Archive for June, 2009

Aaron, Braxton, Jordan, and Mike–The Heroes of Bunny Vista

June 27, 2009

With the SIPs finally unloaded, the crane in place, and Lewis away at a wedding, the serious business of installing the SIPs began early on Friday morning. Kelley took some amazing photos of this undertaking, which was difficult and dramatic.

Here’s the story in the photos from Kelley’s camera.

Braxton and Aaron are ready to install the SIPs, which are lying in front of the little Bunny Vista asparagus bed.

Braxton and Aaron are ready to install the SIPs, some of which are lying in front of the little Bunny Vista asparagus bed.

Mike and Jordan wait on the roof for the first panel.

Mike and Jordan prepare for the first panel.

Kelley is on the inside, looking up.

Kelley is on the inside, looking up.

Braxton and his friend, the good Dr. Pepper

Braxton and his friend, the good Dr. Pepper.

The crane lowers the first SIP into place.

The crane lowers the first SIP into place.

Mike steadies the SIP.

Mike steadies the SIP.

Jordan directs the crane operator.

Jordan directs the crane operator.

Here's a chart of the hand signals, photographed from the side of the crane. And all this time I thought Jordan knew those signals by heart.

Here's a chart of hand signals, photographed from the side of the crane. And all this time I thought Jordan knew those signals by heart.

Aaron prepares the second panel for the crane.

Aaron nails blocks on the second panel so that the crane can lift it.

The fourth panel slides into place. The panels are joined with splines. Unfortunately Team Industries, which supplied the panels, also supplied splines which were too large. The builders had to recut all the splines. Here, they are working hard to match up the panels.

The fourth panel slides into place. The panels are joined with splines. Unfortunately, Team Industries, which manufactured the panels, supplied splines which were too large. The builders had to recut all the splines. Here, they are working hard to match up the panels.

Jordan said the installation of the SIPs on the second side should have been simple, in spite of the height of the roof.

Jordan said the installation of the SIPs on the second side should have been simple, in spite of the height of the roof. The crew made a miscalculation when they placed the first two panels, which resulted in some extra hours of work in the heat and humidity. I understand that someone called someone else a "dumbass." It may have happened more than once.

It took daring and difficult work to correct the placement of the lower two panels.

It was daring and difficult work to adjust the placement of the lower two panels.

This is the last photo of the day. The photographer needed a break from the drama and went to water his garden.

This is the last photo of the day. The photographer needed a break from the drama and went to water his garden.

Although this is the end of the photographic record of the SIPs installation, it was far from the end of the work for the building crew. After a quick meal at Peck’s Barbecue, they returned to work. Kelley, Mike, and Jordan finally stopped working at about 10 p.m.

Mike, Jordan, Braxton, and Aaron are remarkable young men. It has been a great pleasure for Kelley and me to get to know them. They work as hard as any people I have ever met. All four of them take the kind of care with their work that we rarely see.  I am so happy that they are working on this project and bringing to it their knowledge, skills, problem-solving abilities, and good humor. Also their muscles, which are substantial.

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SIPs from Cardinal Building Systems and Team Industries

June 27, 2009

This is the story of our Bunny Vista experience with SIPs, which Kelley and Jordan decided to use for insulating the roof of the Bunny Vista timber frame. I will warn you in advance that this story is from the dark side of the Bunny Vista experience, unlike my previous posts, which I hope have conveyed the joy and exhilaration this project has brought.

Background

SIPs are Structural Insulated Panels, essentially a thick layer of insulating material sandwiched between two sheets of structural sheathing (OSB). Think of an ice cream sandwich: the wafers are the sheathing, and the nice thick layer of ice cream is the insulation. SIPs are great insulators and resist mold, mildew, and termites.  They are recognized by various “green” building organizations as having a small environmental impact in the manufacturing process; they also save energy and reduce heating and cooling costs. Although their initial cost is high (our panels were to cost nearly $9,800), they are supposed to save in labor costs during installation because they are precisely manufactured to customer specifications. Reduced heating and cooling costs over a period of years also helps recoup part of the initial cost. SIPs range in size from 4’x8′ to 8’x24′. Ours are very large, with only eight panels covering the 1216 square feet of the timber frame ceiling. The panels come in a variety of thicknesses. The insulating material can also vary.

Aaron stands beside a SIP while a crane lifts it. This gives you an idea of the size of the SIPs.

Aaron stands beside a SIP while a crane lifts it. This gives you an idea of the size of the SIPs.

Prologue

On June 1, Kelley contracted with Richard Lloyd of Cardinal Building Systems in Winchester to provide the panels, which were to be manufactured by a Team Industries facility also located in Winchester. The SIPs Kelley and Jordan considered were available in two thicknesses, 8 1/4″ and 10 1/4″. Panels of each thickness could also contain insulating material in one of three varieties–EPS 1 lb, the least expensive, EPS 2 lb, and XPS 48, the most expensive. Kelley and Jordan ordered 8 1/4″ thick panels with EPS 2 lb insulating material. Jordan emailed Richard Lloyd very detailed drawings of the panels needed, including all of the cuts. Kelley sent Cardinal Building Systems a check for a deposit of $4,500. The cost did not include delivery, so Kelley arranged with Aaron, one of our builders, to pick up the panels at the Team Industries manufacturing facility in Winchester when the panels were complete, early in the following week.

