Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Painless sheet rock and pretty doors

It still amazes me how much can be accomplished when you actually pay people to come and work on your house. It took less than three days to have all of the sheet rock hung, and now the finishers will be done by Friday!! That means we will be priming and painting by Christmas!

Below is a picture of our new guest room with a small loft area. We took pictures of everything, but as exciting as we are finding sheet rock, we do still realize that it basically looks the same throughout the house, so we'll wait till we paint for the full house tour:)

So what did we do while others worked diligently on our house? This:

Matt, once again astounding me with his skill, built four beautiful solid cherry doors. I love them!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


We have made two decisions that we are very happy with (well, that's not all of them, just the ones pertinent to this post).

  • First, we decided a long time ago that we wanted to insulate the house with icynene ( Several of the houses that Matt has built have used this and he has been very impressed with it. It seals the house up to, insulates exceptionally well, and acts as a noise/vapor barrier. Based on our research, Matt's previous experience, and the recommendations of others who have this in their house, we felt it was worth the extra money. But, I've got to say, it was A LOT of extra money - so if you are in the market for insulation, brace yourself and look around. We received quotes from all of the installers* in the area, and their bids differed by more than $4000 for our 1400 sq. ft. home.
* If you are in NC/SC, I highly recommend Glenco Foam Division out of Greenville SC. Larry and his guys did a fantastic job!!!

  • Second, we hired out the drywall. I have read enough DIY blogs to realize that absolutely no one on the planet enjoys hanging or finishing drywall. I have also learned that if you undertake this project you will be doing it forever, with no light at the end of the tunnel. With this in mind, Matt started keeping a look out on his job sites for drywallers who would be interested in side work. This enabled us to hire a couple of guys relatively inexpensively.

    So, this is what it looks like right now, but by next week it will be completely drywalled and ready for the finisher!!!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Exterior stain

We (I) decided to stain our shingles. Originally we thought we’d leave them natural, but halfway through I decided that I really liked the way they looked when they were wet from the rain. The best way to achieve that look was with a weatherproofing sealant that was just slightly tinted. We tried several things until we very happily settled on Cabot Clear Solution in Heartwood. It is very subtle, but will just allow the siding to weather more slowly. The pictures show the difference if you look really closely. Over the past two weekends I have gotten our front gable and the two back gables stained because we needed to wrap up anything involving-bolt through staging brackets ( These brackets are fabulous, and allow for quick staging set up and take down. The only downside is that because they bolt through the wall, once you near insulation and sheetrocking you can’t go around drilling holes through you exterior walls. And, since we are at that point (!!!!), all future staining will be done from a regular old ladder.

In the picture above the entire gable and the lower portion of the side wall have been stained.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

More Expo photos

Drum roll please ... My favorite purchase from the trip is the Jen-Aire range! I am sooo happy about this stove. And, luckily for us we do like it because we did not have any choice in the matter. Because we designed our house to maximize the direct light that we get (which is hard to come by becuse of the heavy tree canaopy) we ended up eleminating all upper kitchen cabinets in favor of windows. So, we needed a down draft range, and Jen-Aire happens to be the only company that we could find that makes an electric down draft. The one pictured is the gas version, but that's just because it is the only one they had on the floor.

We also picked out a black french door bottom freezr fridge and a black Bosch dishwasher. We've never had a dishwasher before, so this was pretty exciting. No more fighting about the dishes. We researched for the one that could take two week old crusty dishes and turn them into sparkling clean dishes with no pre-washing. Whereas I doubt that such a majical dishwasher exsits, this one should be close.

We also got these:) This is another first, as in first new washer/dryer. The only time we have
needed to purchase a washer/dryer was when we first moved to NC and theywere going in the garage. Since we knew they would be temporary, and we weren't going to have to look at them, we just bought a mismatched pair at the Habitat for Humanity store. I scaled back from what I really wanted (LG Tromm Steam Washer in Navy Blue) because we didn't have enough space and if we had enough to spend that kind of money on a washer/dryer, I'd just pay someone to wash and fold all of our clothes. So we got the Whirpool Duet, and by all accounts from consumer reports, they are great and reliable - even if they are just boring white.

