monday and really trying to have both electrical and plumbing done by Wed or Thurs.  The site work is due to finish on Monday and the front and back stairs are due to be completed then as well.  Fireplace flue and inspection?  Final finish coats on floors, railings and balusters, final paint touchup and door hanging when?  Inspections?  Mon, Tue and Wed are going to be big days!

We’re moving in either Sun. or Tues.  And if we don’t have the occupancy permit by then, I’ll be in the tent next to the house.

It just better not be raining!

Communication…or a noteable lack thereof July 19, 2007

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Kitchen granite, sink and cooktopIt’d be real easy to start complaining about communication on this project. Kinda like shooting walruses in a barrel. But that’s not really very sporting, occasionally leads to serious injury, and Heather’s a vegetarian. So we’re going to leave that topic alone right now. The fact that my frustration has been red-lined a couple times over the last few days? Let’s just blame it on the walruses. As long as they’re not in the barrel or within a few thousand miles, I consider them fair game.

Our builder may want to apologize to the oft-maligned walruses sometime-or-other, however!

No, I haven’t been drinking.

TMaster bath counterhanks for asking, though. We do have a fridge at the house if you want to drop some beer by at the end of next week. We’ll be moved in by then. The first case of Newcastle, unfortunately, needs to be delivered to Joe in CT…

So the granite was pretty much finished yesterday. The halves of the island were bonded and the sink installed. The cooktop was cut into the right spot. Or what I consider to be the right spot, at least. There’s a slight offset between the alignment of the under-cooktop cabinetry and the hood. The granite crew was ready to cut the cooktop to match the cabinetry and I convinced them that matching the hood was a better idea. I’d have preferred asking some walruses for their opinions, but their cell phones appeared not to be functioning. Again.

The granite’s installed in the bathrooms as well. Cool stuff, eh? If you don’t like it, you won’t be the only one. But keep it to yourself, ’cause we love it. Heather’s got a degree in geology and the rock’s especially important. Eye of Sauron RockOne of the real keys for us is that the appearance of the rock is very much that of the rocky Pacific Northwest beaches where we spent much of our honeymoon. Even more, there are some bright red rocks in the matrix apparently visually identical to the ones that characterized those beaches. Very cool stuff. The red rocks appear to be mostly in the guest bath rather than the master bath granite, but it’s not like we told the walruses more than twice where we wanted them. Alas, walruses don’t care much about red rocks, it appears.

We got appliances! In addition to the cooktop, Better Electric dropped off the rest of our over and it’s hanging out in the kitchenish area, waiting for the electrician to install it. The baseboard around the fridge has to be modified, but we’re good to go, otherwise (as far as I can tell!)

The painting crew was at work again and is now within one day of finishing their job. They’ll come back for a final touchup, but it’s all pretty much all painted and polyurathaned now. Anner Valley Painting remains our most reliable sub and has done an incredible job dealing with the incommunicative walruses.

Geothermal waiting for powerThe geothermal crew wrapped up last night as well. Our plumber – we love our plumber (Dennis Ashe of Lancaster, MA) – was back on site today. He and his assistant hadn’t been informed of our impending 8/1 homeless situation (darn walruses!), but they’re going to work on Saturday and shift another job to free up Tuesday to get us in. Can’t wait to get the geothermal kicked in on the next hot & humid day after we move in. Ralph claims it’s incredibly powerful. I want to watch the electrical meter while it’s running, but I’ll take his word on it.

So I’m meeting with our site-work contractor tomorrow morning to get that final stage rolling and hopefully Dave will finish quickly enough that the carpenters can get the front and back stairs in place. Kinda required for occupancy, I’m guessing.

Did you know we have 4 different tents? That’s one for me, one for Heather, one for Tally, and hey – want to stay over at our new house???

We got rocks July 17, 2007

Posted by jeff in Uncategorized.
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Lots of good stuff on Monday!  Steve and Jeff from Gene’s Woodworking came by early and installed the cabinetry hardware throughout the kitchen and bathrooms, as well as putting the lav pedestal sink in place.  Steve measured the area around the fireplace for the window seats that we’re going to put in there.  Luckily, we can have those installed after we move in because we’re running out of time!

