Wednesday, September 30, 2009

DIY - Wood Stove Hood

When I looked back at my idea book, nearly every kitchen in there had a wood stove hood with a built-in fan/ventilator. I loved the look but when I explored the price with my cabinet company, it was more than I wanted to spend. I considered giving up on the idea but ultimately decided that my husband, Jim, is hand enough so maybe he could build it. He agreed to give it a shot and our builder agreed to help install it and poke through the wall to the outside. I found a bunch of pictures of what I wanted and Jim built it out of 1/2" plywood. The angles gave him some serious headaches but he did a great job!

We color matched the cabinet paint at our local Benjamin Moore store and it blends nicely with the cabinets. We get a lot of complimnts on it and we saved about $1000 doing it this way!

For those who are wondering, that's a pot-filler over the stove. I love it!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lighting Choices

For some reason when you are just visiting a house, lighting doesn't seem to be a big issue - unless it's really bad. If you don't notice it then it's working well. This is different from noticing a particular fixture because it's interesting. The light should set the mood for the room or area. Dimmers should be installed in areas where you may want to reduce the harshness of the light. Besides the obvious dining room example, in your master bedroom, you probably want some recessed lights on dimmers because as you are getting ready to go to bed, you don't need them on full blast but when you are trying to match your black and navy socks then you probably want as much as light as you can get!

I searched high and low for different lights to match the different rooms in our house. I stumbled on these through various web retailers (often on clearance) as well as outlet stores and big box home stores. For example, I found some Restoration Hardware sconces for our master bathroom but did not like the coordinating pieces but did find a Murray Feiss overhead light which worked perfectly with the sconces and which I love!

In our kitchen, I worked really hard to find the ideal pendant lights. Although some people may think they are too large to be called pendants, I chose some large school house style lights which really fit with the era of our home, as well as the casual elegant style that I strive for througout our home.

The most important thing is to pick what you love. Don't settle even under the time pressure of building a house or adding on. If you don't find what you are picturing, then keep looking until the right thing hits you. Be sure you leave yourself lots of time to make your decisions, but in general, you know what you're going to need even when you are only laying the foundation. So, make a list and start checking things off once you find them. This also gives you more to shop for bargains!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Window Treatments - Shades, Drapes, etc.

As much as we are enjoying all of the wonderful light in our house, we've realized the importance of window treatments. In hindsight, it would probably have been a good idea to have the master bathroom shades up before we moved in but live and learn!

I suggest looking for window treatments pretty much anywhere that sells them. For drapes and panels, I love the look of Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware but not the price. Instead I scour JC Penney, Target, Wal-Mart, Lowes, Home Depot, Sears, etc. to find what I need but get the look I want. Generally these places are much less expensive than the others but without sacrificing quality in many cases. Some things are better quality than others. No one will guess that you got those great drapes at Lowes! Lined drapes generally look more expensive because they hang better. You can always lined unlined drapes if you get a deal. It's not hard or expensive.

For shades, we really like the cordless cellular shades from Lowes. They have 2 types - Levelor and their own brand which they sell under several names. The Levelor type are cut to size in about 5 minutes which is very handy. Both are very reasonably priced.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A month goes by...

A month goes by in a blink! Especially August. We spent a couple of weeks away and the rest of the time unpacking and getting settled. We've got a lot of window treatments and only a few boxes left to unpack.

We're really pleased with the final product. We still have some minor punchlist items to complete but those will be done over the course of the next few weeks. The only somewhat major thing is that the fireplace frame was bent so the front needs to be replaced. We're going to tile and finish the mantle ourselves in the next month or so.

Kaye and Jim did beautiful work for us and we are so thankful to them. We would highly recommend them so please call them if you are looking for an architect or general contractor in the Northern Virginia area.

Final pics posted at the left in the construction pictures. Before and after pictures coming soon.

Friday, August 7, 2009

We're home!

Well, after a brief delay of 5 days, we are back in our house. The major hiccup was that we had to be out of our rental on the 31st but we were lucky enough to have good friends heading out of town for the weekend, so we borrowed their house (it may never be the same).

We moved in on Monday and have been working like crazy ever since. My parents were here to help us unpack and settle in. My father is a master of hanging curtain rods, shades, pictures, and many, many other things. My mom was a huge help with cleaning, unpacking, cooking, and distracting both kids at key moments. We certainly wouldn't be this far along in the unpacking process without their help.

Although we are moved in, we have had more than our fair share of plumbing issues including poor water pressure which won't allow the tankless hot water heater to kick on. I'll also be happy when the plumber gets our dryer hooked up on Monday - it's hard having 2 kids and no washer and dryer! Needless to say, the plumber was not my favorite person this week.

Hopefully we'll be very settled in by the end of the weekend. I'll have more on punch lists in the coming weeks!

Monday, July 27, 2009

So close, yet...

Although we had been planning for about 2 months to move back to our house on Wednesday, we are now delayed until Monday. Unfortunately we have to be out of our rental on Friday so we have to send our stuff to storage for the weekend and we have to go stay at some friends' house in Alexandria. It's a bummer and a pain but there's not much we can do. Although we should probably have seen this coming, it was very disappointing to get the news from our builder only 4 days before our move date. All-in-all, 4 days delay isn't all that bad but it does require a lot of extra work, and a little bit of scrambling, on our parts. Hopefully it all works out as planned.

On the bright side, the new floors looks great and the finishing is coming along. The final coat of poly goes on tomorrow morning and then a flurry of work should begin on Wednesday including the driveway and digging the trench for the new larger water line which was required by the County for houses with 3 or more bathrooms. The plumbing and electrical fixtures will be set later this week and the stairs from the driveway to the backyard will be completed as well. We're hoping that the house will be essentially finished when we move in on Mondy and that there will be very few things left to do after Monday. We hope.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


I can finally say "Thank goodness it's raining!" Now that we have the sod down in the backyard, the rain is a huge help with watering. We should be good until Saturday now. We're only 5 days (and one huge yard sale) away from moving back in. The hardwood floors will be sanded tomorrow and the staining and poly will go on later tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday. They have to sit for 24 hours after that so no one will be able to go into the house until some time on Monday. Then on Tuesday it will be all systems go to get the house ready for us to move in on Wednesday!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The home stretch...

Just 7 days until we move back in and it's full steam ahead at our house. Although some things seem to be taking forever (master bathroom tile and painting), generally we are pleased with the progress. The new railings are up on the back porch and they look really good. I'm so glad our architect convinced me not to do wood because it would look to heavy and would detract from the house. The railing also matches the original railings on our house perfectly.

So far, I am happy with the interior paint color choices. We opted for a no VOC paint (Duron Genesis) in an eggshell finish on the walls and semi-gloss on the woodwork. With 2 kids, I need washability!

The floors will be sanded and one coat of varnish will go on Friday and then the rest will be done over the weekend and be finished as early as possible on Sunday. On Monday, the floors will be covered with paper and everyone will be on their best behavior while they finish electrical, plumbing and painting.

The countertops go in tomorrow. I finally decided on Absolute Black granite with a honed finish. I loved the look of soapstone but the maintenance is a killer and there is a high risk of staining. The granite I found at International Marble in Arlington has something like 30 coats of sealer on it and supposedly you never have to seal it again. They gave me a great price and are also doing our bathroom vanity with a sink at a great price. Needless to say I am really excited about tomorrow's installation!! I'll post pictures when they're done.

Loads of new pictures posted on the left.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Kitchen! Railings! Patio!

Well, 17 days and counting until we move back into the house and things are really moving now. I feel like the progress is really tangible on a daily basis. I haven't felt this way since framing. The most major change right now is that the kitchen cabinets are in. They are made by Kingswood Kitchens and were ordered through Bergman Custom Casework in Queenbsury, NY. They are absolutely beautiful - I am thrilled with results! We made the decision to do a lot of drawers instead of lower cabinets. There are a few lower cabinets but we tried to minimize them since I hate how things always get stuck in the back! We are ordering our countertops this week and hopefully they will be ready to install next week before the floors are finished. We are opting for honed Absolute Black granite with a permanent sealer. More on that decision later...