Jordan and his crew prepared to bring the timber frame to Bunny Vista, taking into consideration the weather forecast (which kept calling for rain) and the finish date of the SIPs. It was important to install the SIPs as soon as the ceiling was in place, most importantly to protect the ceiling and the rest of the timber frame, but also to allow Jordan and his crew, who do not live in the area, to finish the timber frame, ceiling, and SIP installation in one trip.

With the SIPs scheduled for completion before June 10 and the weather slated to clear a bit at that time, Jordan scheduled the delivery of the timber frame for Thursday, June 11, the raising of the frame for Friday, June 12, and the installation of the ceiling and SIPs for Monday-Wednesday, June 15 through 17.

June 8-10

As the scheduled SIPs completion date approached, the delays from Cardinal Building Systems began. When Kelley called Richard Lloyd to schedule pick-up of the SIPs, Mr. Lloyd told him that there had been a breakdown at the Team Industries facility and that the SIPs would not be ready until Friday, June 12, the date of the timber frame raising. In a later conversation, Richard Lloyd told Kelley that the SIPs would be ready Monday, June 15. On Monday, Mr. Lloyd told Kelley that the SIPs would be ready for pick-up on Wednesday, June 17, at 2 p.m. On Monday evening, our builders began covering the ceiling of the timber frame with black plastic to try to protect it from weather damage.

The builders covered the ceiling with black plastic to protect the cypress boards from the weather.

The builders covered the ceiling with black plastic to protect the cypress boards from the weather.

Wednesday, June 17

Kelley and Aaron drove to the Team Industries manufacturing facility in Winchester to pick up the panels and bring them back on Aaron’s trailer. Kelley gave Pam, the facility manager, a check for $5,276 to cover both the initial contract cost and $600 in additional charges which Kelley and Richard Lloyd had agreed upon. After the panels were loaded onto Aaron’s trailer, Kelley inspected them and found that they had not been cut to the specifications on the drawing Jordan had emailed to Cardinal Building Systems.  The plant workers produced copies of Jordan’s drawings and said that Mark Lloyd, brother of Richard and co-owner of Cardinal, had brought them the drawings and explained how the panels were to be manufactured; they said they followed Mr. Lloyd’s instructions. However, the panels were clearly incorrect: four of them could be re-cut and used, but the other four were not usable. Four more panels would have to be manufactured. Pam apologized, returned Kelley’s check, and gave Kelley the business card for Bob Hotaling, regional sales manager for Team Industries. During his meeting with Pam, Kelley asked about the facility breakdown on which Richard Lloyd had blamed the delay; Pam did not confirm a breakdown but referred Kelley to Mr. Lloyd.

Kelley spoke with Mr. Hotaling, who told him that it was important to Team Industries that the panels were manufactured correctly and that they would work to make sure that Kelley was satisfied with the product and service. Subsequently, Richard Lloyd called Kelley and said that he expected that Team Industries personnel would work on Saturday to get the panels done and that they would be ready early the week of June 22. He said that he would deduct the $600 in additional charges, which would return the price of the SIPs to the one originally agreed upon. And, he would have the panels delivered at no additional cost. Kelley agreed. Delivery was set for Wednesday afternoon, June 24. Jordan and his assistant, Mike, who had had to return home before completing the job because of the SIPs delay, arranged to return early on the following Thursday to install the SIP’s.

Wednesday, June 24

Richard Lloyd called Kelley to say that the trailer delivering the SIPs would not be able to leave the Team Industries facility until 4:00, so that it would not arrive until around 6:00, well after our builders had finished work for the day. Kelley asked how Cardinal planned to unload the SIPs, since there would be no one here to help the driver. Mr. Lloyd said that he would send a crew of several men. Later, Kelley got a second call: Mr. Lloyd said that the trailer had a “broken spindle” and Cardinal would not be able to deliver the SIPs until mid-morning Thursday. Kelley said that he had an out-of-town crew scheduled to arrive at 8:00 Thursday morning and a crane scheduled to arrive shortly after that. Mr. Lloyd said he would arrange another trailer which would arrive late Wednesday evening. At 6:00 p.m., Mr. Lloyd called to say that the second trailer, although twenty-four feet long, was only six feet wide–not wide enough to deliver the panels safely–and that the panels would not arrive until Thursday morning.

Thursday, June 25

At about 7:30 a.m., Kelley called Pam and asked her what insulation had been used in our SIPs–EPS 1 lb or the more expensive EPS 2 lb, which we had contracted for and been billed for. Pam said that she thought it was EPS 1 lb, because they hadn’t used EPS 2 lb “in a while” but that she would check and call Kelley back. She said that the trailer with our SIPs had left the facility.