This blotchy blue tile will be part of what is going in the guest bath. We are going to cut it down to squares of four tiles and placing them like diamonds between large rough white tiles. They will be on the floor only as the tub/shower is an insert.

Our master bath will be slate with river stone in the base of the shower and spilling out onto the main floor. We will also have the river stone in the entry way, but not quite sure et what form it will take. We want to create the effect of the stream flowing into the house as the entry way is directly above the creek.

We will continue to post more pictures from our Atlanta trip over the next couple of weeks.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Well, the trip to Atlanta was extremely productive, if not a bit frightening. Matt and I learned that together we have the ability to make our decisions at lightning speed while spending money as if it grows on a well fertilized tree in our backyard. We blew through the Expo Design Center in less than three hours, leaving our design consultant in a state of shock and looking a little bit dizzy. In that short period of time we managed to buy all of the plumbing fixtures, all of the light fixtures, the tile for the master bath, guest bath and entry, not to mention all of the appliances. The only things we did not buy were the kitchen cabinets and countertops and the main heart pine floors. These three things would be the only things in the whole inside of the house we had already decided on and located. Well, sort of. The countertops are actually going to be concrete and we are making them ourselves, so we will see. The cabinets are being custom ordered and the floor is coming from a local distributor. But everything else was decided on last weekend, and we might add for the record that anyone in Atlanta or the southeast for that matter should consider looking up Mike Wright at the Expo Design Center. Quite simply, he was fabulous. So, here’s a preview of some of what we picked out:

These faucets will go in the master bath. We will be converting two large bowls with handpainted ferns into vessel sinks and Matt is going to custom build the vanity.

Kitchen lights!! The alabaster cone lights will be a part of the cable light system in the kitchen and we will have on of these fixtures hanging over the stove and one ovcer the sink. The other pendant will be over the small island workstation.
Next up will be appliances and tile!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Spending $ Fast and Furious

This weekend Matt and I are heading down to the Expo Design Center in Atlanta to buy all of the fixtures, tile and appliances for the house. We've got a good idea of what we want, and a number of things picked out already, so we are hoping for something fairly painless. (If you hear muffled laughter as you are reading this, I'm sure it is coming from someone who has "been there and done that".) The idea is to spend all day Sat. with the design consultant picking everything out and then sleeping on it for the night before going back to sign on the dotted line Sun. Two really nice things about building a small house relate to the cost of the finishes. First, because our house is only 1400 sq. ft., we have the ability to spend a little more on the finishes (in part because we have saved money by building a smaller house and in part because there are simply fewer finishes to buy). And second, because the house is small, we don't have the option to even contemplate most high end kitchen appliances because we simply don't have room for them:) Hopefully next week I'll be able to post some pics of what we decided on!!

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Great Rough-In

Things move so much faster when you hire people. Profound and insightful, I know. But after months of working a little bit in the evening and then all weekend, I have been looking forward to seeing the rate of progress increase once we reached the point where we needed to bring in our subcontractors.
We now have
1) A completed roof. We went with the standing seam 26 ga metal roof for overall durability and lifecycle, as well as weight. Since we have built on a large span over water, we wanted to stick with lightweight building materials where possible.
2) electrical rough-in has begun and should be complete by the end of the week.
3) ditto for the plumbing rough in. We even have the shower/tub for the guest bath in place.
4) All interior walls/ceilings framed. We finished up with some last minute changes this weekend. Once we were actually walking through three dimensional space, we realized somethings just were not going to work out like they had on paper.
5) quotes for the spray foam insulation. All we need to do now is decide on an installer and sign the contract. Again, we chose this option primarily due to our location. Icynene and other types of spray foam insulation have moisture resistant qualities and have great sound barrier qualities. After a good rain storm the sound of the creek can be deafening, so it is nice to have the option to shut the doors and windows and just have it be quite in the house.
6) the rough in for the radiant floor system is complete. Again, we chose this due to the location. The floors use to be freezing in the winter, which I guess is no surprise with ice cold water running underneath.

