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July 1-4, 2005
Thar be walls!

A hint of what our ultimate panorama of window walls will look like... some day

On Friday, July 1, we got a later start than usual, due to the boys' morning summer school.  In the end, we didn't leave the Bay Area until after 1:00 pm, by which time the holiday weekend traffic was already terrible.  In addition, we had to make an additional stop in Jackson to return a defective drill (the bit wouldn't come out), so we didn't arrive at our property until almost 5:30 pm.  By this time, Russell's friend Steve (our only co-worker for the weekend) had already arrived.

We had just been up here last weekend, and were still pretty exhausted.  So we made a deliberate decision to take things easier this weekend.  No more sun-up to sundown workdays.  Instead, we would make a point to stop work by dinnertime every day, and spend our evenings relaxing and socializing.  We had even left our tent erected from last time, so we wouldn't have as much set-up work (Steve just sleeps in the back of his truck, so he barely has any set-up time at all).

Given our late arrival, we decided not to do any work on Friday evening.  Instead, Gail made a typically delicious dinner of sausages and peppers.  Cameron and Joss turned in early after the long day on the road, leaving just the three adults.  Russell had long been tantalizing Steve with the concept of "German boardgaming," so we played a three-way game of "Ticket to Ride," winner of last year's prestigious German "Spiel des Jahres" award.  We were all entertained, Russell won, and Steve was hooked.

On Saturday morning, July 2, it was back to work.  Despite the lighter schedule, our goal this weekend was to begin setting the wall panels for the lower story.  The sequence would consist of three major steps:

  1. Install the eight corner wall panels, plumb them, then toenail them in place
  2. Install the eight wall panels, plumb them, then toenail them in place
  3. Install lag screws at the top and bottom of everything

The eight upper story corner wall panels and eight lower story corner wall panels

Gail and Russell were up fairly early (a consequence of being middle aged), so we began on the eight corner wall panels.  This started out as a fairly easy task, as the panels were small and light.  Topsider's original specs had called for metal flashing, but we had brought up more of the bitumen-based adhesive rolls, which worked out beautifully.  Steve soon joined us, and by mid-morning all eight corner wall panels were plumbed and toenailed in place.

Our old friend the "gooey stuff"
Gail and Russell set a corner wall panel in place
The lower story with all eight corner wall panels in place

Along the way, we discovered more inexplicable behavior from Topsider.  At the top of each corner wall panel, there is a V-shaped crotch that fits around the glu-lam beam on top.  The lag screws are supposed to be drilled through the two legs on either side, up into the floor panels on top.  Instead, Topsider had pre-drilled holes into the crotches of the corner wall panels, which would send the lag screws up into the glu-lam beams.

Even stranger, Topsider had pre-stuffed all of the panels with blocks of hard insulation, which was glued into place with adhesive.  We would have to pry out all of the insulation before we could install the lag screws.

Legs and crotches... and lots of insulation

Fortunately, Gail had secured Al Fielders' personal cell phone number, so she was able to call him despite the holiday weekend.  Al confirmed that Topsider had made an error; the lag screws should go through the legs of the panels, not the crotch.

The wall panels themselves required much more work than the corner wall panels did.  The wall panels were much larger and heavier.  Additionally, they needed to fit tightly in between the corner wall panels, then be plumbed in place with a 1" overhang over the sill plate.  Fortunately, the first four panels were "window walls," so they were still light enough to be lifted by Steve and Russell.

A windowed wall panel... still light enough to be carried by two, but very top heavy

We worked out a great system for setting these panels in place.  Steve and Russell, with help from Cameron, lifted the panels into place from the outside of the house.  Meanwhile, Gail fastened a rope to the top and pulled from the inside of the house.  (Joss, too small to do any heavy lifting, was content to take pictures and set up Fourth of July decorations throughout the house.)  A pry bar helped when we had an especially tight fit.  By early afternoon, with a break for lunch, we had three out of the four windowed walls plumbed and toenailed in place.

Setting a windowed wall panel in place

By this point, we were pretty exhausted.  It was also the hottest part of the afternoon (approaching 100 in the valley, 90 on the mountain).  Keeping with our lighter work schedule, we decided to call it a day and head for the local reservoir.  Due to the heavy winter rains, the water level was higher than we had ever seen it before, and we spent a very enjoyable afternoon swimming, rafting, and playing with a local boy and his mother.

Back on the mountain, Gail made another delicious dinner of falafels (which Steve had never eaten before) before turning in for the evening.  Steve, Russell, Cameron, and Joss played another German boardgame, "The Settlers of Catan," which Steve also enjoyed (Cameron won one turn ahead of his dad).

On Sunday morning, Steve and Russell installed the last window wall.  Meanwhile, Gail had an absolutely frustrating morning as she tried removing the blocks of insulation from the erected wall panels.  Trying to pry these things out of their tightly wedged and glued positions was bad enough.  But when she pulled the blocks out, Gail was horrified to find mold growing rampant in the wood.  As with the floor panels, all of the wall insulation will have to be removed, the wood bleached, and the insulation completely replaced.