At about 9:30 a.m., the trailer arrived. The SIPs had sustained damages during the trip.

The SIPs were propped on OSB strips.

The SIPs were propped on OSB strips.

Bottom left, OSB props have collapsed. Top right, uncushioned packing straps have cut into OSB and EPS insulation.

Bottom left, OSB props have collapsed. Top right, uncushioned packing straps have cut into OSB and EPS insulation.

Straps without any cushioning or padding cut into and mashed the panels.

Straps without any cushioning or padding cut into and mashed the panels.

Shortly after the panels arrived, Steve Jesnek, Team Industries Director of Sales and Marketing, called Kelley to tell him that the panels contained the EPS 1 lb material, rather than the more expensive EPS 2 lb material.

The driver refused to unload the truck until Kelley gave him a check for $4,600. Kelley would not pay him for panels which did not not use the insulation he ordered and which were damaged in shipping. A standoff ensued. During the standoff, our builders were able to determine that, not only were the panels damaged and made of the wrong material, but that they also had miscuts that would require at least two days of work to correct. Here’s one of the errors:

One of Jordan's drawings, sent to Cardinal Building. Bottom left panel was to receive a 9' cut-out from its right edge toward the center to accommodate the kitchen's shed roof.

One of Jordan's drawings, sent to Cardinal Building. Bottom left panel was to receive an approximate 9' long cut-out from its right edge toward the center of the panel. Remaining length of the panel is approximately 13'. The cut in the panel should be just above the second timber frame post from the left.

Compare this cut to the spec drawing Jordan provided Cardinal and Team Industries.

Compare this cut to the specs drawing Jordan provided Cardinal and Team Industries. Cut-out portion of lower left panel is approximately 13' long with 9' remaining, a reversal of the specifications. The cut in the SIP occurs about four feet to the left of the Timber frame post. Lewis and his crew will have to correct this error. Lewis estimates that it will take two days at $1,000 a day to make this correction.

Other miscuts included incorrect placement of the skylights, incorrect cut of the roof ridge requiring our builders to fill the gaps with foam, and failure to recess the insulation on the plumb cut for the kitchen roof. Kelley is not yet sure how he will remove the excess foam from this miscut. Richard Lloyd told him on Thursday that he would come here on Friday with a hot knife to remove the foam, but he did not come or call to other arrangements.

Thursday, after several conversations with Jordan while the driver refused to unload the trailer, Richard Lloyd finally agreed that he would accept the $4,500 down payment as final payment to Cardinal Building Systems and that there would be no further charges. The crew unloaded the trailer, and the driver left.

It was too late on Thursday to install the SIPs. Fortunately, Kelley was able to reschedule the crane operator for Friday. Jordan and Mike spent the night, and Jordan, Mike, Aaron, and Braxton installed the panels on Friday, June 26.

The final cost analysis:

The panels Kelley ordered cost a little less than $9,800. Richard Lloyd reduced this price to a little more than $9,100, which was the originally agreed upon price, in consideration of Kelley and Aaron’s wasted trip to Winchester to pick up the first set of SIPs. However, the panels which Cardinal Building Systems and Team Industries actually supplied were not the ones Kelley contracted for, and the value was $900 less than the original price–about $8,200.

We paid Cardinal $4,500 for the SIPs, which were full of miscuts and damages. Kelley has calculated our costs for delays, repairing damages, and correcting errors at about $5,100, making our total cost for the SIPs $9,600. We originally agreed to spend $9,800 for perfect panels that would require little on-site labor and would give us a superior product. We are paying only $200 less for a cobbled-together SIP system, which our builders will have to fix, after a thoroughly unsatisfactory and frustrating experience.

Kelley emailed Steve Jesnek, Team Industries’ director of sales and marketing with a detailed list of the expenses we have incurred with the manufacture and delivery of the SIPs. Here’s Mr. Jesnek’s response:

From: Steve Jesnek <sjesnek@teamindustries.com>
Date: Thu, Jun 25, 2009 at 1:20 PM
Subject: RE: Blanton panels
To: Kelley Blanton
Cc: bhotaling@teamindustries.com, plam@teamindustries.com, rich@cardinalbuildingsystems.com

Kelly

Thank you for the detail.   I understand you have already negotiated a final price of $4,500 (what you have paid to date) with Richard Lloyd of CBS, which is in affect a $2,993 discount from the 1 lb. density price of $7,493 to cover your expenses and related inconvenience.   As we discussed, Team and CBS will handle the division of this $2,993 discount behind ‘closed doors’.

We again apologize for your inconvenience.  To incent your working directly with Team Industries in the future, we will avail you a significant discount on your next order to further recognize your inconvenience on this order.

Steve

Steve Jesnek

Director,  Sales & Marketing

Team Industries

O  616.698.2001

C   616.307.6227

F   616.698.0605

www.teamindustries.com

————————————————————


Caveat emptor.