The kitchen!! You need to use your imagination for the cabinets, stove, fridge, sink, etc. but you get the idea.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

We have officially moved out of the tent!!! For the past week Matt and I have been showering on a regular schedule and cooking dinners rather than eating takout. Our dogs have been lounging blissfully by a roaring fire while Matt and I relax over a glass of red wine. We have been waking up in the loft of a beautiful rustic mountain cabin situated next to a waterfall, looking out a big picture window at our creek house. It’s all too good to be true.

Last weekend while Matt and I were working away on our house, a gentleman came walking down the driveway. It turns out he is our neighbor and he and his wife were in town for the weekend. You see, our neighborhood has a lot of rustic mountain homes, many of which are second homes. Our neighbors have owned their mountain house for over 20 years, but have not spent much time up here over the last year or two because they have been renovating a 1800’s era Victorian. So, while Matt and I have talked to them on the phone, and Matt actually met them once about two years ago, we haven’t yet had the opportunity to really get to know them. So, after making introductions, we offered to give Mr. Neighbor the tour of our project. While we were all leaning against 2x4 stud walls chatting, out of the blue Mr. Neighbor said he thought it might be a good idea if we just moved into his house for the winter as he and his wife would not be using it. We tried to contain our excitement while Mr. Neighbor headed down the trail to his house to check with Mrs. Neighbor. To our amazement, she too thought this was a great idea and before we knew it we were down at their house getting the tour as they both welcomed us and our dogs. We have, without a doubt, the nicest, most generous and gracious neighbors anyone could hope for. So, this winter we will be acting as the caretakers of our neighbor’s mountain house…

The part that Matt likes most about this arrangement is its connection to Mr. Marvin, the man who built the original creek house. Mr. Marvin was a wood worker and talented carpenter. After he retired, he built the original house over the creek along with a large workshop, wood kiln and wood shed. Throughout this entire process, we have often looked at each other and said “Do you think Mr. Marvin would like this?’ or “Do you think Mr. Marvin would be proud?” In fact, he is somewhat of a mythic figure around here. And after Mr. Marvin thought up his plan to have a house over a creek and started building, guess where he lived. Yep, Mr. Marvin lived in the same place while he built the original creek house.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Roofers were here '06

The rumors were true! When we arrived home last night, actual work ( a lot of work) had been accomplished in our absence. In fact, it looked just like this:

I'm sooooo happy:)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Roofers have been spotted at our house!!! More importantly, roofers have been spotted on the roof, roofing!! We have no concrete evidence at this point in time, but will post photographic proof tomorrow:) I'm so excited I could do cartwheels around my office!

Monday, October 16, 2006

PROGRESS! (a little bit at a time)

We are finally back and ready for a new post with new pictures. In the weeks since our last post we have had a lot of small projects and loose ends to contend with. None of these seemed to warrant a post by themselves, but looking back now over the total of what has been accomplished in the last few weeks, I think we might actually have something to fill you in on!

First and foremost, we have finished all of the exterior trim!! If you have been keeping up with our blog, then you know that this fact thrills me to no end. All of the exterior trim is done in cedar and was treated with a tinted water sealer. We started with Olympic clear, but decided half way through that we needed a little contrast with the siding. So, after a couple of trial runs we settled on Cabot Heartwood Clear Solution, which is a penetrating oil finish. We will eventually do something similar with he shingles, but we wanted to let them age a bit first.

