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January 30, 2008
Between storms

Gail made a new friend up on our mountain

When we last left our mountain house at the beginning of January, we had just been through the worst storm in two years. We discovered that while the roof doesnít leak, the walls do. We departed in a hurry, basically leaving the leaks and mess to be dealt with at a future date.

After we returned to the Bay Area, Gail had numerous telephone and email exchanges with the folks at Topsider (who had supplied our kit home) to figure out why our walls were leaking. The first thing she discovered was that our longtime customer service rep, Brian Reed, is no longer with the company.

Starting with a new contact, Gail began to go through her list of questions. Why were our exterior wall panels constructed without a Tyvek vapor barrier? As it turns out, they were made with T1-11 plywood siding, which does not require a barrier. All of the walls do need to be stained though, and we have not finished doing that yet.

Why were our walls leaking? Gail was shocked to learn that Topsider had not caulked any of the seams in any of the exterior walls. Dumbfounded, Gail asked why. The Topsider rep explained that there are two kinds of caulking, depending on whether the finished house is stained or painted. Because Topsider doesnít know what the owner will ultimately do, Topsider doesnít caulk anything at all. The rep further explained that any contractor would have known this.

Gail asked why Topsider didnít simply caulk all of the seams underneath the finished wood, where they would not be exposed to any stain or paint. The rep didnít really have an answer to this question. In the end, it was obvious that the reason our walls leak is because none of the seams have been caulked. We had a new construction priority, but we would be dependent on both the weather and our availability.

Our first opportunity would be right after our daughter Colleen returned to Michigan. Unfortunately, this would also be a weekday, when Russell was at work and the boys were at school. Nevertheless, Gail drove back up on Monday, January 7 for her first-ever night alone up on the mountain. Her goals were to clean up any water damage, empty any catch basins as necessary, and begin caulking the two most critical walls Ė the master bedroom and Joss' bedroom, which faced the south toward the wind.

Gail did well caulking the exterior in the cold and wind. To reach a wall outside the master bedroom that had no deck access, she ended up hanging outside the window and caulking blindly by feel. She even single-handedly removed and re-installed a sliding glass door.

We would not have another chance to drive back up together again until Saturday morning, January 26, leaving the boys at home. It would be a short weekend, but another incentive was that it had snowed earlier in the week. Although the sun was now out again (hence our visit), we hoped to see some remnants. We also hoped to make more progress in caulking, wall building and wiring.

We saw evidence that it had snowed, but there was little left by the time we arrived

Once again, our careful plans were interrupted by reality. When driving the last quarter mile to the house, we discovered that a large tree had fallen down across the dirt road Ė a casualty of the recent storms. We walked the last distance to the house and returned with a chain saw and clippers. We took half of the afternoon to cut and clear the tree.

We spent the first half of the afteroon cutting and clearing a tree

As we surveyed the area, we also saw that autumn oak leaves now covered the dirt road. In addition to making the road slippery, they also clogged the water run-off ditches. As a result, the rain water was now eating gullies into the dirt road. After going back up to the house once more to get rakes, we ended up taking the other half of the afternoon to rake leaves.

We spent the second half of the afternoon raking leaves

The good news is that the house itself appears not to have suffered any permanent water damage. We spent Sunday cleaning up, putting down dry newspaper and emptying the catch basins. However, we were only able to do a minimal amount of caulking before it was time to leave.

The tree across the road wasn't our only storm casualty. We also lost a huge fir tree on top of the mountain near the house.

After returning to the Bay Area, Gail turned around and drove back up to the mountain only two days later, once again during midweek.

There were three reasons. First, Gailís step-brother (and electrician) Jim was available that day, and Gail wanted to consult with him about the electrical wiring. Second, there would be another clear day between storms to do some more caulking. Third, there had been another rare snowfall, and Gail really wanted to see some of the white stuff on our mountain.

So on Wednesday, January 30, Gail and Jim went back up for a day trip. Sure enough, the road, trees and house were all covered with a thin layer of snow. Gail and Jim were able to accomplish most of what they came up for, including more caulking and wiring. One task that they did not accomplish was to install an outlet at the step-up pump down the hill to power the heat tape. Once again, that will have to wait for another day.

We are hopeful that the heavy storms and freezing weather are mostly done for the season. As the weather continues to improve, we hope to finish caulking, staining and sealing the house so that it is truly weather tight.

In the meantime, Gail beat the rest of us by being the first one to experience snow on our mountain.

Gail enjoys her own personal snow day


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