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July 17, 2005
High points and low points

Gail stares out the bathroom window.  She is sitting in an extended bay that still can't be installed correctly.

After so many house building trips with so many people, Gail and Russell decided to try one weekend just by themselves.  As Gail put it, "We want to be able to look at something and say, 'We did this all on our own.'"  So on Friday, July 15, we left Cameron and Joss down in the Bay Area and headed up to Calaveras for three days.

The logistics for Cameron and Joss were rather complicated.  On Friday night, they would stay with a friend of Cameron's.  On Saturday afternoon, they would be dropped off at the local train station.  After taking the train to San Francisco, they would be picked up by their sister Dawn.  After spending Saturday night in San Francisco, Gail and Russell would swing by and pick them up Sunday afternoon on their way home.  We even had them take a short test run train ride on Wednesday to make sure they knew what to do.  Nevertheless, Joss (the homebody) suddenly freaked out on Thursday evening.  Gail had to reassure him that everything would go well -- and it did.

As the house comes together, we are very excited about trying new arrangements; and having just the two of us gave us that opportunity.  For the first time, we didn't pitch a tent.  Instead, we put our air mattress directly on the second-story floor.  Gail did have to sprinkle anti-ant powder all around us and put up a wind barrier.  But it was very enjoyable experience, and we will try to do this from now on.  In addition, we moved part of the kitchen from the gazebo into the new house, and tried to plan meals with a minimum of cooking.   Other than one grilled steak dinner on Saturday evening, we dined on cold lunch meat, cheese, crackers, and fruit.

Unfortunately, the work side of things did not go anywhere near as well.  We began with three basic tasks on the agenda:

  1. Install lag screws on the lower story wall panels
  2. Remove the triple purlin over the stairwell extended bay
  3. Replace the cast-iron fascia fasteners with galvanized fasteners on the upper story

Things started well enough on Saturday morning, as we began with the installation of the lag screws.  Each wall panel would need six lag screws on the bottom (fastening the wall to the foundation sill plate below) and six lag screws on the top (fastening the wall to the upper story floor panels above).  We were not bothered that Topsider had failed to pre-drill half of the pilot holes in the wall panels.  We ended up having to re-drill most of them anyway.  We were not bothered that we had to remove all of the insulation blocks that Topsider had glued into the panels.  By now, Gail was very experienced at doing this (with two screwdrivers).  We were not bothered that Topsider's instructions and blueprints did not tell us what size lag screws to use where.  Through numerous telephone calls with Topsider, Gail had received verbal instructions.  She told Russell to use 2" lag screws at the bottom of all window walls, and to counter-sink them so they would be clear of the window panes.

Each wall panel would need six lag screws on the bottom (into the sill plate) and six lag screws on top (into the 2nd story floor panels)

Within no time, Russell had used the drill and impact wrench to secure the bottoms of all four window walls.  However, when he went on to secure the top of the first wall (with 7" lag screws), he encountered a problem.  The wall started riding up with the screw.  Horrified, Russell discovered that the 2" lag screws were not long enough to secure the wall to the sill plate below.  Gail corrected herself.  We should not be using 2" lag screws at the bottom of the window walls.  We should be using 4" lag screws.  Russell pointed out that this length would go right through the 1" sill plate and into the concrete foundation below.    We had a two-hour delay as we drove into town to purchase two masonry drill bits.

Back at the work site, Russell proceeded to use the masonry bits to drill pilot holes two inches into the foundation concrete.  Russell succeeded in wearing out two masonry bits.  Russell tried using the impact wrench to install the 4" lag screws into the sill plate and foundation.  Russell succeeded in drilling several "bad" holes in the wall panels and breaking several 4" lag screws. 

Bad holes and broken lag screws

Russell informed Gail that it was physically impossible to counter-sink 4" lag screws into the foundation.  Gail corrected herself.  The lag screws should not be counter-sunk.  Gail corrected herself again.  We should not be using 4" lag screws at the bottom of the window walls.  We should be using 2" lag screws.

At this point, it was nearing 100 on the mountain top, and we had reached our limits of frustration.  We could not proceed any further with the window walls.  The 2" lag screw was too short.  The 4" lag screw was too long.  Russell tried installing lag screws in a regular wall instead.  That didn't work either.  Here, where there were extra joists in the wall panel, the 4" lag screw was too short.  The 7" lag screw was too long.  Gail could no longer recall with any certainty which lag screws should be installed where, or how.  We gave up on the lag screws.

A window wall: the 2" screw is too short; the 4" screw is too long
A regular wall: the 4" screw is too short; the 7" screw is too long

The next task was to try to remove the triple purlin over the stairwell.  This 16' set of three 2x10s had been incorrectly installed; it would need to be removed before we could set the eighth and final lower-story wall panel.  Unfortunately, it had firmly secured in place with 16d (thick) nails pounded into both the glu-lam beams and the purlin itself through a metal hanger.  Our weapons were screwdrivers, hammers, and pry bars.  At one end, Russell tried removing the nails from the purlin.  At the other end, Gail tried removing the nails from the glu-lam beam.  While Gail's approach was the better one, neither was successful.  The triple purlin had never been meant to come out, and it wasn't coming out now.

Speaking of the purlin, Topsider had assured us that a new purlin would be delivered on Saturday while we were up here.  Needless to say, nothing showed up.

Russell tries to remove the triple purlin
16d nails that aren't coming out

We had been frustrated on two out of three tasks.  Fortunately, on Sunday morning, we were finally able to partially redeem ourselves by successfully replacing six cast iron fascia fasteners with galvanized ones.

FS-1B fascia fasteners: cast iron (wrong) and galvanized (right)

Although the work side of this trip was frustrating and unsuccessful, the non-work side was very enjoyable.  When it got too hot to work in the middle of the afternoon, we went for a drive, where we saw a deer, a coyote, and a turkey vulture going after a dead skunk.  For the first time, we also saw what our house looks like from across the valley.  And while the days were hot, the evenings were warm and beautiful.  And for the first time, we slept, ate, and lounged around in our new house. 


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