Turning the Timber Frame into a Room

June 22, 2009

Today the first wall went onto the timber frame. Now I begin to see how the room will look and how it will feel. Kelley has been working hard to balance our desire to have big windows with our need for space for furniture and storage–not an easy problem to solve. But today when I came home from Pufferbellies, Bunny Vista had yet another new look.

A new view of Bunny Vista, featuring a wall on the timber frame.

A new view of Bunny Vista, featuring a wall on the timber frame. When the long covered porch goes on, it will look terrific. What a place to sit and watch the sun set!

Lewis, Aaron and Braxton framed the walls, nailed OSB to the frames, and lifted the walls up to the timber frame.

Lewis is on the ladder.

Lewis is on the ladder.

Braxton and Aaron

Braxton and Aaron

Braxton works on the first section of the frame.

Braxton works on the second section of the frame. He is standing inside the space for the window.

Lewis, Aaron, and Braxton hoisted the wall into place with a heavy chain attached to scaffolding inside the timber frame.

Lewis, Aaron, and Braxton hoisted the wall into place with a heavy chain attached to scaffolding inside the timber frame. You can just see Lewis through the window.

The second section of the wall is in place. Brilliant! The wall section with the door goes in next.

The second section of the wall is in place. Brilliant! The wall section with the door goes in next.

And from the inside looking out–still wonderful. I think the windows are exactly the right size–they look terrific framed by the cherry braces. The proportions are exactly right.

The glorious timber frame is becoming a glorious room. I am imagining looking out that window every evening as the sun sets and stepping out onto that porch through the French doors.

The glorious timber frame is becoming a glorious room. I am imagining looking out that window every evening as the sun sets and stepping out onto that porch through the French doors.

Next Week at Bunny Vista

June 20, 2009

With the log house and timber frame in place, the construction at Bunny Vista continues with a different focus.

This week we are looking forward to the arrival of the structural insulated roofing panels (SIPs).  SIPs have a layer of insulation sandwiched between two layers of structural sheathing. SIPs are often used with timber frame construction or in place of conventional stick construction. They are strong and weather-resistant and can be used for roofs, walls, and foundations. They are compliant with many “green” building programs, because their production has minimal environmental impact and because they are very energy efficient.

We are buying the SIPs for Bunny Vista from R-Control, which has a manufacturing facility in Winchester. There have been some delays with the SIPs, which were scheduled to arrive as soon as the timber frame was raised. After many conversations with the manufacturer and the distributor, Kelley went to Winchester with Aaron last week to pick up the panels, only to find that they had not been manufactured to the specifications Jordan had provided. The distributor has promised to deliver the panels on Wednesday, and Jordan will arrive on Thursday to install the SIPs, after which we will all breathe more easily. In the meantime, the timber frame is wearing a giant sheet of plastic to protect the cypress ceiling from the weather.

Kelley stakes the tomato plants. Bunny Vista, with plastic sheeting over the ceiling, is in the background.

Kelley stakes the tomato plants. The house, with plastic sheeting over the ceiling, is in the background.

The plastic is keeping the timber frame ceiling dry. We hope.

The plastic is keeping the timber frame ceiling dry. We hope.

Cypress ceiling, one of the skylight openings with black plastic behind.

Cypress ceiling--one of the skylight openings with black plastic visible behind it.

Lewis has finished applying the base layer of the chinking to the exterior logs; the base layer is a traditional mortar over lath on wide openings and Grip-Stick foam on narrow openings. This prepares the log walls for the Perma-Chink. Kelley has been choosing the stain color and the Perma-Chink color.

Kelley tested lots of stains. We really like the silvery gray color that the logs naturally have, but staining and sealing will help keep them sound and even out the color.

Kelley tested lots of stains. He rejected all of these. We really like the silvery gray color that the logs have gotten with age, but staining and sealing will help keep them sound and will even out the color.

The winning stain.

The winning stain. Stained section is at top of log face. Unstained section at the bottom. We think this color is a good match for the logs and still shows the beauty of the wood.

On Monday, Eric Thompson of Earthstar Systems in Waynesboro will arrive to lay out the mechanical room and figure out the tubing arrangement for the radiant floor heating on the first floor. He will also lay out the trenches for the geothermal heating and cooling system. Sometime this week we will dig two 300-foot trenches, five or six feet deep, which will each have three rows of one inch tubing.

Kelley is also getting ready to place the order for windows and doors. Although he plans to make most of the doors for the house, we will buy the doors leading to the porches of the timber frame.

Topping Off the Timber Frame

June 17, 2009

Last Thursday was the start of an intense week of building at Bunny Vista. With the arrival of Jordan Finch and his crew, the number of workers at the house doubled. Lewis, Braxton, and Aaron worked alongside Jordan, Justin, and Mike to add another beautiful element to our new house. Jordan’s crew had been working on the timber frame at Jordan’s workshop in Mount Jackson for many months.