A frustrated Gail rips blocks of insulation out of the wall panels one by one
Mold running rampant throughout the wood
Yet another pile of moldy insulation that will have to be thrown out and replaced

We were now faced with the last four walls, which would become progressively heavier as the amount of window space was gradually reduced.  At this point, we needed all five of us -- Steve, Russell, Gail, Cameron, and even Joss -- just to move the panels from the pallett to the house.  The front door and back door panels were the easiest (relatively speaking), so we installed them first.

Gail examines a slowly dwindling pallet of wall panels
Four people were required to move the front door wall panel (picture by Joss)

The remaining two panels -- the almost-solid pantry/bathroom wall and the completely solid stairwell wall -- are each designed as "extended bays."  They protrude from the rest of the house by several feet, which means that they require small side walls to connect them to the corner wall panels.

Each of the two extended bays presented us with a unique assembly problem.

The bathroom/pantry wall needed to allow access to a pipe that protruded upward from the sill plate.  Steve and Gail solved this problem using a circular skill saw, a hammer, and a chisel.

Solving a pipe access problem with a circular skill saw, a hammer, and a chisel
The finished product

But the real dilemma was that for some reason, the wall panel was about two inches longer than the space on the foundation.  The only way to resolve this problem was to bend the two side panels out at a slight angle.  We hope that this structure passes inspection.  (We still don't know what caused this problem.  It is possible that the foundation was laid incorrectly.)

The first extended bay
Not quite square, the side wall panel does not align with the sill plate

But it was the second extended bay -- the solid stairwell wall -- that created a complete showstopper for us.  When Steve and Russell placed the first side wall of the extended bay, Steve noticed that Russell suddenly had a very funny and peculiar expression.  After Russell explained, he and Gail understood why.

Generally, the second story is cantilevered over the first.  In other words, it is larger and overlaps the first story like a mushroom over its stem.  As a result, the lower story walls all rest comfortably inside of the triple purlins that hang down from the second story.  That is, unless an extended bay causes them to jut out further than normal.

The first extended bay (the one for the pantry/bathroom) does not have a triple purlin because there is no balcony there.

However, the second extended bay (the one for the stairwell) does have a triple purlin.  And because this wall juts out further than normal, it needs to reside exactly where the triple purlin is.  In other words, either the wall is too tall, or there shouldn't be a triple purlin here.

Gail and Russell examined the blueprints in detail.  According to the plans, the wall was correct.  According to the plans, the triple purlin was also correct.  The only problem was, they couldn't both be correct, because they couldn't both occupy the same space at the same time.  This was not readily apparent from looking at the two-dimensional plans, but it was obvious looking at the three-dimensional house.  After much brainstorming, we decided that we couldn't think, puzzle, or improvise our way out of this one.  Our work was officially at a stopping point until we could connect with Topsider to resolve the issue.

The second extended bay: a solid wall panel should be installed directly outside (to the left) of the side wall panel... but unfortunately, there's a hanging triple purlin in the way

By now it was late afternoon and we were exhausted anyway, so we called it quits.  Gail had saved her best dinner for last: barbequed chicken, with apple cobbler for dessert.  After dinner, all five of us sat down for a game of "Diamant," which Cameron won in what was not even a close contest.

After dark, we set up Gail's telescope and tripod and tried to find the Tempel 1 comet (the one that NASA was due to smash with "Deep Impact" on July Fourth).  It was the first time that we had set up the telescope in almost two years, and we fumbled our way through it.  After much fruitless searching, we were unsuccessful at finding the comet.  However, we were treated to a wonderful close-up view of nearby Jupiter.

Monday morning was a day for cleaning up, packing up, and going home.  First though, Steve and Russell succeeded in moving six out of eight of the upper story corner wall panels up the stairs before the last of our energy gave out.

Steve and Russell on a stairway that is suddenly less maneuverable because it's surrounded by walls
Al Fielders once told Gail that we had the cleanest work site he'd ever seen.  Here's the "before" picture...

As usual, we started the weekend with aggressive goals, got very discouraged halfway through, then were enormously satisfied with what we were actually able to accomplish.  As Steve put it, "seven out of eight isn't bad."

In addition, we saw a plethora of wildlife this time around.  The wildflowers are all but gone, but with the arrival of summer we are rejoined by butterflies, dragonflies, and bats.  The mosquitoes are much stronger this year (due no doubt to the heavy rains) but the yellow jackets are almost non-existent.  As we moved pieces of black tarp that still held puddles of month-old rain, we saw frogs.  As we moved the corner wall panels, we saw a pair of mice.

Best of all, we saw turkey vultures galore.  They came very close to where the boys were playing, and the adults stopped work to watch a half dozen of them circling around us.  We were especially thrilled on Sunday evening, when two of them landed in a nearby tree.

A half dozen turkey vultures circle overhead
Two turkey vultures in a tree

We are once more at a point where we can visually see the progress of our hard work.  And that is very rewarding indeed.

Our house so far: "seven out of eight isn't bad"
One lone (and very, very heavy) wall panel still remains, braced against the wind


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