The stair railings have also been installed and they look really great. We opted not to have a railing on the side of the stairs coming into the kitchen because it's only 2 steps and it keeps it more open. The code allows for this because there is a continuous railing on the other side and it's less than a certain height so there is limited risk of falls. You can see it in the pictures in the Construction album.

We also opted to get the landscaping in the backyard started. We are using a local family-owned landscaping business, Hambletons, which we have used before for small projects and spring yard clean-up. The patio will probably be finished in the next day or so, and then the sod will go down. We'll have to see if we can borrow a neighbor's hose to water it until our water is back on in a week or so. Let's hope we get some decent thunderstorms - but of course after the wettest spring in years, the forecast does not have any rain in it!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Hardwood Floors!

After a brief delay due to high humidity, our hardwood floors started going down on Friday. They finished the upstairs in one day, including the patches in the old part of the house. They look really good. It's amazing how well the old and new parts can be patched. They will look perfect when they are stained.

Our cabinets get delivered tomorrow morning and will likely go in this week. I am still trying to make a final decision on countertops. After going to one place that I did not like and another that I did, I did some more research and may go to a third place in Fairfax to see if they have the ideal countertop - basically a dark/black counter which isn't shiny and doesn't show fingerprints. I'm down to deciding between honed Absolute Black and Cambrian Black antiqued. I have not seen the latter so I am on a quest to see it tomorrow in person. I'll have to make some calls to see whether any of the local granite showrooms have it. I want to be sure to get my granite from a reputable place because the finishes vary greatly. I have found that for the same type stone, some installers recommend maintenance (sealing) every 6 months and others tell you that the stone never has to be sealed. Obviously, I want the least amount of maintenance with the best look. I'll have to figure it out in the next week or so.

I have chosen most of the paint colors for the house with the exception of the master bedroom. I have ordered a pillow sham for the duvet cover that I like. If it looks good in person, then I'll base my final paint decision on that.

Outside, landscaping will begin later this week. We're meeting with the landscaper tomorrow morning to decide on a final layout for the patio and the planting areas. I am going to have a lot of planting to do ths fall but at least I'll be enjoying our new house while I do it!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Lots of Exterior Progress!

We have made a lot of progress on the exterior. Our new front portico is on and looks really good. I'll be happy to be able to stand out of the rain as I fumble with my keys and keep 2 kids under control! It took about 2 days to build but it changes the entire look of the house. This is a good lesson for those putting down wood floors - be sure your house is very dry or you may have problems later.
The siding is also completed and is being caulked today. I am really pleased with how it turned out. I have posted new pictures in the Construction Pictures album on the left.
Inside, the hardwood floors should have been put down today but it's too humid. Although I am disappointed, we don't want the floors to buckle. They are going to get the air conditioning up and running today so the house can dry out and hopefully they can go down next week. It's a setback but hopefully we'll be able to make up the time by getting things done on the outside and things not related to the floors. Either way, we're moving 4 weeks from today!

Saturday, June 20, 2009


At long last we are in the drywall stage. It's a huge relief because it feels like we are at the top of the mountain. Hopefully the downhill won't take as long as the climb! So far, it looks great. Several people told us that it would feel smaller once the drywall is in but I think it feels bigger to me. Probably because the walls are now white and not busy - covered with wires, pipes, etc. They started on Thursday afternoon and will probably finish on Monday or Tuesday. They are working today (Saturday) on the master bedroom and bathroom. I have not had a chance to take pictures upstairs but there are pictures of the family room and kitchen posted in the Construction Pictures on the left.

We are moving back into the house in approximately 6 weeks. We're hoping it won't be too much like camping when we do get back in there! We figure that it's worth it to live with a little mess to avoid another month of rent in our rental. Also, we are feeling the squeeze of having 2 kids in our little rental house.

This week I have to figure out the countertops - either Silestone or honed (dull) black granite. I think the price will be close to the same but I have some concerns about the maintenance of granite which I want to discuss with the installer.
I am also looking at paint colors. We are repainting everything in the house except for our exisiting upstairs hall bath. I have a general idea of what we want but need to buy some samples and put them on the walls. It's definitely better than picking from a tiny color sample.
More pictures to come later this weekend!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Insulation and.... Drywall!

We have completed our mechanical inspections and will start insulation tomorrow. That will probably take 2 days and we'll get our insulation/close-in inspection on Wednesday. Our builder will be stocking drywall on Wednesday so they can begin on Thursday!! Needless to say, we're incredibly excited about drywall because it feels like the top of a peak and then we're just on the downhill! Drywall will take about a week according to our builder.

After drywall comes the floors which will probably take several days since there is a lot of patching and matching to do. The floors aren't finished until after the painting and trimwork is done though. We have picked out tile for our master bathroom and laundry room. The rest of the house will be hardwood to match our existing floors.

On the outside, a considerable amount of work has been done on grading the backyard and installing drain pipes for the gutters (not yet installed). We have also had a drywell dug which we are now wondering if it's not deep enough since the water doesn't drain. Keep in mind though, we have clay soil so the bottom of the drywell is like a rock! Our contractor added a drainage ditch behind the garage to help handle some of the drywell run-off. Hopefully all of this will help the water issues in our yard although I don't think it will be entirely well-drained even after all this. There are just too many places for the water to come from and flow into our yard.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Finishing up mechanicals!

We are in the final days of finishing up our mechanicals. In fact, we had our inspections today and we're all systems go for insulation and drywall next week. The siding is almost finished and the roofs over the back and side doors are on. The blog came in handy because I posted pictures of the roofs, our architect looked at the and then called our builder to tell him to take off the fascia boards on the front! They definitely look better without it.

We also had our new security system installed. We were very disappointed in the customer service we received from Brink's (whichwe have used for 7 years) so we called Slomin's based on some recommendations from friends. So far we have been very pleased with the service and are getting a better monthly monitoring rate. Unfortunately, in our area a security system is somewhat of a necessity. It's great to be able to have them run the wires around the time the mechanicals are finishing up so that you can limit the amount of work they have to do later on.

Since the exterior is almost done, we are considering our landscaping options. It would be great to have g We have to satisfy county codes concerning stormwater management. We are working with Hambleton's Landscaping service, our architect, and our contractor to satisfy the requirements. Our down spouts are going to be redirected to the road (where possible) and to a new drywell in the backyard. We have already dug the drywell but it has been completely filled with water ever since so it may not be big enough!! Fortunately we dug it during the rainiest time so we can see the worst case scenario. We are also going to install a rain barrel on the back of our garage to catch the garage run-off (which is also the wettest corner of our yard).

Be sure to check out the pictures of the progress!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Lots of Mechanical Progress & Siding

This week we have made a lot of progress on the mechanicals. Electrical, plumbing and HVAC are all 80-90% done. Jim C. is pushing everyone to be done by the end of this week so that we can get a mechanical inspection done. After that insulation starts and then we do a final close-in inspection, then... DRYWALL!!!

We did a very helpful walk-through with the electrician on Saturday afternoon. We talked about switch locations and cleared up several things which we had questions about. We purchased bathroom fans, ceiling fans, and other light fixtures over the past few weeks, so the electrician knows exactly what he is dealing with. One major question remains over where the kitchen island will be located exactly, so Jim C. is going to build a mock island so it can be located perfectly and the lights can be centered over it.

The siding will also be going up this week and will hopefully be mostly done by the end of the week. They started the siding on the garage before the monsoon weather hit and now they will continue it this week.