All Thursday afternoon, the crew unloaded the frame and laid it out on the house decking. They joined the wall posts to the top plate and added cherry braces while the walls lay flat on the deck. On Friday, they raised the timber frame, beginning with the west wall. They attached the floor beams for the loft, laid the loft floor joists, and raised the east wall. They maneuvered the giant cherry sling braces into place and added the four principal rafters. On those two days the men worked very hard and very long, and at the end of the day on Friday, we stood on the deck with the amazing timber frame structure surrounding us. It was very emotional for all of us.

Jordan used three woods in the timber frame. Most of the timber frame is made of cypress, which Jordan bought from a sawmill in South Carolina; it is very clear and has a lovely soft color. Kelley tells me cypress was Frank Lloyd Wright’s favorite wood. Cypress is widely used in Japan, where builders often bury it for years to deepen the color. The cherry for the braces came from a sawmill here in the Valley; the sling braces on two of the bents are about twelve feet long, eighteen inches or so wide, and six inches thick. Kelley and Jordan sawed them at the Taylor and Boody sawmill so that they retain what Kelley calls “live edges”–the edges are not sawed but follow the natural outline of the tree. They will make a stunning frame for the stone fireplace at the south end of the house. Kelley really admires the handplaning job that Mike did on the cherry, not the easiest wood to plane. The top plates run the full thirty-five foot length of the frame and are made of very dense yellow pine; Kelley and Jordan chose this wood because they were able to use one timber for the entire length of the room.

At the top is the yellow pine top plate

The top plate is yellow pine. The post is cypress, as are the beam running perpendicular to the top plate and the girt directly above Kelley's head. The braces are cherry, which is my favorite wood. In this photo, the crew is preparing to join the first sling brace to the frame.

The posts flare at the top and are narrower at the bottom. Jordan specified that the lumber be milled so that the bottom of the tree (the famous butt swell) would at the top of the post to support all of the joints in that area.

The sling braces have "live edges," which are not sawed but follow the natural line of the curved tree trunk.

The sling braces have "live edges," which are not sawed but follow the natural line of the curved tree trunk. The heartwood of the cherry tree is the reddish color we always associate with cherry. It's really interesting to see the contrast between the heartwood and the sapwood on these braces.

Kelley recruited Nick and Erin to help him put finish on the cypress ceiling boards. Although they spent several hours on this project Sunday afternoon, they were not able to finish. There were a lot of boards.

Cypress ceiling boards

Cypress ceiling boards

On Monday morning, the timber frame crew returned to Bunny Vista to add the common rafters and the cypress tongue-and-groove ceiling.

Jordan and Lewis consult about rafters at the fireplace end of the timber frame.

Jordan and Lewis consult about the rafters at the fireplace end of the timber frame.

Rafters

The larger rafters, visible at the right and the left, are called principal rafters. The common rafters (there are four in this photo) are the smaller rafters between the bents.

After putting the rafters in place on Monday, the builders were able to apply finish to the rest of the ceiling boards, saw them to length, and nail half of them to the rafters.

Justin saws a ceiling board.

Justin saws a ceiling board.

Almost finished with half of the ceiling.

Almost finished with half of the ceiling.

At the end of the day, we had a “topping off” ceremony, which is a traditional centuries-old ceremony among timber frame builders. It marks and commemorates the completion of the timber frame; it recognizes and honors the builders. One important component of the ceremony is the nailing of the “whetting bush” , an evergreen bough, to the highest point of the frame. The origin of this tradition is obscure, but it is probably Scandinavian. Possibly, nailing the evergreen bough to the timber frame once offered appeasement to the gods for using the wood of the forest to build a structure. It may also serve to give thanks to the forest for providing wood for a new home. Kelley climbed onto the roof of the log house and nailed the whetting bush to a principal rafter of the timber frame. Jordan read a traditional German topping off toast and a house blessing which our friend Emily brought to us on Friday. Then he smashed a wine glass against the foundation of the house, and we served our first meal from what will soon be our kitchen.

The whetting bush

The whetting bush

Today, the rest of the ceiling boards went up. Tomorrow, Kelley and Aaron will drive to Winchester to pick up the panels that will insulate the ceiling. Thursday, the builders will add the panels to the ceiling, and we will be on our way to the next house-building adventure.

The final ceiling boards and the whetting bush

The final ceiling boards and the whetting bush

Timber Frame Raising

June 14, 2009

The timber frame arrived at Bunny Vista on Thursday. Aaron Tammi drove to Jordan Finch’s workshop in Mountain Jackson early in the morning and came back to Swoope at midday with a trailer full of house wood, shaped and ready to be made into a timber frame room. Jordan and his assistants Justin and Mike arrived at about the same time.

At last--the timber frame arrives at Bunny Vista

At last--the timber frame arrives at Bunny Vista.

Jordan’s crew and Lewis’s crew spent the rest of Thursday assembling the frame and all day Friday raising it. Kelley’s brother Garry worked with them on Thursday, and our neighbor Emerson Willard worked all day Friday. Kelley and Erin and I took hundreds of photos of these two dramatic days. The photos tell the story much better than I can. I hope they give you a sense of how dramatic, exciting, and moving these two days have been.

