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December 13, 2009
Stairs: second flight

Using a stringer and a gazebo rail, Russell envisions how the upper stair flight will connect to the second floor

Gail and Russell took advantage of the weekend of December 11 for a “couple-only” weekend up on our mountain home construction site. Our original hope of snow outside and hot water inside was replaced by the reality of rain and wind all weekend. Fortunately, both of us enjoy experiencing real weather.

Russell’s goal for the weekend was to finish installing the second of three flights of stairs. He had already cut the set of three stringers. Now his tasks were to mount them on a hangerboard, move the entire apparatus into place, then attach rough risers and treads.

Russell had constructed the first flight’s stringers using a suggestion from a book: cut one stringer, then trace its shape for the other two stringers. The problem with this approach is that any slight error in the first stringer becomes magnified in the copies. As a result, we had to do a bit of adjusting to each of the stringers.

For the second flight, Russell decided to measure and mark each stringer separately. The problem with this approach is that each stringer is slightly different from its siblings. As a result, we again had to do a bit of adjusting to each of the stringers. Oh well.

Gail uses her Dremel tool to make adjustments to a stringer;
Russell installs the rough risers and treads

The installation was further complicated by the fact that this flight – the upper flight – was designed to be free-standing, unsupported by any walls. Our building inspector informed us that the flight would therefore require railing on both sides “so no one falls to their death.”

We were not enamored of installing a railing on both sides of the flight, and ended up having a long (and drawn-out) conversation about alternatives. In the end, we have decided to install a faux wall on one side of the flight. While this eliminates the airy feeling of a “free-floating” stairwell, the faux wall will be so small that it hardly makes any difference to visibility. Russell’s future challenge will be how to design and install the faux wall – but that is a challenge for another day.

The upper flight before and after – we will ultimately install a faux wall on the far side of this flight

Even with Gail’s help, Russell was still screwing in the last treads and risers when it was time to leave on Sunday afternoon. Nevertheless, the goal was achieved.

The second flight: stringers, treads and risers

Gail’s progress this weekend was much more frustrating. Her intention was to finish drywalling Cameron’s bedroom (formerly our temporary kitchen). Unfortunately, Gail has already drywalled most of the “easy” walls. What’s left are the troublesome spots where Topsider’s kit walls come together. They are usually neither plumb nor aligned. Gail’s solution has been to insert shims where necessary so the drywall panes can intersect properly. She ended up spending several hours on Saturday adjusting a single small piece of drywall.

Sunday didn’t go much better, as Gail only succeeded in installing one piece of drywall. It was the last piece of greenboard to surround the shower. (Yes, we are still hopeful that we will have hot water one of these days.)

Gail's sole drywalling accomplishment on Sunday was finishing the upstairs bathroom walls

Gail’s frustration was further increased by the discovery that several of our exterior-facing walls continue to leak when it rains. Due to area winds, most rain comes in from the south and southeast. This translates to Joss’ bedroom and the master bedroom. We discovered two years ago that these walls leak, and Gail spent considerable time coating, insulating and caulking all of the joints in all of the exterior walls. So it was very frustrating to discover that they still leak.

Gail has purposely avoided drywalling these two rooms because of this concern. Now we will have to do further weatherproofing work. The suggestion from our building inspector is to install bitumen at every joint, then hide it with molding.

On the positive side, the inclement weather gave us an incredible weekend experience. There were massive downpours of rain all day Saturday, accompanied by huge and howling winds. We were also treated to an incredibly brilliant lightning storm on Saturday night, with bolts lighting up the entire sky several times a minute. We originally arrived to a temperature of 44º F. By running three heaters upstairs and two downstairs, we were able to get the house up to a comfortable 65º F.

All in all, we continue to make slow progress on our mountain home construction. Unfortunately, it often feels like every problem we solve is accompanied by a new problem that needs further solving.

The two stairways are increasingly encroaching on each other;
Gail photographed this Escher-esque angle


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