Also, since drywall is not far off, paint is not far off either so I am busily trying to pick some possible colors and get some larger color samples. Fortunately our rental house has wonderful natural light and white walls so it's easy to get a good idea for colors without even leaving the living room (good because we have a newborn baby boy!).

More to come on landscaping issues... We have about 9 weeks left until we move back in so let's hope the house is liveable!!!

Monday, May 25, 2009

On the menu for this week...

Well, another week of rain ahead but fortunately most of the work that needs to be done is inside stuff. Plumbing is underway and HVAC will likely start this week as well. Electrical will be the last trade when the other two are done or close to done.

Siding has started on the garage but only a few pieces. I am really happy with my color choice. It looks great with the brick and the sandtone trim.

We have about 10 weeks left until we move back in. I think we're both a little skeptical that the house will be substantially done in 10 weeks but we're hopeful.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Window trim and finishing up framing

The exterior window trim is going up this week in preparation for siding later this week or early next week. There are some other exterior details which need to be dealt with before siding so I am thinking that will more likely happen next week. The plumbing starts Thursday or Friday this week, followed by electrical and HVAC. Our contractor does not like to have multiple subs in at the same time if he can help it. It makes it harder to control the work being done. He also likes to have framing either complete or nearly complete before any mechanical subs start their work. He believes that it's better to have the framers out of the way of the way so the mechanical stuff goes more quickly.

The remaining masonry work has also been completed including the new garage which looks fantastic now with windows and the roof. The door will be ordered soon and the siding will go on there first so we can use the garage again to store our stuff (and get it out of our poor neighbor's garage!). Jim Cole thinks it looks like a little cottage! I'm glad that it looks good since it will be a focal point of our new backyard.
We have also been considering how to deal with the run-off in the backyard. The increased roof area and decreased drainage area pose a major problem. Most houses on our street have these same issues so we aren't alone. The main solution seems to be a drywell in the dampest corner of the yard. That will probably be the solution for us as well. The drywell will be located in the back corner of our yard in front of the garage. We are also going to install a rain barrel behind the garage to catch the gutter water from the garage roof so we can use that for watering plants in the yard.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

More demolition, brick work, and framing...

Lots going on at the house these days. The old stairs have been removed giving us a much clearer view of the space between the living room and new family room. The picture on the right was taken from the back of the house looking towards the front.). It's going to be great and it makes even our smallish living room feel huge! They will fill in the holes in the floor where the stairs were either today or tomorrow.

Work is also continuing on the brick foundation around the garage, as well as some brick repair on the front steps and around our second screen porch door (which replaced a rather useless window). There are pictures of both the new doors and the brick garage foundation in the construction pictures on the left. I am so glad that we are doing the brick foundation on the garage. It looks really striking and the garage will be very front and center in our new small backyard! The garage windows were the windows that were taken from the back of our old upstairs.

The workers are also doing what Jim Cole calls "punch list framing" which is where they work from the top to the bottom of the house getting all of the last bits of framing done and fixing things that were off by a little before. They are also installing the pocket door tracks which need to go in before drywall. Fortunately this work has not been affected by the rain because with the new roof, the house is dry.

Jim is also picking up our new basement windows today. We had replaced our old basement windows not long after we moved in because they were rotten and had termite damage. They were not Andersen so the new windows are also not Andersen, but (of course) the old company that made them is now out of business). The original installer (WindowsPlus) was able to find a similar window for us which should work fine. They are not right next to the existing windows so even if they are a little different, it won't be noticeable. They will also have the much darker brown trim which blends well with the brick. The only exception is our egress window which is Andersen and matches the other windows in the house.

We are a little past the half-way mark for construction (we started about on about January 22nd) which is hard to believe. The next steps is plumbing, HVAC, and electrical which will probably start either Friday or Monday. The plan is to start drywall in about 4 weeks, then floors (hardwood and tile), and then finish work. So far, we are still on track for moving back in the house in July even if it means that it's not completely done.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Windows and Doors and STAIRS!

There has been a lot of progress in the past couple of days. We have now have all of the windows installed (except the basement windows which are not from Andersen). Everything looks great and we are pleased with the choices so far. The door hardware looks really good and was well worth the additional cost. I highly recommend doing that to anyone ordering Andersen doors. The new doors to the screen porch have not yet been installed. The major push behind getting the windows in was to get the house ready for siding next week.

Perhaps even more exciting for me (9 months pregnant) is that we have stairs from the basement to the attic. I can now easily walk around on the new part of the second floor which makes the whole thing seem more real. We can also walk freely between the old and new parts of the house.

Work has also continued on the brick foundation. The door from the driveway has a brick foundation about 1/3 of the way up the sides (see the construction picture slideshow on the left side of the page). The garage now also has windows and the brick foundation on the garage has also begun. The brick needs to be completed before the siding can go on the garage.

There were a lot of workers on the site today but it was refreshing to see a flurry of activity after so many days of rain in the past month. Hopefully May will be a little drier!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Painting already?

We were pretty surprised when our contractor called on Sunday to see if we had picked out a trim color - especially since we don't even have siding or windows up yet! Turns out, Jim wanted to get the high parts of the trim painted (soffits and fascia mostly) while he still had temporary scaffolding up and before the pre-painted HardiPlank goes up next week. Obviously he wants to avoid any drips on the new siding which seems like a pretty good idea to me considering the warranty on the siding! I thought this was a good tip to pass along to other people considering an addition (or just residing) because it may save you some time and money later.

Fortunately we did know the color that we wanted because we wanted to match the exterior color of our Andersen sandtone windows. The salesman, James, at The WindowSmith was able to give the color match information to Jim so he could get the paint and the trim was painted yesterday! You can see that the color is more muted and gray than our existing trim color, which will all be painted later on.

Windows are going in today and tomorrow, and hopefully the stairs tomorrow or Thursday. Of course the forecast is rain for the rest of the week so hopefully lots of progress is made today!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Kitchen Cabinets Ordered!

The kitchen cabinets have been ordered! We went with Kingswood Kitchens out of Danbury, CT. Their cabinets are beautiful and reasonably priced. I wanted inset doors and drawer fronts so this was the best way to do that. We chose the Newport style. Although I never met the kitchen designer in person, we talked several times and exchanged countless emails. We sent careful measurements for the roughed in kitchen (no drywall obviously), as well as our choices for the appliances. Generally the ideas for the design were mine and not the designer's so all of the blame will be on me for any misjudgments!

My one major dilemma in the kitchen design was where to put the microwave. I want to use a stove hood without a microwave so then I needed to find another place for a microwave. I did not want it on the countertop. I liked the look of having the microwave in the island (hidden!) but the thought of my kids playing with the buttons constantly and having to lean over every time I used it was enough to make me keep looking. Finally I saw a picture in an ad for a kitchen designer while in Florida and I got the idea to have it built it in to an upper cabinet. So, now we are getting a cabinet which is a few inches deeper than the other cabinets but it's next to the fridge, and the microwave will be in that cabinet. Plus, if it breaks or we want to upgrade it (or get rid of it all together) we could modify that cabinet for another purpose.

The other thing we wanted was to have very few lower cabinets, and to have drawers instead. I also wanted at least one tall, skinny cabinet for things like large cutting boards, cookie sheets, cooling racks, etc. I am also really excited about the pull-out trash can which should make cleaning up loads easier than our current step can. We also found room for a tall pantry which will make storing food much easier than our old kitchen which had one not very large cabinet for all of our food.

Now we wait about 8 weeks for delivery... Fortunately there is plenty of stuff to do in the house before then!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Breaking through between old and new

The laborers are working on breaking through the brick walls between the old and new parts of the house. There will be 4 openings between the old and new, and one doorway in the basement. We'll finally be able to see if our efforts to make a relatively seamless transition between the two parts will work.

The picture above is the doorway between the living room and family room in the addition. The stairs are our existing stairs which will likely be removed later this week when the new stairs go in.