The crane lowers the very first part of the frame onto the deck--the pine top plate for Wall A. It is about 35 feet long.

Kelley helps position the very first part of the frame onto the deck--the pine top plate for Wall A. It is about 35 feet long.

The crane lowers a post onto the deck. The top of the post is at the left of the photo.

The crane lowers one of the posts onto the deck.

The crew joins the posts to the top plate and the braces to both top plate and posts while the wall lies flat on the deck.

The crew has joined the posts to the top plate and the braces to both top plate and posts while the wall lies flat on the deck. Wall B is on the left, Wall A, which will be raised first, is on the right.

Amel Blanton, Kelley's father, oils the white oak pegs that will be used in the mortise and tenon joints.

Amel Blanton, Kelley's father, oils the white oak pegs that will be used in the mortise and tenon joints.

Timber Frame joinery

This is an example of the precise and perfect joinery. Jordan, Mike, and Justin cut all the joints at Jordan's workshop in Mount Jackson.

Mark drives some of the many pegs that draw the joints together and hold them tight.

Mike drives some of the many pegs that draw the joints together and hold them tight. He is working on Wall A.

The crew drilled a steel plate into the bottom of each post. When the walls are raised, they will screw the plates into the decking.

The crew drilled a steel plate into the bottom of each post. When the walls are raised, they will screw the plates into the decking.

On Friday morning, the crew began to raise the timber frame. The first part to go up was Wall A, lifted and lowered into place by the crane. Jordan directed the men as they positioned the posts onto the marks they had made earlier.

On Friday morning, the crew began to raise the timber frame. The first part to go up was Wall A, lifted and lowered into place by the crane. Jordan directed the men as they positioned the posts onto the marks they had made earlier. Jordan is partly visible at far left, directing the crane operator and the crew.

Wall A is up, temporarily braced by two x fours

Wall A is up, temporarily braced by two x fours

After Wall A, the floor beams for the loft went up. Slots are cut in the beams for the joists.

After Wall A, the floor beams for the loft went up. They are braced by "dead men" until Wall B goes up.

The crane lifted Wall B, turned it around in the air, and lowered it into place.

The crane lifted Wall B, turned it around in the air, and lowered it into place.

Once the walls were raised, the work of joining the loft floor beams and the sling braces began.

Once the walls were raised, the work of joining the loft floor beams and the sling braces to the wall posts began.

These four massive braces are called sling braces. They were cut from a curved cherry tree.

These four massive braces are called sling braces. They were cut from a curved cherry tree.

After much maneuvering, the first sling brace slid into place.

After much maneuvering, the first sling brace slides into place.

With the first set of sling braces in place, Braxton, Aaron, Mike, and Justin position a principal rafter. Jordan directs the crew and the crane operator.

With the first set of sling braces in place, Braxton, Aaron, Mike, and Justin position a principal rafter. Jordan directs the crew and the crane operator.

One more bent to go.

The view from under the loft. Too beautiful. Too beautiful.

The timber frame is almost complete, with the remaining rafters to be added Monday.

The timber frame is almost complete, with the remaining rafters to be added Monday.

Bunny Vista has a fancy new look.

Bunny Vista has a fancy new look.

Watching the raising of the timber frame was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Jordan’s craftsmanship, selection and use of materials, design, planning, and execution of this project have been nothing short of brilliant. Like the stonework and the log house, the timber frame is a work of art that we will always treasure. It will be a pleasure to live in this house and a pleasure to remember the building of the house.

Thinking about Chinking

June 8, 2009

Chinking fills the spaces between the logs, keeping out drafts and rain. In early Appalachian log houses, the chinks were thin pieces of wood or stone that were wedged diagonally, like fallen dominoes, into the spaces between the logs. The chinks provided backing for mud or clay or other substances. One of the problems with log houses is that they can be drafty because of the spaces between the logs. In old log houses, chinking often cracked and fell out repeatedly, responding to the movement of the logs, which expand and contract especially when green, and the changes in temperature and humidity.  Log house builders have tried many materials and techniques to try to get chinking to stay in place. Charles McRaven’s book, Building & Restoring the Hewn Log House, has a useful discussion of chinking techniques.

Viewed from inside, there is one layer of exterior chinking between the logs at left. The logs at right are unchinked.

Viewed from inside, there is one layer of exterior chinking between the logs at left. The logs at right are unchinked.

For our house, Lewis and his crew will insert metal lath between all the logs. On the exterior, Lewis will use Perma-Chink. When the outside is done, he will begin on the inside by adding a layer of insulation between the logs. Then he will chink the inside with a traditional mortar mix.

The lath is a heavy wire that reminds me a little of chicken wire.

The lath is a heavy wire mesh, designed to hold plaster, that reminds me a little of chicken wire.

