Friday, April 27, 2007

Final push, round 1

This is the big weekend. The final push before our appraisal. The house is far from done, but we are trying to wrap up as much as possible by Tuesday. It feels kind of like cramming for exams, only more exhausting and nerve wracking. The whole house building process would be so much more pleasant without the financial part...

If you ever wondered what a years worth of Roth IRA contributions would like if you converted it to wood, here you go. All of the cherry for the interior trim.So this weekend, all of those boards will be making their way to the windows, doors (and hopefullybaseboard areas).

And after that we have just few (!?!) more things on the list. But hey, at least some of them are scratched off!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Concrete countertops - a reflection on process

We are well on our way to having concrete counter tops! They are out of the mold and looking fabulous so far. We hope to have them finished and installed by Sunday, so this post will detail the first part of the process and I'll have follow up next week.
So here it goes, the good, bad and stupid:

1) We first consulted with and researched a lot of Cheng's books. We ultimately ended up using his mix as well, which we found very easy to work with. With so much going on, we didn't want to mess with recipe of additives to the sacked concrete. We knew we wanted dark grey solid color counter tops, something with an effect similar to soapstone. this eliminated any grinding on the surface and need to consider decorative inserts or aggregate.

2) Building the molds was very strait-forward for us. Accurate measurements, solid construction and wood are all strong points so we didn't run into any problems here. We followed a number of the suggestions made by Cheng, some of which may or may not have been necessary, but I like directions. The material to make the molds cost approx $75, as we did not have any melamine on hand and we needed rebar, wire mesh, silicone, etc.

3)A level area to set the molds for the pour is critical, so that you end up with level counter tops and not wedges. Since we were pouring all three counter tops at once, we needed a fair amount of space under cover. None of our work benches in the garage were large enough, so Matt built a level platform on the garage floor. The platform worked well, but was only a couple of inches off the ground. Ideally, it would be much higher, so you a) wouldn't have to work all crouched done, and b) wouldn't have to lift the ridiculously heavy counter tops off of the ground.

4) Based on my calculations, we were going to need 5.9 cubic feet of concrete. So, we ordered 6 cubic feet of charcoal mix. The directions specifically indicated that we should not use air entrained sacked concrete, and we had a little difficulty locating the right stuff. We eventually ended up having to go with 4000 psi instead of 5000 psi. We got the concrete, rented a mixer, and got ready to pour.

This is were things went a little askew...
First, we mixed the first batch a little too dry. We were both so worried about adding too much water and running the risk of cracking that we didn't add enough. This made the concrete very difficult to vibrate into place. I mean it was really dry. We even added more than the directions on the mix initially called for, but it still wasn't enough. We decided to mix the second batch a little two wet and figured that the two batches would mix with all of the vibrating, and the problem would be solved (which it was!).

Unfortunately, even though everything I read had said make sure you have extra concrete and mix, I cut it too close. We ran short, which really sucked. Once we distributed all of the mixed concrete evenly amongst the molds, they were all about 1/4 inch short, so we weren't able to screed the tops. Needless to say, I whacked myself on the forehead several times.

But, after a week, they popped right out of the molds looking pretty fabulous.

Normally, you need to dis-assemble the mold any pry it away from the counter top, but I guess because our mix was so dry, ours just popper right out. So our mold are intact and can be stored to use again should we decide now or later that we want to try again.

Next up...

I'll be spending this week grinding the underside of the counters because they are really rough and a little uneven since we were not able to screed. Once that is done We will apply a slurry to all of the surfaces to fill in the air pockets and then seal and wax them once they are in place. The sealer and wax will bring them back closer to the color they were when wet - a dark dark grey, almost black.

Friday, April 20, 2007


We popped one of three counter tops out of it's mold this week and they look FABULOUS!!! Which is such good news because, well, we weren't so sure. The pour didn't go quite as planned, mistakes (or what we thought were mistakes) were made, and we became doubtful. Which is really sad and frustrating as anyone who has made molds for concrete counter tops knows. A lot of work goes into mold making, so to blow it on the pour - well that's just wrong. So, after a week of thinking somewhere in the back of the mind that maybe all of that hard work was for not, we are elated, and the counter tops are just plain cool. There will be much more on this in my next post, with a blow by blow of what we did well, what we thought we did wrong, how we tried to fix it, why we weren't sure they were going to turn out and PICTURES!!! Stay tuned...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Countertop forms and a back deck

Countertop forms are built! All we have left before this weekends pour is the rebar/wire mesh reinforcements. Matt built a level platform on the garage floor so that none of the countertops come out looking like wedges, and we've sealed all of the seams with silicone so that the melamine won't swell. Our forms are pretty basic, since we have a small kitchen and an apron front sink, we only have one seam and no knockouts (except for the faucet). We are having a smooth, polished top so we don't have to worry about inserts or exposed aggregate. Just simple, dark charcoal countertops. I can't wait!! After this weekends pouring of the concrete, we'll let it cure for about a week and then cross our fingers next weekend when we break the mold.

We also got the back deck of death a little closer to finished (at least temporarily). We know we are re-doing the front deck in another year or so, but haven't had the time to really think about what we wanted to do with it or what kind of material we wanted to use. So, we didn't have any idea what type of decking we wanted for the back, since we do want it to all tie together. But, we had some pressure treated lumber, and a free handrail some friends had unloaded on us, so for the time-being we are having a plain, green tinted pressure treated deck. Not exactly what either of us had in mind, but it will do for the time being. At least we can actually use it. More than likely, the handrail will be replaced this summer with a handcrafted rhododendron railing, once we have a little free time to get creative.

The view from the bottom of the creek at the back of the house. Another upcoming project this summer will be to put stone up on the cinder block piers. But once again, we need to figure our what kind of stone - we have no idea and have not even really looked into it. Oh well.

Friday, April 06, 2007

It's been awhile, but we're back

We needed a break, but we're back in action. After the push to get into our house, and then the unfortunate timing that forced us to be sidetracked with our rental house, we needed a break. As Matt pointed out, we had not had a single day off since out trip last summer. We were burned out and a bit frazzled and our motivation was almost non-existent. So we headed down to Florida to visit with my dad and my brothers and sister. We hung out at the pool, wondered around the beach, and basically did absolutely nothing except eat and relax, which was just what we needed. Because we need the energy to tackle this list:

And although you probably can't read it, there's a lot to do, trust us. And quite a bit of that list must be accomplished in the next month, because we are having the house reappraised. So with that in mind we figured the first thing we need to do is finish the back deck, 'cause

this just doesn't look good (or safe for that matter). And we'll probably finish up those french doors too, because the 'newspaper/insulation between the doors' look doesn't go with the new couch.