The plan for the week is to put in windows and doors in the first half of the week and then stairs at the later end of the week. After that, the weather won't be as much of a factor which will be a relief. Of course, it's 90 degrees here today so we cannot complain!

Monday, April 20, 2009

New Roof!

We finally have new shingles (Certainteed Independence in Charcoal Black) thanks to hard work over the mostly dry weekend by our builder and the roofing contractor. Here are some before and after pictures to give you an idea of just how much of a difference new shingles make! (And, yes, it's raining again today.)

Left (After); Right (Before)

Next step is finishing part of the back of the roof which did not get done before it started raining on Sunday, and then windows and doors later this week.

We are finalizing our kitchen plans through Kingswood and then we'll be waiting about 2 months for those to come in. Fortunately there is plenty of work to finish before that point. Still 2 months puts us in mid-June so well before our (hopefully) late July finish date.

I am also looking at exterior shutters for the front of the house which is proving to be harder than I anticipated because I want shutters which are wider than standard shutters so they actually look like they could close (as shutters should). I also want something which is no maintenance but don't want to spend an absolute fortune since I want them to be black (a basic color).

Friday, April 17, 2009

Some progress (and sun)

Finally we have a stretch of sunny days so work is moving along on the roof. We're hoping the roof will be completely framed and covered in plywood today. They are also working on the garage - putting up exterior drywall on 2 sides as required by Arlington County code for garages close to the property line. There are a couple of new pictures in the slide show on the right, including one with the garage partially drywalled.

Today I am making some changes to our original electrical plans. I have already seen a few things that I would like to change and we may explore adding a few recessed lights in our existing living room so that it looks more consistent with the rest of the house. I don't feel that it's necessary in the dining room (where we are reusing our old chandelier) or in the spare bedrooms but the living room should feel more consistent.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Rain, rain, go away...

Although we lucked out with beautiful weather on Friday despite the forecast for rain, it looks like we have 2 days of straight rain ahead of us tomorrow and Wednesday. Let's hope the weatherman is very wrong. Despite the drought conditions in late February and early March, April has certainly lived up to its "April Showers" reputation! I think we have already had about 6 days of rain and it's only the 12th! Just our luck.

Our builder Jim says he needs one more day to get the roof tied in so he can put down tar paper and then the shingles can go on. The roof has been about an 8 work day process so far. Longer than I expected it to be (but what do I know). We were hoping for shingles this week but that may slip until next week unless a miracle occurs. Jim says the roof is the most complicated part - particularly the tying in to the existing roof and attic and obviously it's important to get the roof on correctly so there isn't much point in rushing!
He also does not want to put the windows in until the roof is on because he believes there is too much risk of breakage - too much throwing of stuff off the roof and pulling stuff up to the roof. The windows are waiting patiently in the living room and dining room of our house.

But, other work still continues with the design aspects. We are finalizing our stairwell plans (balusters, newel posts, and handrails), as well as the design of the stairs as they come down into the kitchen. We are meeting with our architect Kaye in the morning before work to look at some final details before the plans go to the "stair guy" to be built. They are built offsite and then installed onsite. There's about a 2+ week turnaround.

We are also finalizing our kitchen cabinet plans. We are using Kingswood Kitchens (Princess line). They have beautiful, high quality cabinets and we are very excited to see the end product. The turn around time is 6-7 weeks so we need to get our order in this week in order to be ready for install by late May.

Once that order is in, we'll likely turn to finalizing the electrical plan which will have some minor changes from the original - mostly adding or moving lights and switches. It's so much easier to picture where you want things to be when you can walk through the rooms and put your hand up to where you instinctively think there should be a switch. So far, it looks likes we'll be able to keep our existing electrical panel which is good, but we'll probably end up adding a sub panel for his wood shop which can be turned off and locked as a safety precaution whenever he's not using it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Roof is going on!

After about 5 work days of rain, the roof is going onto the house. It really gives us a good idea for the size and shape of the addition and it looks great! They actually went up all in one day which is really amazing. The back part of the roof (shown here) is made with manufactured trusses, but the part that ties into the house is stick built. The manufactured part goes on quickly, but it is the bulk of the roof so that's good.
There is still work to be done on the stairwell between the 2nd floor and the attic, so that will entail additional work in order to tie it into the rest of the roof and the existing room. The actual stairwell is built by a special subcontractor who specializes in stairs. I would expect (although I have not confirmed) that he will be on the site next week. He has already been here to do measuring. We don't really know much about the process so we aren't sure how much of the work is done offsite and how much is done on site. We'll soon see! I'll be really happy to have the stairs so I can get up to the second floor much more easily!!!
Jim expects the windows and doors to be delivered on Thursday (so long as the distributor receives them tomorrow from Andersen), but they probably won't be installed for a few days.
As for other addition, the baby is due in about 5.5 weeks... and we are soooo happy we are not living in our disaster of a house!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Siding Decisions - finally!!

Progress continues pretty quickly on the framing at our house. The decisions are coming fast and furious now. We have finally settled on Hardie plank siding (fiber cement board) in cedar mill, 6" visible width in timber bark. We decided to go with a darker color to stay in the same dark shade of our brick and also to provide a good contrast with our trim which is a medium tan color. I didn't want anything which was close in color to the trim because the windows wouldn't stand out as much. Hardie has a 15 year warranty on its pre-painted siding so we want to like this color for a long time to come. It took me about 3 weeks to come to a final decision although I had been considering the possibilities for the past few months. I do have some concerns about it being a tiny bit too dark but I really like the pictures I have seen of it used on other houses. It's also a change from the medium tan that I almost always choose for everything!

The next round of decisions involve the kitchen cabinets... more on that to come.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Walls are up!

The walls for the first and second floor are pretty much up. It looks great and we are really excited to see the progress. Next is the stairwell and roof trusses, then windows and doors, and the breakthrough between the old and new house. Jim Cole hopes to have the house "dried in" by the end of next week which means a lot of work next week but there should be lots of progress to show off. Lots of new pictures in the slideshow on the right.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

House Framing Begins!

Today framing on the house began which is a huge step. The sill plates are now bolted to the foundation, and the floor joists have been installed for about 3/4 of the first floor. More pictures posted under construction photos.

We are making our final decisions on both shingles and siding. We are leaning towards the Certainteed Independence line, although I completely fell in love with the Grand Manor line. But, budget considerations made us decide against the fake slate (which I REALLY love) so why spend a lot on asphalt shingles? Because of the slope of the roof, the roof is really only noticeable from across the street. So, we're saving some money by picking a less expensive shingle (or 'shangle' according to Certainteed, whatever that means).

Certainteed has a cool function on their website where you can pick a house that looks like yours and basically try on different shingles. I've spent more time on this site than I should have over the last few days. We also went to a local roof showroom on Wednesday but it's still hard to tell what the shingles will look like on your house. Our current roof is just so bad, I find it distracting but I think any new roof will look so much better anyway... but I want to get it right of course. I am sure this should be on the list of things that only I will notice. I am leaning towards charcoal colored shingles because we want to have black shutters. Unfortunately there area about 4 shades of gray/charcoal to choose from! Right now, I am leaning towards the charcoal black option because it's classic for the style of house and it's not straight black because of the type of shingle has a lot of raised details.

We are also making the final decision on the color of our HardiePlank lap siding. Again, I think I am going to choose a darker option which will lessen the effect of the difference between the brick and the siding. Also, our trim color is tan so there won't be a stark contrast like there would be with white trim. So, we are leaning towards the Cedarmill 8.25" (7" exposure). I'm making my final decision between Autumn Tan, Woodstock Brown, and Timber Bark. I plan to go and look at the options tomorrow in the sunlight. I don't want the color to be too close to the trim color but I am concerned about it being too dark (although that may be fine ultimately). Hardie also has some cool features on their website so you can see your options both on your style home and on actual homes (some for sale!).