Granite islandThe biggest deal was having the granite brought in!  The island granite was put in place (where are you going to store 12 feet of granite if not on the island???) but they still have to install the sink and finish the seam that runs across the middle of the island.  The other counter is in place as well, although this one still needs the cutout for the cooktop.  Why was this not done when the granite was delivered?  No clue.  Ask my builder if you can find him.

The granite for the bathroom counters was delivered Monday as well, but couldn’t be installed because the stairs had to be polyurathaned.  Did they run out of time?  Were the stairs done first?  I don’t know…

Jeff ghost top stair postThe stairs, however, look very good.  The posts look excellent.  And the walls around the stairs are torn to hell from them dealing with installing a humidity-swollen staircase.  So it’s going to be time to re-plaster and re-paint the stairs.  Oh well.  The cherry railings and maple balusters should be installed any day.  Hopefully tomorrow.  Hopefully soon.  Hopefully before we run out of time!!!

The geothermal units were finished today.  No exciting photos of them, but as soon as our plumber returns to finish the plumbing in the rest of the house, we should be able to try out the heat and air conditioning!

Our apartment is rented for August 1st.  It’s now July 17th.  Time, as they say, is running short.

Holy crap. Real Progress? July 13, 2007

Posted by jeff in Uncategorized.

Porch railings going inYeah, you read that right. We got somewhere this week!!! It’s been a couple exasperating weeks without seeing much progress on the house, but things really did kick into high gear at the end of the week!

What’s done?

  • The porch railings (sustainably harvested mahogany matching the decking) are 90% in place, lacking final lagging, caps and the last sections attaching to the bottom of the stairs.
  • The slate is in place on the stoop, awaiting grout.
  • Floors finishing and fireplaceThe trim around the downstairs has received a couple more coats of poly and is pretty much complete. The master bedroom accent wall got it’s first coat of dark blue paint as well.
  • The last pieces of the headband were installed and now just need some final tweaking. We need the beams to be wrapped and a bit more trim installed around the entryway as well.
  • The fireplace is in place!!! The outside vents have been installed and now it’s just time for some wall repair.
  • A new hearth was cut into the floor for a few reasons.Stairs being put together It meets code for this super-hot fireplace, it looks a lot better than the prior, smaller hearth, and it’s big enough that the wood for the fireplace will fit on the slate rather than having to rest on the wood floor prior to being put on the fire.
  • The maple floors have been sanded throughout the house and the first coat of finish is in place throughout 90% of the house. The only part left is the stairs and the green bedroom, because they had to wait for the stair install to complete on Friday…
  • …and the staircase was completed on Friday! The stairs were built by Steve Eisnor & son of Eisnor Contracting of Charlton. They put together some great work and it was hugely frustrating to see the humidity-swollen stairs not quite fitting in place on Wed/Thurs! Luckily the humidity dropped out on Thursday and they got them installed successfully that afternoon. The newels were completed with the skirts and nosings on Friday.
  • Newel post and stairsThey’ll be back once the floors are completely finished to install the post caps, cherry railings and maple balusters. They did some great work on the posts – that’s maple with a cherry inlay – but they’ll have to touch up a couple spots as some of the newel post cherry was mangled during a final pass through their planer!
  • The well pump is in place.
  • The geothermal units are in place and 1/2 installed.

So what’s left?

  • The floors are due to get another coat or two on Sunday.
  • Cabinetry is due to be completed on Monday morning.
  • Granite is due Mon afternoon.
  • Site work/driveway is supposed to resume on Monday – this has been promised for quite a while though, so I’ll wait to see Dave Richards on site!
  • Geothermal partly installedPainting should resume and complete this coming week.
  • Plumbing and electrical finishes are due to be installed on Tues/Wed.
  • Appliances are to be dropped on Wed.

Geothermal completion? Tile backsplash in the kitchen and grout on the stoop? Front and back steps & patio concrete pad? Hopefully those items will fall right into place at the end of the week! Are we moving in next weekend? Or will ‘waiting for the occupancy permit’ be the last major hurdle?

Stay tuned!