Saturday, January 3, 2015

Year in, Year out

Goodbye 2014. For us at Shadowline this past year was full and fast. As we finished one house we were breaking ground for the next. We won't soon forget the struggles of the summer with all the fire and smoke, the week without power and finally all the flooding and road closures.

The home we completed this spring came out great and the proud owners love it. This was one of the fastest 'concept to completion' projects we have been involved with. I first met with my soon to be clients in July of 2013 and by September we had finalized the design and were meeting with the excavation contractor. Working with just two and a half men (I'm only half a man these days, LOL), we had the metal roof on before the Winter snows. Even with our traditional month break at Christmas we had the owners moving in by the first of May.

Our current job is also going well. This one took closer to 6 months in the design and planning phase but it's proving to be well worth the additional commitment. With the home's exterior virtually complete, I shut down my crew in mid December. The sheetrock crew got a late start but finished just before Christmas. When we start up again in 2 weeks the place will be ready for us to paint and start installing doors and interior trim. It will be nice to go back to work with the "gravy" part of the job waiting for us. This home is going to be one of my favorites. The site over- looking the river is spectacular and the owners are letting us do it right, on a budget, but with only the best in materials. I'm going to have to make more room for it on the Shadowline web site.

So, here's to another year with a bright future. Another year of challenges and rewards. Another year, still trying to be 'Smarter Than The Wood'. Welcome 2015.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Front Page News!


This may be a relatively small time Magazine but I still get a good feeling seeing this beautiful place on the front cover. The article by M.V. News editor Don Nelson, is well written and accurate. This project was one of the most challenging I have had in the last 20 some years in the valley. Though we didn't get to start it from scratch, the owners were willing to do whatever it took to make it right.

The exterior shell had been completed by the previous owners but needed extensive modification to fit the vision of its new owners. The interior was virtually raw without even a stairway to the second floor. This left a lot to be done but it gave us a fairly blank pallet to work from.

 Working with the existing log post & beam structure was something new for my crew and I. Traditional timber frame has always been my favorite but working with logs brought a new dynamic to our finish work especially. Coping every piece of window and door trim to logs is very time consuming but well worth it.

Before Kitchen
The owner's New York City background and taste allowed the traditional mountain lodge baseline to grow into a more modern yet appropriate styling. By increasing the scale of the steel railings and giving them a hand forged look and feel we were able to massage glass and metal into refined rustic. Honing the granite counters was the perfect solution to enhancing the organic aspect of lodge living.

After Kitchen

Friday, December 27, 2013

Ranch Estate Entry

Shame on me! Letting a promising blog die on the vine is so tacky. It may be common as hell but but still tacky. 10 months between posts is a bit much. So now what? Give in to inertia or fight to get back on track with a new post or two. I'm going to keep at it (NOT DEAD YET) and try and resurrect my smarterthanthewood thought stream So here goes...

As a designing builder my focus is usually on the next new home but occasionally a small side project comes along that provides a real creative challenge. The opportunity to do something we haven't tried before gives that project a little more buzz than it's size might typically impart. We got a chance to design and build that 'new thing' earlier this Summer in what I will call an estate entry for lack of a better description. The owners of a home we had finished a couple years earlier had been wanting a way finish off their project with a more formal property entrance. We were between new homes at the time so I jumped at the challenge of creating this new grand entrance to their place.

 Most of the construction here in the Methow Valley is in the rustic mountain lodge or western ranch vernacular. Typical driveway entry's are modeled in the old west working ranch style. Two log posts with a horizontal log across their tops and maybe a 'Bar S Ranch' type sign hanging from it. In that this home is in a slightly more developed neighborhood of 5 acre ranchettes with irrigated pastures we wanted to do something a little more refined without being stuffy. Our design started with a truncated base of concrete and river rock supporting a pair of columns, each made up of four 8x8 posts, one on each side of the drive. A larger 6x12 horizontal beam tied the two columns together fifteen feet in the air. It looked good on paper but a little ordinary to my eye. Drawing on a design element we had used on the exterior of the home, I converted the horizontal beam into a gable truss to mimic the homes primary entry detail. When I showed the two options to the owners they immediately chose the enhanced version.
Chief Architect rendering
With the basic design established it was time to engineer the 'nuts and bolts' of its construction. The hardest element in making the whole thing come together was the necessary fastening required at the transition between the river rock base and the 8x8 posts. Just burying the posts in the concrete was not an option because it would just be a matter of time before the posts would begin to deteriorate where they contacted the masonry.