Both the shingles and the siding take about 3 weeks so I need to decide on those options very soon since the framing will be done in another 2 weeks or so hopefully.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Garage Walls Go Up!

Today the garage walls are going up which I guess we didn't realize would be happening today. Framing is so satisfying because it goes so quickly! As you can see there will be 2 windows on the yard side of the garage. I don't want to even think about how many baseballs will go through those in the next 20 years! By code, you cannot have windows on the side or back of the garage if it is within a certain distance from the property line. Ours is 2 feet from each line so we cannot have windows there.

The foundation contractors are also back today working on sealing and insulating the outside of the block in preparation for the backfill inspection on Monday. The rebar and vapor barrier are down and ready for the concrete pour on Monday. Then the dirt can go back in the hole and our backyard will look a bit less like a mountain!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Weather Delays & Decisions

As you have probably heard, the DC area has been paralyzed by snow and cold temperatures so our work has come to a halt for the time-being. Last week was a very productive week - the foundation is finished and sealed. I'll post pictures later today. The steel beam should go in later this week and then the framing will begin next week. The basement slab was scheduled to be poured on Monday but 6-8" of snow landed in our new basement instead! The pour will be rescheduled for whenever the basement dries out and defrosts enough to pour it. It has been very cold all week (by DC standards) so the snow has hung around longer than it normally does.

This weekend I am going to meet with a kitchen designer and visit some tile stores. Our kitchen cabinets probably need to be ordered in the next couple of weeks so I'll have to make a final decision shortly. We are weighing various options but I really have a preference for inset white cabinets in a simple shaker style. Very classic and fitting for our colonial style house. Hopefully we can make the inset cabinets work with our budget. They are generally about 25% more expensive than regular overlay cabinets. We are going to do a black quartz countertop (likely Silestone).

Keep your fingers crossed for warmer temperatures later this week!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Brick Foundation

As I wrote about in previous posts, one of the goals of recycling the brick from our garage was to be able to use it on our new foundation. As you can see from the pictures, the new foundation looks great withe brick and will really help visually tie our new addition to the original house. The hard work will certainly pay off - we hope. There are more pictures in the Construction Photos on the left.

The schedule for the rest of the week is to finish the foundation and seal it for waterproofing. The next steps will be to put in the steel beam, probably on Friday (unless it's really raining). And then the floor will be poured early next week and the floor joists for the first floor will be put in. After that, framing will begin on the first floor and the garage.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Foundation in Progress

We are officially building up now which is exciting for us! As you can see from the pictures, they made a lot of progress in just one day. I would estimate that they are a little more than half done with laying the block but Jim Cole says that the top is very important because that's how you ensure that new and old floors are perfectly aligned and level. I assume that will take some time and careful planning. In any case, it's great to see the progress moving along so quickly. See the pictures in the construction photos on the left.

Once the block is laid, everything will be sealed on the outside and then it will be time for the steel beam to be installed. Our steel has been ordered so it should be ready when our structure is ready for it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ready to build up, rather than digging down!

Turns out they do pour concrete even when it is snowing/raining! I am sure it was a tough job because the weather on Wednesday was not pretty but it's done and now we are in the final steps of preparing for the block walls.

It was very exciting to see a large pile of cement blocks in our driveway when we got home from work yesterday. The block starts to be laid on Monday, which will mark the start of building up instead of digging down! I have no idea if this is all the block they will need but it does not seem like enough to me. Today they are working on grouting the last set of underpinnings which is a tough job because the concrete grout has to be tightly packed into the back of the holes. At least it's not 90 degrees out. Once this is finished, the underpinning process will be finished. It took about 2 weeks total once the main hole was dug out. Obviously other work went on at the same time (including building the garage foundation, finishing digging the rest of the hole, and pouring the footings for the foundation).

After talking with our architect today during our Friday weekly meeting, we decided to contact our local pest control company, Ward Pest Control, to ask about termite prevention. We were originally thinking we would do termite protection when we finished the project, but Kaye (our architect) told us that there are some treatments that go under the gravel of the foundation. Arlington has a lot of termite issues so we figured it would be wealth worth it to have it checked now and see what a pretreatment would cost. Another neighbor who did a similar project mentioned to me that if you live near a house which is undergoing major renovations, it's a good idea to be sure your house's termite treatment is up-to-date. Termites may be dislodged from their happy home in your neighbor's house and may decide to move into yours where there is less noise to bother them! There are several renovations going on in our neighborhood (including one directly behind), so it's probably a good idea to get this taken care of as early as possible.

We also talked about the door configurations for our house again to be sure that we know what we are getting for each. We recently changed our original plans so that we have more operable doors for exiting out onto our back deck/patio. Kaye wanted to be sure that we understood that the doors would not all look exactly the same, and that's fine with us - it's worth it for the increased air flow.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I wonder...

I wonder if they will pour concrete with a forecast that looks like snow/rain showers... I guess we'll find out tomorrow. All of the rebar is set in the forms for the footers for both the underpinnings and the foundation footers. The inspection was supposed to occur today so as long as that happened and the weather doesn't throw anything off, we should be pouring concrete. If it gets put off until Thursday, that shouldn't throw the process off too much because the block is not set to be laid until Monday anyway, and it will still have plenty of time to cure.

Monday, February 16, 2009

More digging and demo...

A lot of progress this weekend although pictures probably wouldn't show it. The foundation forms are pretty much ready (or at least they appear to be). The second (and last) round of digging for the underpinnings is also done. I give the laborers so much credit because they had to hand dig in rock hard, compacted clay soil. The forms are being built and the inspection is scheduled for tomorrow for the underpinnings and the foundation footers. If all goes well, the next concrete pour will be on Wednesday. The foundation footers may be poured on Wednesday or Friday (I'm not sure of the schedule on that). Of course the weather forecast for Wednesday is horrible right now (snow/rain) so hopefully the forecasters are so wrong. Other than that day, the weather is clear for the week of course.

At this point the block is still scheduled to start being laid next Monday (one week from today). The height of the block is critical to ensure that the floors in the old and new house are level. The floors in our existing house are pretty level (thanks to a huge original steel beam in our basement), so we won't have to do any leveling there. It is really important though that the new floors are perfectly even with the existing. This process is made a lot easier using a laser level which shoots a beam from the foundation to the existing floor. The existing back door of our kitchen will help with this because the whole back will not have to be opened up to check the level.

Interior demolition will continue this week. The kitchen still needs to be torn out but will happen at some point this week. Interior demo is probably ahead of schedule right now since only the kitchen remains relatively in tact. The upstairs demo appears to be completely done for now except for removing the back windows which will be reused in the garage.

Several people have asked whether we are on schedule. To be honest, we don't have a complete schedule although I would say we are ahead of schedule because we made a big push to start in January instead of February. Hopefully we'll still be moving back in some time in July. Nothing has delayed us severely... yet. Even the permits only held us up by 3 or 4 days at most. So, we'll see how the next few weeks go because that is where the major delays will most likely come. Once we are framed and sealed then we'll be less subject to weather issues and they can work inside and outside simultaneously or focus on one or the other depending on the weather on a particular day.

More pictures later in the week when the kitchen is demolished and the underpinnings and footers are completed. Next week - lots of cement block!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

More Salvage & Demolition

More demolition is continuing in the house. The basement ceiling is now down exposing the beams, ductwork, and pipes. Fortunately it's not too much of a mess down there. The coolest thing they have found so far is a hacksaw probably from the 1930s sitting on top of the ductwork. My husband is very excited about adding this to his tool collection. Fortunately Jim C. doesn't mind if my husband goes over and swings a hammer with them for a few hours on a Friday or Saturday afternoon.