The crates sitting in the middle of the driveway are our roof!! In fact, if all of the planets are aligned correctly, then there are two roofers at the house right now installing the roof. This is exciting for a number of reasons. 1) A roof does make the difference between a construction project and a house project. Once we have a roof we will have a house (so to speak). 2) The roofers represent our first subcontractors. This means that work will be getting done even when Matt and I are not at the house. Work will be getting done that we didn't do. We will come home home from our regular jobs and things will have been accomplished in our absence!
After a brief period of deliberation, we decided we needed to rip up the subfloor from the existing house. If you were to cross section of the floor from the existing house, it would have gone something like this: 1) pre-finished oak hardwood 2) tar paper 3) plywood subfloor 4) plastic vapor barrier 5) R-30 unfaced fiberglass insulation 6) pressure treated plywood. Since we ripped up the first and second layers and then ripped the roof off, there were several weeks where rain just pounded the subfloor. We were envisioning water pooled beneath the plywood, on top of the vapor barrier. And that's what we found, along with a lot of wet insulation. We replaced all of that old soggy insulation with Reflectix insulation and a new vapor barrier. We will come back from underneath and insulation behind the Reflectix once the plumber and electrician have finished roughing in.
We have also finished installing all of the new windows:) And sometime in November we should have all of the doors. Matt is going to begin working on them as soon as the time changes and we give up the last remnants of daylight after work. He is going to build the French doors and two exterior doors leading from the additions to the deck, along with new jambs for the two original exterior doors. Once we are actually living in the house, then he can go back a build the new front doors, but for now we are going to use the old ones.

The view on my ride into work this morning. Two pretty not to share.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Exterior trim, oh how I hate thee

In my past life I don't think I ever noticed a piece of exterior trim. I noticed siding, windows, roofing material, etc., but I don't think I ever looked at a house and said "Nice trim". Now I must also shamefully admit that I should have been paying attention to trim, as it is something that Matt has spent a lot of his professional life installing. I've listened to him talk about it, even looked at sketches he has drawn in an effort to make me understand how cool something he has been working on looked. But payback is hell, and now my every waking moment revolves around trim, and I hate it. It is tedious, I still don't really care that much about it, and it takes forever to install. Or at least ours does, but that might just be because Matt is a perfectionist. So this past weekend, just like the weekend before and the weekend to come, we installed trim. But we had some help. Matt Brown made a return appearance, as did my sister, who flew down all the way from NYC for the weekend just to help.

Me and my sister Sarah Ellen trimming the front window.

More trim, it never ends.
And of course, the only thing more fun than trim was removing five headers with the saw-zaw. Somehow, during the translation from design phase to order phase to delivery phase for windows, 40 inch became 4.0 Ft., so our rough openings weren't sufficient. No one knows how that happened, but I have a sneaky suspicion that I somehow screwed up, so I offered to take out all of the offending headers (with the help of Sarah Ellen).

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

New Pics (1 of 2)

As promised, lots of new pictures! It was a big weekend with a lot of excitement, both the good kind and the not so good adrenaline pumping, why in the world are we doing this kind. We did, however, make quite a bit of progress this weekend.

1)It took four of us to unload the new beam on Friday and then four again on Sat. to lift it into place. Well worth it as we think the new beam and new porch look fabulous!!

2) We have windows!!! Or at least some windows. Matt let me (i.e. helped me) put in the kitchen windows in a very chivalrous effort to make me feel like progress was being made on the house and that we were not going to spend the rest of our lives working on the roof.

New Pics (2 of 2)

3) We have framed in the last exterior wall, a small bump out with french doors. This bump out will have a small shed roof, and the rafters are already cut. This is the LAST section of roof, and one small enough that it can be framed, plywooded, and tarpapered in a matter of hours.