Massive steel tiedowns embedded in concrete
Working with a local metal fabricator, Mark Edson, we put together a pair of structural tiedowns that would effectively link the stone base columns structurally to the vertical 8x8 posts. A key focus in our design was to keep the steel fasteners hidden so that the stone and heavy beams would be the dominate visual elements.
Beam truss ready to set
Using only kiln dry FHC (free of heart center) fir to minimize wood movement and shrinkage, we then fabricated the beam truss and vertical posts. With the custom steel tiedowns firmly embedded in the masonry bases we created a 4 post 'sandwich' support for each end of the horizontal truss. A crane was then able to set the finishing touch across the drive entry.

Completing the picture
Our stone mason, Eric Claussen, went to work soon after, carefully crafting the stone to our concrete capped base columns. Standing back, the new entry beautifully frames the mountain views creating an inviting welcome to the now more 'finished' family estate.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Time Fly's :)

It's been a month again since my last post. What's that about? Winter blahs? Sore back blues? Whatever it is, I need to snap out of it.

We are currently finishing up the Timber frame addition /remodel we started last Fall. The shingle panels for the upper walls of the project are now done. I have to say the lack of waste for this product is really great. At over $25 for an eight foot panel I tried to order the bare minimum, without a waste factor of any consequence, and still ended up with 2 panels left when we were done. Nice! High quality material put together with high fabrication standards equals excellent results.

Next week we will be installing stair treads and risers made from recycled and salvage Tamarack (Western Larch). The material comes to us with the 2 primary surfaces planed and each edge rough sawn. With an 8' straight edge against the table saw fence we true up one edge of each tread then with just the standard fence true the other. A portable planer smooths up the table saw cut and then a couple passes with a 3/8" round over bit in the router gives us the nosing of a finished tread. We usually pre-finish the treads and risers to save time at installation and to give them protection from the reality of on the job use. A final coat of finish when we are done and everybody is happy.

This project boasts a nice 5' shower with glass on 2 sides and frameless style construction as well as a 66" double ended claw foot tub. An old man with a bad back and claw foot tubs on the second floor don't go well together. I'm going to need to come up with a couple more young backs (young bucks) to get this beauty up those stairs without further injuries to the crew. Anybody want to help? The before mentioned stair treads are waiting patiently for the claw foot to make its way up before they can be safely installed without getting brutalized by a 400 pound tub.

I'll post this now so I can say I've at least done one blog post this month and maybe add a couple pictures this weekend to fill it out. Okay, this is kind of cheating but I think I'm okay with that. Bye for now, Don

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dumber Than A Stump

I chose 'Smarter Than The Wood' for the name of this blog because it had a sense of humor but could also be thought provoking. I hadn't really considered how it might come back to bite me. There's a little bit of a 'up on a pedestal' reality to this claim that might call for getting 'knocked off it' on occasion. I had no intention of getting on 'my high horse' about this when I started but I'm afraid I might have set myself up for a fall.

This came up first in a conversation with a client about a particular detail we were working on. I got a "someone smarter that the wood wouldn't do that' response, implying that my solution was less than 'perfect'. I never said I was perfect, damn it, but I guess suggesting that my insight into problem solving might be 'smarter' is more dangerous than I thought.

Another example came during simple day to day operations. This is embarrassing but the door is open now. On one particularly hectic day I tried to do one more thing than my apparently feeble mindedness could handle, installing a temporary toilet in the house where we were finishing up the framing, trying to save a little money on sani-can bills. This was late in the day (a theme we will revisit next). When it didn't flush properly I left for the day thinking it could be dealt with in the morning. The next day the plumber was on the job taking care of another issue so I mentioned that something was wrong with the toilet. Big mistake. The first thing out of his mouth was " did you remove the knock-out?" Damn. I'll probably never live that one down. 30 some years of construction and I'm smarter than the wood but forget to remove the seal from a new toilet rough-in? At least I should have keep it to myself by fixing my own mistake. Now the whole world knows!

But the reason I'm writing this post is because of an accident I had last November and it's not really funny. Late one day as it was getting dark I decided that it was important that I get a tarp up onto an area of the roof so that we wouldn't have to worry about snow in the morning. Everything was fine at first, my hammer in one hand, the tarp in the other, when for some reason I took one more step onto a patch of ice. There is one safety rule that always sticks with me. Most accidents happen at the end of the day when you might be a little tired, in a bit of a hurry and maybe not thinking about the next moment. 'Dumber than a stump' was one of the first things in my mind as I tried to get up off that hard frozen ground. My first thought was I'm alive but it hurts more than anything I have ever experienced. But second was "you know better, you've been telling others for years not to take that chance but here you jolly well are, aren't you". Two months later I'm still not fully recovered but I know one thing for sure. A moment of 'Dumber Than A Stump' lasts way too long.

