Thursday, September 27, 2007

Septic Field

I got word today that the septic field passed the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) inspection. My property is located in the watershed of New York City's water supply, so you can imagine the regulations and restrictions on local septic systems. The initial tests last spring after the ground thawed determined that I needed a "partially engineered" system. This wasn't great news, but it wasn't a big surprise. The property is located at about 2,200 feet where the topsoil is rarely more than a foot or two deep. What it meant, though, was a more costly waste water management system.

During the early construction bidding process, this was one of the line items that took my breath away. It was hard to imagine that I was going to need about 50 truckloads of dirt added to the site. I couldn't imagine where it was going to go, and I didn't want a small mountain in the front yard.

Over the summer, the excavator brought in soil slowly, truckload by truckload, and with great care has managed to form the septic field into a gently sloping terrace in front of the house. Of course there are always more decisions to be made, and the call today was also to find out if I wanted the field seeded with wildflower conservation seed or a grass that I would keep mown.

I used wildflower seeds along the side of the lower driveway when it was rebuilt, but the grasses in the mix are really tall and wild—surprise? With the septic field just below the house, I want to keep the area more tidy, and I'm already imagining my red Adirondack chairs on a field of emerald green grass inviting me to stop and watch the clouds drift by next summer.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


This morning, a team of guys were putting up Sheetrock. They started yesterday, finishing most of the first floor. I knew it would really change the feeling of the rooms. Before the Sheetrock, they added a second layer of insulation that is a soft fiberglass-type batting. It really makes the house sound hushed. It's being added to all the exterior walls and the interior walls between the bedrooms and on the first floor between the bathroom and the living room to function as a sound barrier.

A bubble wrap-looking insulation for the radiant floor was also installed over the tubing attached beneath the subfloors. The tubes for the system where installed a couple of weeks ago, and the network of pipes were mounted to a control panel in the basement utility room. The boiler, which will heat the water in the system, is surprisingly small. It's not much bigger than a suitcase, and it includes the tankless hot water heater for the kitchen and bathrooms. It's a new system from Italy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

We're in Good Shape

Well, I'll say it again. Trust in your builder is critical. I can't imagine going through this experience with someone that I didn't think was honest and I couldn't trust at least 95%. Mark and I spoke today about the delay in the building schedule and the increased costs from framing. As it turns out, the miscalculation was on his part and the framing not only took a little longer, but cost a little more...and it's not going to be my financial responsibility. I'm not going to be in the house before Thanksgiving, but it only seems that we'll be about two weeks off. He thinks he'll be finished by mid-December, but he's hesitant to say for sure because the house has a lot more detail work than they typically have on projects. I do trust this guy, so I'm going to relax and try to enjoy the process.

I also found out today the the lighting order from Visual Comfort isn't going to be complete for one shipment. In fact, half of the lighting for the house will come in in stages over the next two months. I told Mark, and he was completely cool. No problem. I'll say it again, great builder.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

New Schedule

Last night I was pretty restless. Just before going to bed, I checked my emails. Mistake. There was a message from Mark with an update on the building schedule. He doesn't think he'll have me in the house by Thanksgiving, but the "good news" is that "it's not going to cost me much more....." So, here it is. The classic building scenario. I think it's rare, probably never, that a new house is finished on time on budget. What was I thinking.

Hopefully I'll have the house by the New Year. I have to admit that he did say we could discuss the situation and work something out. He knows that I need to be out of my current rental by the end of November.

With a day to think about it, I'm feeling more resolved to the situation. It won't be so bad if I can move things in to the basement of the long as I can take possession by the end of the year. I won't even be around that much in December. Now, I'll have to check in with him to see what "not much more money" means.