4) Speaking of roofs, we also spent half a day working on the tar paper in all of the valleys in order to ensure that there are no leaks whatsoever. While we realize that the primary waterproofness of a roof comes from the actual roofing material, we figured it couldn't hurt. And it worked. It worked really, really well. How do I know this? Because Monday night we had one of the worst thunderstorms ever. Lightning and thunder all around the tent, the creek rising like crazy right beside us, and us knowing that at any moment lightning would strike a tree near us and it would come crashing down on the tent. Made for a fun night. Below is what the creek looked like this morning when we finally emerged.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

We're Still Here

No, we didn't run back to Africa. We're still here. It's just that we haven't really done anything picture worthy in a while. As those along the coast well know, hurricane season is upon us, and hard as it is to believe, even way over here in the mountains a hurricane can wreak havoc. Tons of rain and thunder storms are keeping us off the roof, which in turn is keeping us from moving onto the next step. So, while we are getting lots of odds and ends done, there is not a single picture I could take right now that would make someone say "wow, they ARE getting a lot done!"

We did get to run up to Cape Cod for a VERY short weekend during all this rain and celebrate the 2nd birthday of Matt's goddaughter and the wedding of two very close friends. And Matt did manage to pick out an 18 foot long reclaimed heart pine beam for our porch roof. It should be pretty cool, although in all honesty, neither one of us have actually seen it. I think I'm past the point of hand selecting every little thing for the house. If it will hold the porch roof up ROCK ON! That's all I need to know. Although, we will need to figure out how to get the beam to the house - it's a little bigger than the truck.

So keep your fingers crossed - if the rain holds out for Labor Day weekend, we will hopefully have some awe inspiring photos that show "wow, they ARE getting a lot done!" Assuming we don't get washed away in the tent before then.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

One Man Wonder

Rain put a bit of a damper on our plans to finish "skinning" the roof this weekend. We had folks lined up for a full day Sat., but the rain didn't let up until late afternoon. Thus, Sunday we were left with a roof in no better shape than it had been all week.

Until Matty had the idea that he could plywood the roof himself...

Yep, the one-man-wonder pulled off his biggest "don't try this at home" feat to date. He managed to get 3/4 of the remaining roof plywooded and tarpapered all by himself. Now you may be wondering to yourself why I myself was not up there helping. I, in fact, spent most of Sunday wondering the same thing. But, Matty laid out the ground rules for this project months ago and at the top of the list was 1) Laura is not allowed on the roof - EVER. I have a pretty substantial history of head injuries (some might even say I'm a bit uncoordinated). So Matty has forbidden me to get on the roof, for fear that I would plummet to a certain death. And no amount of stubborn debate on my part this weekend managed to change his mind. So, instead, I stood on the ground looking up at something like this, trying to figure our how I would break his fall if he slipped...

Monday, August 07, 2006

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's back to work we go!

I love shingles! No really, I do. They are not heavy. They only require one power tool to install. I do not have to worry about cutting off appendages. I do not have to worry that I will stumble and throw myself onto a circulating blade of death. Nope, nada. It's just hours and hours of lining up pretty shingles that smell wonderful, all fresh and cedary - and the best part - I can do it all by myself. I even got to pick out and purchase my first major tool, a refurbished Senco pneumatic staple gun. I love shingles and I love eBay. You have to use your imagination a little bit, but we think it will look stunning.

And while I am happily whiling away the hours putting up siding, Matty has been finishing up the framing for the roof. Luckily he likes framing because if it were up to me, it would never get done.
A view of the inside with the new roof frame, taken from the living room looking towards the kitchen.
Our gable end additions officially tied into the main roof.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

There's no place like home

Wow, what an adventure. The african safari was definately the trip of a lifetime, and one that Matt and I are very grateful to have had the opportunity to experience. Words, and even pictures, fail to give justice to such a spectacular place.

We have, however (as predicted), returned with even more determination to work hard on the house. The enjoyment of tent life is sure to have a shelf life (it's hard to compete with the 5 star tents on safari), so the day after flying home we were back at work. We've got a punch list of all the loose ends we need to tie up before we can have the roofers come over, however none of it is exciting enough to warrent posting. So, instead, I have posted our before and after floor layout. The original house was a total of 840 sq. ft. and the new layout will be approximately 1400 sq. ft.