So, what should one take away from all this. How about 'stay humble, my friend' and maybe, beware that a 'karmic payback' may be waiting in the wings.

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Honesty of Time

I want to make a New Year's resolution, and I want to still be in the same frame of mind 5 months and 29 days from now. After that, one could say the year is not new anymore, being half old and getting older by the day. I'll deal with that reality when it comes, but for now it's about the New side of the year. It seems to me that New Year's Eve and New Year's Day get too much credit or at least too much focus. I've made resolutions before but somehow lost sight of the usually singular direction of each attempt after a few days. You could say life gets in the way.

This time I'm going to keep it simple. "This is a New Year" will be my mantra. Not a new day or a new week, but a new year. Stuff happens in a year, or should I say stuff can happen in a year. In a day it's easy to be forced off course. For me it might be a snow storm; 8 to 10 inches in a night means everything else is put on hold and the snow blower, tractor and snow shovel take precedence. Recently I took a fall off of a roof. That really shook things up. For over a month, every day was about the basics of getting healthy again. But today is a New Year again. All the little pieces of time have collected and become more than they were.

Notice, I haven't made any grand promises of what I will accomplish in my New Year. This time it's going to be about optimism, letting the glass refill again when necessary, and especially letting the honesty of time frame the collective days and weeks into a positive life view; looking forward with support from the past.

And if you ask me, that is about as 'Smarter Than The Wood' as I'm likely to get. Happy New Year everybody!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Timber Frame Renovation

Remodels are always interesting to say the least. You never know what is behind a wall or under a floor until you tear into it. The job we are working on now also has an addition to the existing home. To make it even more challenging, the original home is a timber frame design. For those who are not sure what timber frame really means, think of a building with only a skeleton of large vertical posts, horizontal beams and rafters. Think of this 'frame' as a finish detail of the project, to be left uncovered as a strong visual element of the final product.

Timber 'Frame'
Now build another standard stud framed wall and roof outside the 'timbers' to carry the plumbing, electrical and insulation required for a modern residence and you get a feel for this style of building. This 'post and beam' construction goes back many centuries because of it's ability to accommodate the fairly crude framing members demanded by the tools available at the time. The term "barn raising" is appropriate here. With good organization, a weekend work party was often used to assemble a complete frame in one long weekend.

Fall Progress

But enough about timber framing history for now. This post was supposed to be about the challenge of a good remodel/addition. Partly because of our late season start our first priority was to complete any roofing details. In most modern timber frames the visual ceiling is made with 2x6 tongue and groove material nailed on top of the rafter timbers. A frame of 2x rafters is then built up from here. The main purpose of this sub-structure is to hold rigid insulation and provide the base for plywood sheathing, roofing paper and finally the roofing itself. For us this phase meant removing the metal roofing from above the two covered porches we were converting to living space and filling the hollow cavities with insulation. Considering the relatively small areas we were working with it was more cost effective to install sheets of 'Thermax' foam insulation (polyisocyanurate) instead of the spray foam used in the original construction. With an insulation value of about R-7 per inch this material rates as high as any material available, in our case allowing an insulating value of about R-38 (a little above code for cathedral ceilings in our area). Once the new insulation was in place we covered the joints with foil tape and sealed the edges and any gaps with spray foam. After reinstalling the plywood sheathing we replaced the outdated tar paper with a self sealing rubberized asphalt material commonly used in our area. The version we are now using (Titanium PSSU-30) has a fine grid embedded in the surface that provides excellent protection as well as a non slip surface durable enough to work on without damage.

Converting Covered Porch
For safety and efficiency, the siding on the second floor walls needed to be installed before the lower level roofing was reinstalled. The existing siding was cedar shingles but the birds, especially wood peckers and flickers, had been having fun destroying portions of it for years.

'Tasty Meal'
After considering many options we settled on replacing existing shingles with a hybrid product based on high quality natural cedar shingles pre-installed on a plywood backing 8 feet long and 7 5/8 inch tall allowing a 7 inch finish cover. Though much more expensive than regular shingles the savings in installation time and the unique construction of the panel itself made the decision easy enough.

Cedar Shingle Panel

In a standard shingle installation the layering of one course of shingles over the next leaves a small gap between adjoining shingles. This gap creates a protected pocket, hidden from view, but accessible to over-wintering insects. Birds can sense this available food source and are more than happy to remove any wood separating them from a very tasty meal. The construction and installation  of these shingle panels eliminates this hidden food storage pocket. I would be surprised if the developers of this labor saving product had bird damage in mind but we are happy to take advantage of this reality. Smarter than the wood. And very nice to look at as well.

Finished End Wall