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March 9, 2008
Gail's personal hell

Gail (who has a fear of edges and heights) balances herself between a ladder and a parapet to install a top plate on the vaulted ceiling

Back in 2004, when we first had to make the decision of whether to build our mountain home ourselves or hire a contractor, we did an inventory of our skills. We decided that Russellís fortť was the outside of the house, where muscle would be required for the raw construction. Gailís fortť was the inside of the house, where finishing skills would be required for the interior decorating. As a result, Russell has been taking the lead for the work so far, as we have constructed the exterior skeleton. After the structure as passed inspection, Gail will begin to take the lead as we finish the interior walls, floors, ceilings and fixtures.

It is fitting, then, that Russellís biggest challenges have involved his work on the inside of the house. In past letters, we have documented Russellís ďpersonal hellĒ of trying to construct a ceiling of joists around the center pole and eight knee braces. Russell finally got through his hell in October, when he finally finished the spaghetti-like mess of joists above the second floor.

Since then, Russell has had a much more relaxing time constructing the upper walls that join the lower walls to the vaulted ceiling. (Constructing the top plates that attach to the vaulted ceiling, however, has been a two-person nightmare for both Russell and Gail.)

Sadly, Gailís ďpersonal hellĒ has just begun. Ironically, her frustration involves her work on the outside of the house.

During the harsh winter storms of the past few months, we discovered (the hard way) that the exterior walls of our mountain home are not watertight. After investigating, Gail discovered that Topsider manufactured with walls without any vapor barrier layer or any caulking, even though the walls are constructed with multiple pieces. We would have to add caulk after the fact, despite the walls already being installed and in place 20 feet above the ground.

On Friday, March 7, we had clear weather to drive up for the weekend. Once again, we left our two sons at home. Russellís priority would be to continue constructing and installing the upper walls. Gailís priority would be to begin weatherproofing the exterior walls.

Gail did not have an enjoyable weekend. As she began to work on the exterior of Jossí bedroom wall, she discovered that the siding has begun to peel away from the structure. This may be because we have not finished staining the siding. It may be because of water damage. Or it may just be because of shoddy construction on the part of Topsider. In any event, Gail had to start repairing that, before she could get to her top priority of caulking.

Discovery No. 1: The siding on the exterior walls is beginning to separate from the wall frames
(Note that this particular wall was stained two years ago!)

As far as caulking, Gail decided to do what Topsider should have done in the first place: remove the wood trim and caulk underneath the trim. That way, it wouldnít matter whether we used stain or paint, since the caulk would not be exposed to it. Furthermore, the caulk would be hidden from the elements and last longer.

When Gail removed the first piece of trim, she made another hellacious discovery: Topsider had not installed any Z-flashing on the trim pieces. Normally, when a wall is constructed with T1-11 (instead of a Tyvek vapor barrier), Z-flashing is used to make the seams weather tight. Gail was horrified.

Discovery No. 2: The trim wood (seen here with quarter-round removed above and below) was installed with no weathertight Z-flashing

At this point, Gailís choices were to completely dismantle and reverse-engineer all of the exterior walls and install Z-flashing, or just proceed forward and caulk them as they are. She decided on the latter. Just removing the trim pieces and caulking underneath will take hours and hours of work. By the end of the weekend, Gail had just finished Jossí wall.

In the meantime, Russell was able to be more productive. He installed the upper wall studs over the master bedroom closets and over Cameronís bedroom wall. Cameronís wall was especially challenging. Not only is it the highest vaulted ceiling, but there is no parapet to stand on and the wall itself has a sheer drop two stories down the stairwell. Gail was happy to take a break from outside and help Russell install the last top plates above Cameronís wall.

As usual, we had a very busy and productive weekend, yet still felt like we had accomplished little. Gail was not able to install any electrical wiring at all, and we still have to repair the rest of the exterior walls as the weather improves.

At this point, we have until May to complete both the interior wall framing and the electrical wiring. Between Cameronís upcoming college tours and Jossí upcoming back surgery for scoliosis, we will be hard-pressed to get time up here during the next couple of months.


On the positive side: Russell was able to install the upper wall studs above the master bedroom closets (left) and Cameron's beroom (right)


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