There's no place like home, there's no place like home...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

That's one way to do it...

How to Build a House - Belanger style

  1. Dig holes and remove any large boulders by hand, utilizing basic lever systems.
  2. Remind self that entire civilizations were built before excavators.
  3. Haul 80 bags of concrete in buckets for piers.
  4. Cross fingers while crane guy wields steal beams over house and into place without a line of sight.
  5. Weld steel to existing I-beams and proudly announce that you have a foundation.
  6. Frame additions.
  7. Pack up house and move everything into snazzy onsite portable storage unit.
  8. Move into guest bedroom and commence to demolishing part of the house.
  9. Move into large tent on the deck.
  10. Plumb outdoor shower and then wave at neighbors while shampooing hair.
  11. Be thankful that it is summer when all the leaves are out and neighbors can’t really see.
  12. Worry about showering this fall when it gets cold and the leaves fall off.
  13. Demolish rest of house.
  14. Advertise in local paper for free roof trusses and give the roof away.
  15. Round up everyone you know 4th of July weekend to re-frame roof.
  16. Sheath main roof with plywood and tar paper.
  17. Take a break – go on safari
    (no really, we are going to AFRICA this weekend for a two week safari)
  18. Secretly worry than upon returning from exotic and luxurious safari with swanky tents and premier outdoor showers “for adventurous types” current situation at creek house might not seem so cool.

    Yep, Matt and I are putting our tools away and going on safari in southern Africa for two weeks! The timing, we admit, is a bit odd, but when my family offered us an opportunity to take this trip with them, it took less than a nano-second to accept. Once we return, we’ll be more determined than ever and ready to tackle our house with even more enthusiasm than before. If we get a chance, we’ll post some photos next week from our trip:)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Last Man Standing

I know it looks like I am a horrible house cleaner...

But really, I just have very challenging conditions.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

What I love about this project

What I love about this project:

  • Our friends and family. It really has been amazing. Every weekend folks just drop by to work. We never really know who is coming or for how long, but people just seem to keep coming by to work. This past weekend, when the rest of the country was grilling out hotdogs and shooting off firecrackers, we had nine different people come by to help us out! It has kind of been like one long drawn out barn-raising. We couldn’t have done half of what has been accomplished so far without all of the help. Now if I can just keep enough food and cold beer around to keep them coming back!
  • Watching Matty work (and working for Matty). There is something extremely cool about seeing someone you love in their element.
  • Discovering once again how well Matty and I work together. Especially with all of the dire warnings and predictions you receive all kinds of people, including the checkout girl at the grocery. A marriage can not only survive, but thrive while living in a tent, working two full time jobs and remodeling/rebuilding a house (due in a large part to the aforementioned friends and family helping out!)
  • Giving the roof away. As I have mentioned in previous posts, there is something a little crazy with ripping down a perfectly good house. So when it came time to take off the roof, we advertised it as free to anyone willing to come work a weekend to help take it off. We had two local guys come over one Sat., and now our old roof it on its way to becoming a new workshop and shed for a camper trailer. A far better deal than wasting away at the landfill.

Monday, June 26, 2006

We ended the drought!

Yes, yes, yes. Anyone from the southeast who has been worried about the lack of rain, you can rest easy – we have fixed it. Western NC has been in a bit of a drought lately, running 6 ½ inches behind normal. But have no fear, no less than seven minutes after we pulled the last truss off of our roof on Saturday, torrential rains began falling. According to our local paper “Heavy rains over the weekend brought needed relief to drought conditions in Henderson County, but torrential rainfall Saturday and again on Sunday dumped up to two inches in some parts of the county in a 24-hour period.” Heavy rain expected through Tuesday and no roof on the house… go figure. But we did manage to get the roof off and get our ever evolving living situation organized in the garage this weekend.The last truss coming down just before the rain

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