We also found out that we can salvage 2 windows from the back of the house (2 upstairs windows in the picture on the left) and use them on the side of the garage. This is particularly great news because these windows are only 2 years old (part of our whole-house window replacement project). Arlington County does not allow you to put windows on a garage which is within a certain distance from a neighbor's property for fire prevention purposes. We are also required to finish with drywall those walls which are facing a neighbor's property.
As you can see in the picture above, the workers are also going to salvage some bricks on the back of the house. Our builder calls this project "mining for bricks" which is hilarious. It's hard to believe we are going to need this many but not too hard when you think of the size of the foundation for both the garage and house. It's going to be quite a pile of bricks when all is said and done.

I continued my decision-making by choosing the door and window hardware. That order is going in next week so those choices had to be now. Fortunately I was able to find a few minutes last week to run over to the Window Smith showroom to meet our salesman, James May, and see things in person. It's so much better to see things like hardware in a showroom instead of a catalogue. You can get a better idea for the finish and feel of the hardware. Of course, I didn't like the basic hardware which was ultra-modern and white, so I had to "upgrade" to something more traditional. I can only imagine what the muddy kid fingerprints would look like on white hardware. If you are interested, my choice is on the right (Whitmore collection). Andersen has quite a few options for door hardware which fit pretty much any design style. This will be our first experience with Andersen doors but our experience with their replacement windows (Renewal by Andersen) has been fantastic. Let's hope the same is true of the doors because they will be heavily used both out to the backyard through the kitchen and family room and out to the driveway through our side entrance.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Underpinnings and Garage Slab

It was great to walk over to the house and see the garage slab poured. I have some comfort that we'll still have a little backyard left when all this is over! The first round of underpinning pours also happened today. They'll have to be grouted tomorrow or early next week and then the second round will be poured next Wednesday, and the block will start to be laid the following Monday. If all goes well, that will take a week and then we'll be ready for our steel beams and floor joists!

All weather permitting of course! We have been incredibly lucky with weather this week - basically 10-25 degrees above normal (about 42 degrees). The forecast for the next week or so looks positive but we aren't getting our hopes up (and we're knocking on lots of wood).

Demolition will continue inside for the next couple of days. As you can see from the newest construction photos, most of the interior walls are down that are coming down and the basement ceiling comes down today. We are debating about taking down the existing walls down in the basement because we fear there may be mold back there (both a reason for and against taking it down). We'll make that call tomorrow I think. On the first floor, we can already get a feel for how the new dining room is going to look with the extra 2 feet, and the living room will look quite a bit larger with the extra 3 feet in the back and the large opening into the family room.

Before and after pictures on the right.

More pictures to come!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Interior Demolition Begins

While the work on the foundation and garage continue outside, the interior demolition has also begun. So far most of the work has been happening upstairs in the bedrooms and on the stairwell. The stairwell is coming out completely but we don't know when that will actually happen but probably not for a little while because that is the best access to the second floor.

The biggest and most exciting change is seeing the wall removed from our previously oddly shaped nursery/office/3rd bedroom. The stairs previously cut the room off and now with the wall gone, it's much easier to see how that room will be changed for the better once the stairs are gone. Pictures don't really do it justice but I'm posting them anyway.
Additional demolition was done on the closets and doorways so we can have those rebuilt and made functional.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Concrete Footers for the Garage

After 2 days of digging and our first County inspection, the concrete footers for our garage foundation were poured today. The current plan is to push ahead with the garage while the new house basement is being dug, poured and underpinned. I would imagine the garage will be essentially done and sealed in in a month or so.

A lot of progress has been made with digging our foundation and, barring major difficulty, should be done by tomorrow. After that the tedious foundation underpinning process begins. This is a complex process where the dirt under the existing foundation is dug out in sections and then filled in with concrete footers, and then the in-between sections are dug out and filled in. The goal is to support the existing foundation and house walls even though the new basement will be deeper than the existing (so we can have 8 foot ceilings down there).

Jim and my father did a lot of work today on cleaning out the old house of pretty much anything we want to be sure to save including original glass door knobs, light fixtures, and our almost new carpet runner. Tomorrow they will clear out our attic so the interior demolition can begin on Monday. A major perk of moving out early is that the work on the inside of the house can get started much earlier than it would if we were living there. Now let's just hope that it all gets finished earlier as well (I'm not holding my breath).
And the weather forecast for this week... generally dry except for a slight chance of rain on Tuesday and Thursday.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Garage Foundation Digging Has Begun

Yesterday... more snow. Today... a little snow in the morning but the digging began on the garage footers anyway. The holes will be inspected tomorrow and then the cement will be poured either Friday or Saturday. It's so great to see the tremendous progress that was made in only one day. The neighborhood kids loved watching the backhoe after school. You can see the clay in our soil in the picture at the right. The foundation foreman said that having clay is a huge help because the footers will be well supported.

We moved out yesterday - across the street. Easy move and my husband supervised. He's still sore today so I'm thinking he did more than supervise! We are fairly settled in although there are still some mystery boxes that have yet to show up. I really need my step stool but cannot find it anywhere! It will probably show up when we move back across the street in 6 months!
Fortunately it is generally still light enough to take pictures when I get home in the evenings so you should start to see more picture updates over the next few weeks.

Monday, February 2, 2009

More prep work... Snow or Dirt tomorrow?

The site is ready now for digging! Today our central A/C unit was disconnected (fortunately we won't be needing that soon) and moved to our porch. If you want to reuse your A/C unit, it's a good idea to put this in a very safe place. They can get damaged by the machinery and are at great risk of being stolen in both urban and rural areas. Ours is safely on our screen porch for the timebeing along with a lot of other stuff.

The final surveys are also now done. The stakes and flags in our yard (and our neighbors' yards) are very confusing but I am counting on the surveyor to know what he's doing! Fortunately our architect is around to back up the measurements and to ensure the foundation will go where it is supposed to.

The second dumpster with the garage and porch debris is now gone as well. The dirt from the digging will be trucked out. Our lot is narrow so the only real access to our backyard is our driveway where the dumpster was previously kept. Barring a major snow event tomorrow (a dusting is predicted but you never know), I think the digging will begin.

We'll also have the movers here to move us across the street. It will be nice to have a fenced yard for the dog again! Tomorrow evening and Wednesday will be spent unpacking. Hopefully there will be a lot to watch across the street as well. I'll post pictures soon (when I unpack my camera).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Demolition Continues

The demolition continued today with a jackhammer removing the slab of cement which was the back porch. Of course this started during naptime on the day that Jim was home with our sick 2 year old! Fortunately we move on Tuesday so the noise issue will be pretty much eliminated... except that we'll probably still hear them because in a bizarre turn of events we are now renting a house across the street for the next 6 months!! A very long story that you readers won't care about but the moral of the story is to explore all of your rental options in your neighborhood before venturing outside of it!

Tomorrow the jackhammers return for another day of removing the rest of the back porch, rear sidewalk and exterior basement stairs.

Monday the backhoes and dump trucks come in and start digging our foundation. Our backyard is not large so space will be at a premium and the unneeded dirt will be trucked out as the hole is dug. Keep your fingers crossed for a dry week.
Check back next week for some pictures of progress!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It's snowing!

The Washington Metro area is getting its first measurable snowfall in probably 2 years today. 2-4 inches of snow and ice is predicted to fall by noon tomorrow. Fantastic timing, of course. When I left the house this morning at 8:15, there was no sign of activity in the backyard so perhaps today and tomorrow will be lost causes. We do, however, have a new dumpster ready to be filled. Hopefully there will be something in it by the time we get home tonight.

The plan had been to start digging the foundation this week but that may be pushed back by a day or two as a result of this snow. The workers are currently working 6 days per week so they will likely catch up if they fall behind.

One more week until we move. We are not packed or ready to move but hopefully it will all come together this weekend. We have a lot of the extraneous stuff packed but now I have the stuff we actually use left to go.