Today Lewis began adding mortar over the lath on the exterior of the house. He will cover this layer of mortar with Perma-Chink, which is a modern acrylic latex chinking.  Perma-Chink is less likely to crack as the logs settle, contract or expand in different weather conditions. It is capable of expanding lengthwise several times its length. Since our logs are old, Lewis and Kelley do not expect them to move very much, but Lewis finds that Perma-Chink works well to avoid the problem of cracking chinking.

Aaron mixes the Perma-Chink.

Aaron mixes mortar which will be applied to the lath underneath the Perma-Chink.

Lewis uses a trowel to apply Perma-Chink.

Lewis uses a trowel to apply chinking. Each section of chinking is recessed at its top, beneath the log above it, but even at the bottom with the log below. This makes a little ledge for precipitation to run off. Clever, I say.

The very high-tech device Lewis is standing on is called a “pump jack scaffold.” Lewis pumps with his foot to raise or lower the board he is standing on. Geez.

Lewis on scaffolding

A Walk Around Bunny Vista

June 8, 2009

When we moved to the mobile home on the property at Bunny Vista, we didn’t know that we would live here for almost four years before we began to build the house; I am really happy to have gotten to know our lot for a while before we began. We’ve experienced summer breezes and winter gales and enjoyed the view of pastures, vineyard, mountains and sky from different elevations on the sloped property. We’ve watched the way the setting sun shifts position over the mountains as the seasons change. We waited and waited in darkness as the sun began to rise over the ridge and woods at the back of our lot and shone across the hollow onto Emerson and E. Anne’s house. We’ve had the opportunity to grow to love this peaceful little place enough to know that we want to live here for the rest of our lives.

All of the discoveries we made helped us begin to design the house to catch the summer breeze and shelter us from the winter storms, to enjoy the views, to make the house comfortable and easy to live in, and to help us enjoy the sunset and catch the sun’s rays a bit earlier in the day.

Our 4 1/2 acre property was carved out of the Croft farm. It faces west, looking across a pasture to a ridge with a road running along the top of the ridge. In the winter, when I stand outside facing west, I can see a neighbor’s house on my right, to the north, through the trees in the wooded area on both our properties. In the summer, that house is almost invisible because of the leaves. Directly in front of me I see the fenced pasture, which turns at a right angle and runs along the fence on my left all the way up the slope to the back of our lot. Behind me the lot slopes upward and again there is a wooded area. The fencing of Sugar Loaf Farm forms the back boundary of our property.

Our gravel driveway is on a little dogleg just ten to twenty yards wide. It is about 1/10 mile long. When I turn into the driveway from Miller Farm Road, I drive for a little distance between the pasture to the west and my neighbor’s driveway to the east. Our house is not visible, but finally the driveway curves and I am home.

Comiing home

The log rooms, facing west, are on the north side of the house. Because the lot slopes, we can have a full basement with doors and big windows on the front.

When the house is finished, the new driveway will run behind it rather than in front as it does now. We will park in back and enter from one of two doors on the back of the house. My Pop often reminded me that “our weather comes out of the west.” Certainly, the wind usually comes out of the west–and it is almost always windy here. In the summer, the wind is a treat and a treasure. In the winter, it can be a misery when it’s cold and dark. I wanted the entrances to the house to be sheltered from the wind. I also wanted easy access to the house, only a couple of steps up. Having the entrances at the back  shelters us and our visitors from the wind and allows us to come and go without climbing a lot of steps.

The new driveway will run along this side of the house. One side of the shed addition is visible at the left. The pink insulation will be covered with fill dirt, and Kelley is hoping that Nick will help him build a stone retaining wall here.

The new driveway will run along this side of the house. One side of the shed addition is visible at the left. The pink insulation will be covered with fill dirt, and Kelley is hoping that Nick will help him build a stone retaining wall here.

The shed addition will run along the entire length of the back of the house. It will house the mudroom, the kitchen, the hall, and the master bathroom. The kitchen bumps out about six feet beyond the rest of the shed addition.

The main entrance to the house will be through the shed addition. Walking straight ahead after entering, you will be in the dog trot between the two log rooms. If you turn left you will follow the hallway into the kitchen and timber frame.

The main entrance to the house will be through the shed addition. The entry hall connects to the dog trot between the log rooms and the hallway leading to the kitchen ad timber frame. The decking for the timber frame and kitchen are visible at the left.

The timber frame will sit on this decking. It will face west and have a screened porch on the south.

The timber frame and kitchen will sit on this decking. The timber frame will share a wall with the log house. At the right of the log wall is the entrance to the shed addition hallway, which leads to the log house and main entrance. At the left of the photo is the foundation for the screened porch. Again, the insulation on the foundation will be covered by fill dirt. The side entrance to the house is through a mudroom, at about the middle of the photo. The kitchen, which will run along the back of the house to the hallway, will face east.

Picture the timber frame and screen porch here.

Picture the timber frame here, in the center of the photo, above the basement section where Kelley will have his workshop. The screened porch will be on the right. There will be a covered front porch running the length of the timber frame, so we can have company while we watch the sun set. Kelley will store his lawn and garden equipment under the screened porch at the right.