I can tell that more electronic and radiant heating work was done over the past week. It looks like the tankless hot water heater is installed. Honestly, I can't tell what a lot of the devices now in the basement are. The pump for the well? The boiler for the radiant heat in the floor? Mark will have to fill me in on all of those details, too.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

More Lighting

I'm still working on the lighting specs, and I'll be glad when I don't have to think about them again. With all of the new faux materials I'm using to build the house, I'm counting on the lighting to give the house an authenticity. The whole building process is such an humbling design experience. After so many years as an editor with shelter magazines, most people would expect me to know exactly what I want, but there is one thing I'm now certain of. Interior designers and architects are worth every penny you pay them. If I only had more pennies....I spent a lot of time thinking about the upstairs sconces this past weekend. I'm resourcing them (and the kitchen lighting) from a company called Visual Comfort who's retail division is Circa Lighting. They have the most beautiful fixtures with collections by designers I admire a lot—like Thomas O'Brien and Eric Cohler. Their in-house lines, Charter House and Studio, are also fantastic. The challenge for me isn't finding something that I like, it's narrowing those choices down to fixtures that are the right size and finish for the rooms. I know it sounds ridiculously simple, but it's not.

I finally decided to sketch life-size cutouts of a few fixtures and take them over to the house to see how they looked on the wall. I also wanted to make sure that the electric boxes were at the correct height for the fixtures. It's a lot easier for the electrician to change the position of them now before the Sheetrock goes up.

Seeing the sketches of the sconces taped in place on the wall made the final decision pretty easy. Here's what I've chosen: For the master bedroom I'm using a pair of Yoke Style Bath Sconces in bronze with white glass shades. In the guest room, I picked a pair of the Metropolitan Sconces in an antique white finish with paper shades. And, for the bookshelves in the common area, I'm going with a pair of the Boston Functional Library Two Arm Wall Lights. Some of the finishes you see here aren't what I picked, but the designs area great.

I met the electrician and site manager at the house on Friday, and we made a key change to the lighting plan in the kitchen. It's always good to meet up with the crew to make some decisions in person and verify other decisions that were made when the design was only on paper. In the kitchen it became clear that three ceiling lights were overkill, so we eliminated one. I was also able to more carefully consider the position of the lights. Alignment (of doors, windows, fixtures, etc...) is something that generally doesn't cost anything but can make the design of the whole look like a million bucks or cheap. Of course there are exceptions, but you always want the exceptions to be intentional and necessary, not just poor planning. The ceiling lights in the kitchen are aligned left to right with one of the fixtures also in alignment with the sink. I probably would have aligned the second fixture with the range, but there was a beam in the way on the ceiling. The left to right alignment was the most important visually. The fixtures I'm looking at will hang, and I'll share them in the next post. I've got a couple of spec questions that I need to have answered before I can make a decision. Circa Lighting has stores in Charleston, Savannah, Atlanta and Houston. I'll call one with my questions when they open today.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Lightning Protection

From the moment the second floor of the house was framed, I worried about lighting strikes. I'm in a high mountain valley at about 2,200 feet with no really large trees around me. The house is situated in an old stone-walled pasture, and the trees that have started reclaiming the hillside are just starting to get some size. The house looked like a sitting target for a lightning strike.

There have been a lot of big storms this summer. Several times I've headed into the Catskills just as a storm rolled in and was astonished at the frequency of dramatic strikes on the mountain side. Mark had never installed lightning rods on any of his projects, which was kind of surprising, because every barn and house I've seen in the area has lightning rods—so many that you'd think there would be a lot of people in the business of installing them. But, there aren't. I turned to the Internet and found two sources, one in Vermont and one in Delaware. So, I called them to ask for quotes. The Vermont company faxed me a very detailed and elaborate plan, but it was more than twice what they had tentatively quoted me over the telephone. The other company, WB Lightning Rods out of Bear, Delaware gave me a quote about the same as the other company's telephone quote...and that was that.

William Burden turned out to be a great choice. I was a little nervous, because he didn't ask for a deposit (pretty unusual today), and he said that summer is the business' busiest season. But, true to his word, he arrived earlier today and within about six hours had the necessary four rods installed and the chimney also grounded.

I feel a lot better knowing that the system is in place, and I'm going to have my electrician also install a surge protector on the electric panel and the incoming telephone line. I've learned that lightning strikes can travel from telephone poles and public utility wires. When you start looking at the statistics for lightning strikes, you don't want to take any chances.