I am basically selling our kitchen appliances out from under us because I want them out of there before they are damaged and not able to be sold. So far, the dishwasher and microwave are sold and our 3 year old stove should be gone by the end of the week. Everyone has agreed not to pick them up until next Sunday though. I didn't really plan on cooking after that point anyway!

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Well, of course, now that we have our permits the weather decides to take a turn for the colder and possibly some snow this week. Of course, I have a firm belief that predicting the weather is far from a science because it is so inaccurate. Let's hope that holds true this week. Precipitation of some sort is predicted for every day this week - generally snow showers. Fortunately, Jim C. (builder) says this is not a problem and we can still move forward with the demolition and hopefully start digging later this week. The dumpster will be changed out tomorrow and the large machinery will be here early this week. The neighborhood kids will love that!

The demolition so far has gone very smoothly. I think the porch will be gone completely tomorrow. They have been able to salvage a lot of the bricks from the garage whic match our house perfectly. It's labor intensive but ultimately will be worth it because those bricks don't have to be hauled away and disposed of, and we'll have a perfect match to our existing house on our foundation. Turns out the porch bricks are different from the garage which confirmed our suspicions that the porch was not original to the house. Those bricks are going in the dumpster unfortunately.

We are still packing and working on selling pretty much everything from our kitchen, including the sink! We sold our kitchen cart today and we're working on selling the appliances so hopefully they can be removed next week. We may try to reuse our base cabinets in the basement but that will depend on how easily they are removed.

Hopefully we'll have some pictures of a hole in the ground by the end of the week.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Exterior Design Decisions (and more demo!)

So, demolition is well on its way. Our back porch is pretty much gone and the garage is about three-quarters gone. If the workers continue until 5, I would imagine it will be pretty much completely gone. Next week, the heavy machinery comes in to pull out our exterior basement stairs and start digging for the foundation. A big week here!

So, even though the project has started, the decision-making has only just begun as well. For a long time (even before we owned this house) we had hoped to install fake slate recycled rubber shingles instead of asphalt. After a lot of soul-searching and budget crunching, it just did not make sense to spend an extra $10,000 on that. So, we have decided on architectural asphalt. Our builder is bringing samples over next week so we can make a decision and he can get it ordered. The shingles go on pretty much right after the framing.

Windows are another thing that needs to be decided short-term. We know that we want Andersen 400 series windows. We have Andersen Renewal windows (installed 2 years ago by The Window Place) in the old part of the house so we want the new windows to match as closely as possible and you cannot beat the great classic look combined with the no-maintenance clad Andersen windows. They really fit our house and our budget. We did remind our builder that we have white interiors and sandtone exterior. This would have been a horrible mistake had we not specified this in advance. It's important to note that Andersen window orders must be placed at least 4 weeks in advance of when you think you may need them. It's okay if they sit in a warehouse before they are installed but you do not want to be waiting for windows.

We are also making decisions on siding. We are going to use Hardie cement board siding but there are many options to consider include width of the boards, trim boards, and pre-painted (or unpainted). Samples of those will be here this week too. We are hoping to find a pre-painted color that we like so that we can avoid the additional cost of painting the exterior as well, and we get a better warranty on the finish.

It's amazing how you start to get used to the sound of hammer drills!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Construction has begun!

Construction has officially begun on our 1800 square foot plus garage addition. Permit is hanging in the dining room window (a beautiful sight!), and the sound of hammer drills fills the air. I never thought I would like those sounds so much. Our surveyor is also here staking out the area for digging.

I have to say I will certainly be ready to move out of here in a week and a half. It would be very difficult to live through this, and I give those who do a LOT of credit. I think Angus (our dog) will be happiest to move out though!

New "Construction" slideshow is posted on the left side. The Before Pictures are still there if you are interested in seeing interior pictures. We'll take more after our stuff is out of here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

We have our building permit!

I am happy to report that our building permit was approved today and things are going full steam ahead. We have the dumpster in the driveway and I was never so happy to see a dumpster filling up. The roofs of the garage and back proch came off today. A new construction slideshow will be posted tomorrow and we'll track the progress in photographs for the next few months. Check back often!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Still waiting...

Starting to wonder if we'll even have permits by the time we move out the first week of February. Also wondering if dragging my 5.5 month pregnant body and hungry 2 year old to the inspections office on Friday might help move things along?? Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hopefully this is the week!

Hopefully this is the week for permits and the beginning of major work on the house! Kaye (architect) thinks we'll get the permits this week. Arlington County actually has a site where you can track the status of your permits. This only makes me slightly crazier because I can constantly check it all the time. Not that anything has been happening since Friday, nor will anything happen before Wednesday. The County is shut down today and tomorrow.

We do, however, have a port-o-potty in our driveway! Never thought I would be so happy to see one. Happy to say that I won't have to use it - it was about 25 degrees here today!

In the mean time, we are moving things around in our house and packing up the things that we are taking with us and the things need to be protected but which are staying here. We have designated our spare bedroom for storage both now and after we move. We'll have one corner of stuff to take with us. It's hard to think about being really organized with this move because we are taking our most valuable stuff and the stuff we need, but knowing that we can get the rest of our stuff when we need it, makes it a lot easier to make those choices.

Hopefully we'll have some construction news and photos this week. I plan to choose a location for all photo-taking tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Small Progress But More Waiting

Although we're still waiting for our permits, we are much closer. They plans were refiled today so hopefully it will only be a day or two until we get the permits so long as the plan reviewer is satisfied.

We've also learned the value of great neighbors. There was an issue with the corners of property line according to our plat from when we bought the house. Jim went to the County offices to see if he could get a copy of the original plat but it was in very bad condition since it dates back to the early 20th century! So, we had to ask our neighbors for copies of their plats. We now have 3 out of the 4 plats which is great. The 4th is on its way so we should have them all by the end of the week. Fortunately we have incredibly helpful neighbors and they were happy to help - 2 even found their plats for us late last night (thanks Aaron and Mike)! Once we have those we'll be able to move forward. The main reason that we need a highly accurate survey is that we want to put our garage as far back on our property line as allowed by the County (1 foot from the back and side). We don't want to cross that line nor do we want to put the garage any further into our yard than necessary (it's going to small enough as it is!). This all requires a very accurate survey. So, barring any major issues, that should be done by this weekend as well and we'll be ready to pour the slab for the garage with the floor of the basement hopefully in the next 3 weeks or so.

Of course though, we'll probably get our permit this week but the temperatures are going to dip into the teens (really cold for DC) so work may not be able to start in earnest. Jim Cole's sign went up in the yard today, and he took down our garage door and garage door opener in preparation for tearing down the garage very soon. I'll be sure to post pictures once we get started - any day now...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Finding Patience - Building Permits

We are still waiting for our building permits from Arlington County. Seems that we were not very lucky with our draw of reviewers and she keeps asking questions which are clearly answered in our very detailed architectural plans. She is even questioning our engineer's analysis. So, our fantastic architect, Kaye Orr, is going to meet with this woman tomorrow and see if she can get all of her questions answered and assure her that everything is in order. In times like this, I wish we lived in a place where you can draw your ideas on a cocktail napkin and get a permit (yes, these places still exist). Hopefully we'll get a permit by Wednesday and our garage and back porch will come down this week.

It seems that the key here is to have an architect and builder ready to work with the County, as ours are. If you are interviewing architects and builders, be sure to ask them about their experience and relationships with the County personnel who work in the building permit department. We were just unlucky in this one (possibly because we submitted in December after some attrition in the department). I'm trying to stay positive about it and hope that we can get the permit this week and get things underway.