Kelley, Lewis, Peter, and Jordan have worked hard to make sure that this house, with all its different materials and building techniques, will be a comfortable and beautiful home. Jordan calls from Mount Jackson at least once every day to consult with the other three. Peter created a floor plan that emphasizes the traditional materials and fine workmanship, creates interesting spaces, and makes the house visually coherent. He continues to work with Kelley, Lewis, and Jordan as the house evolves, helping us see our way through the inevitable changes–Peter has at least one good idea a minute. Lewis, who describes himself as a problemsolver, is building this house as if he were going to live in it himself. With his practical approach and ability to see his way through difficulties, he is making Kelley’s and Peter’s ideas work. Kelley continues to oversee it all, complicated as it is, scheduling all the different builders, shoveling mud out of the basement, and making his dream come to life.

That’s Why We Call It “Bunny Vista”

June 6, 2009
Braxton and Bunny

Braxton and Bunny

We know that our builders Braxton and Aaron are tough on groundhogs, but bunnies? That’s another story.

One of the hundreds at the Vista

One of the bunnies at the Vista

Logs+Lots of Work+Time=Flooring

June 4, 2009

In May, 2008, Kelley located some large Southern yellow pine logs, which he thought would make good flooring for the house, at Yancey Mill near Crozet. Since the logs were larger than the mill usually handles and milling them would require resetting a lot of machinery, it was not cost-effective for the mill to saw them. Kelley borrowed John Boody’s log truck, and we headed for Yancey Mill to buy some logs.

Riding in John Boody's log truck to Yancey Mill. Getting into the truck was the hardest part. Once I was in, I stayed in until the expedition was over.

I was very excited to be in the truck--it was the biggest truck I've ever ridden in. It did not go very fast.

Southern yellow pine is a traditional flooring material, because it is the hardest of the pines, it is relatively inexpensive, and it is very beautiful. There are many varieties of Southern yellow pine. When the European settlers arrived in North America, the eastern coastal plain from southeast Virginia to Florida was covered with Southern longleaf pine forests. The longleaf pine, which is extremely slow-growing, was in high demand; it was used especially by the Navy for timber, turpentine, and resin. Now, only about 3% of that forest remains. The very desirable pine called heart pine has usually come from the longleaf pine; most of the heart pine used for flooring today has been reclaimed from old buildings. The logs Kelley found are from another variety of pine, the shortleaf pine. The logs were very large, some of them nearly 36 inches across. This variety of pine grows faster than longleaf pine, and there is a smaller proportion of heartwood to sapwood. You can see in the photo below the pronounced circle of heartwood in the center of the log.

One log gets loaded onto the truck at Yancey Mill.

One log is loaded onto the truck at Yancey Mill.

The size of a tree’s rings indicate the speed of its growth. The closer together the rings, the more slow-growing the tree. As a tree grows, the cells of the old center part stop carrying nutrients and, essentially, die, while the outer cells continue to nourish the tree. The older the tree, the larger the proportion of heartwood (“dead” cells) to sapwood (“living” cells). The color of the heartwood is different from that of the sapwood. It is also harder and more stable and is therefore more desirable.

Kelley measured the heart of this pine log at about 15 inches.

Kelley measured the heart of this pine log at about 15 inches.

The yellow pine logs were so large that only three of them could fit on the truck. Kelley made a second trip to the mill to pick up two more logs.

The yellow pine logs were so large that only three of them could fit on the truck. Kelley made a second trip to the mill to pick up two more logs.

Kelley took the logs to the Taylor and Boody sawmill at John Boody’s place, where he and John Boody flat sawed them to a thickness of 1 1/8 inches, to allow the wood to shrink and move as it dries and still produce floor boards 3/4″ thick.

John Boody and Kelley sawed the logs.

John Boody

This hefty log is one of the five logs that will make the flooring for Bunny Vista.

This hefty log is one of the five logs that will make the flooring for Bunny Vista.

John Boody begins to saw one of the pine logs.

John Boody is using a chainsaw to saw off the log's butt swell, which was too large for the mill. Kelley gave me this handsome terminology, which simply means the part of the log closest to the ground. Butt swell is funnier.

Even though quarter sawn lumber is more stable than flat sawn lumber, Kelley and John flat sawed the pine logs. Flat sawing produces wider boards and allows the growth patterns to be visible in the surfaces of the finished boards. John very carefully sawed the boards so that the heart sections aligned properly on the saw from one end of the log to the other to produce the most beautiful effect. Kelley and Lewis plan to use boards of varying widths in the house; the widest boards will probably be 12″ wide.

One of many boards from the yellow pine logs.

If you look at the end of this board, you can see the closely-spaced growth rings. Flat-sawing the boards allows the growth pattern to be visible in the board's surface, which Kelley loves. This board is from the very center of the log.

The boards have been stored and stacked now for a year, air drying. They are ready to go into the kiln to complete the drying process.  After they are kiln-dried, Kelley will take the boards to a mill to be made into tongue and groove flooring. We will use the wood throughout the main floor of the house.