Please keep us in your thoughts tomorrow so that maybe we can break ground this week!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Changing the Way We Entertain

I should be getting ready for the 60+ people who are coming to our house tonight for our last party in our "old house". We entertain frequently - usually 2-3 large parties per year, and then fairly frequent dinner parties or just neighborhood BBQs on our patio. Yesterday I walked up and down my basement stairs no fewer than 10 times bringing things up for the party and taking unneeded things downstairs (out of sight, out of mind). Although I am sure I will continue to store some less-used items in our basement, I am hoping there will not be too much of that type of thing clogging up our new space. Our new kitchen should have ample cabinet space and, if it doesn't, I really will get rid of some things that we don't use or need.

At most of our indoor parties, people generally congregate in the dining room (near the food and drink) and the tiny kitchen (which has been known to hold 8-10 chatting guests). All of the coats and purses need to be thrown in a spare bedroom.

As we are finalizing the tiny details of our addition, I am thinking about how this could change in our new house. A real coat closet on the first floor will serve us well. A place for wet umbrellas near the side door would be helpful. A place to set out a full bar area other than on the dining room table (maybe the kitchen island?) would make a big difference.

Next Fall we plan to have a Pre-Holiday, Post-Construction party. Of course this could slip until after the holidays if we just aren't up to the task, but I am looking forward to everyone seeing the changes in both our house and our parties!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Changing Parts of our Existing House During Renovation

Because we've lived in our house for 6.5 years, we are fully aware of the short-comings of our existing house which cannot be changed by simply adding a big box on the back. First, our dining room is just a couple of feet too short. With furniture on 3 walls (buffet, china cabinet, and liquor cabinet), it is difficult to center our table where it should be. Second, our closets on the second floor are ridiculously small. The closet in our bedroom is so small that you cannot get a hanger in the closet in the regular way so we had to put bars two bars for my husband going perpendicular to the doorway on one side and shelves for sweaters and t-shirts on the other. I think it's a rather ingenious solution (it was my idea after all!) but it's still a ridiculously small closet. Finally, our upstairs floors have never been refinished since we moved in. In fact, we only ripped the carpet out a year or so ago, since it was practically new when we moved in. (Note: If I could do it again, I would have ripped out ALL the carpet before we moved in and had all of the floors refinished then - lesson learned!). Finally, our upstairs hall bathroom needs a new floor and possibly a vanity.

So, when we entered into this renovation adventure, our intent was to change all of these things. Since we needed to get the floors refinished upstairs, it made sense to adjust the closets at this point since there will be floor exposed and changed. Most of the patching will be in the new closets, but still it makes the most sense to do the floors all at once (yet another reason to move out!). Fixing the closets for long-term use is also important. We have one daughter (and we don't know the sex of baby-to-be), so we KNOW she'll likely have a lot of clothes that will need to be hung out.

As I said in a previous post about moving our stairs, a major bonus of this project is that our oddly L-shaped tiny bedroom (about 8 x 11) will become a real bedroom about 11x12 in the end, so there will be significant floor patching in that room which will warrant floor refinishing.

As for the upstairs bathroom, during our interviews with contractors, several said it may be impossible to just replace the floor because the old tile can be very brittle and the tile walls could be cracked in the process. If that happened, then that would mean gutting the bathroom. Since this is a totally separate project which would not affect anything else in the house, we decided to put this off. Our bathroom is totally usable and not in horrible condition by any means (although it needs new paint or re-wallpapering) so it can definitely be put off for a later date. If anyone has successfully replaced a tile floor but not the walls on a 70 year old house, I would love to hear about it!

So, we are moving forward with most of the changes that we want to make. The hall bathroom can wait but since it won't detract from the house as it is, we'll just wait.
As you consider your addition, look closely at the parts of your existing house which you would like to change and consider including those in the project. In our case, the additional cost was minimal but the long-term benefits are huge.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Paying for Your Addition - Options

Of course, the most ideal and fiscally responsible thing to do when adding to your house is to have cash or liquid assets on hand to be able to pay for your addition. Today, this is a rare occurrence and most people do not have this type of cash on hand. If you are lucky enough to have significant equity in your house, you may be able to take that equity out and use it to add to your house. Finally, if you don't have enough equity but will have at least 20% equity when you're done (based on the final product's appraisal), you may be able to get a construction loan. Different lenders offer different types of construction loans. Some allow you to pay interest only during construction, some allow you to only pay on what money you have used so far during construction, some allow you to (or require you to) lock in your final rate at the beginning. The general premise is that you are borrowing money based on the future value of your finished home. So, you can roll in your existing mortgage with your new loan and have one loan (or a combination of loans) when you are done.

If you are already heavily into planning your addition, hopefully you have already researched some financing options. A good first step is to talk to your financial advisor and see if he/she has any ideas for how to finance your house. We then spoke to several banks, both local and national, about their products. We have been Wells Fargo customers for years but their construction loan program was really substandard and didn't even really make sense. Many large banks have become particularly wary of construction loans because of their relatively high default rate. Don't think for a minute that customer loyalty is going to mean anything to one of these large banks - it really doesn't, especially during a credit crunch.

We found the best products with the most competitive rates were offered through smaller local mortgage companies and were generally found through mortgage brokers. We found a small local mortgage lender who had a product which seems like it will work for us. One thing to be wary of is what your final product will look like. Many large banks lock you into your final loan (which rolls together your existing mortgage and the money you used for your addition). You can always refinance when you're done but ideally, when you start, you want to know that you have something that you can live with at the end.

My husband called about 5 mortgage brokers with varying degrees of success. We did learn a lot from these phone calls so they were worth it. We ultimately found our lender through a recommendation from a friend.

Also, do not underestimate how long this process will take. We should probably have started working our loan in October but we waited until mid-November. Our closing is now next week (second week of January). We only found our lender in mid-December so plan for 4-6 weeks at least. Then you will get your first check (or "draw") a few days later. You also need to have your building permit in hand to get your first check.

You should work on a draw schedule with your builder when you sign your contract. Our builder is flexible on the draw schedule so he is fine with us condensing the payments so that we can have fewer draws (and pay fewer fees to the lender - about $150 per draw for inspection and processing). I'm sure I'll have a lot more to say about draws as the process moves along.

So, keep your fingers crossed that our permits and our closing both come through next week...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Reusing Brick

In the Washington, D.C. close-in suburbs, the majority of older houses are brick which presents some challenges for major exterior renovations. When adding to a brick house, you have to consider whether you want to continue the brick or whether you want to side the addition, or put a new finish on the entire house such siding or stucco. Another option is to side the addition and paint the rest of the brick to match the siding. Brick has a lot of advantages - basically maintenance free, has a classic look, and is incredibly strong. Our house has "brick and block" walls which means that the walls are cement blocks with bricks on the outside which are connected to the blocks every few layers. Our walls are approximately 9" thick!

We are planning to take a hybrid approach and will put siding on our addition but brick the foundation to tie in the old house with the new addition. Our foundation comes up quite a bit in the back because of the slight slope of our yard so it will be clearly visible in the back of the house. We've opted to try to reuse the brick from our garage and back porch (more pictures just uploaded to the "Before Pictures"). Although this is more labor-intensive because the mortar has to be removed from the brick before it can be used, it can ultimately save you money because you do not have to buy new brick and you do not have to dispose of the old brick. Also, depending on how old your brick is, it may be hard to even find new brick that matches, not just because of color but because of older bricks are generally smaller than bricks currently on the market. It's also a much "greener" approach to building which we fully support (we plan to incorporate some other green elements in our renovation).

Our builder took a hunk of brick out of the back of our garage over the weekend (as seen on the picture at the right) so that he can work with his brick-layer to match the mortar and examine the brick. Jim the builder (as opposed to Jim the husband) thinks that the brick can be reused because the mortar seems to come off easy enough and the bricks are hard enough. Fortunately we have a lot of brick to work with from both our garage and our brick back porch (photo above) which has to come off to accommodate our addition.
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