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The Diary of Our House And Barn Projects

July, 2005



July needs to be prime time for outdoor construction. We'll see.

July 5 - First Axel call

Today's report continued the messages mixed with progress and problems: all in all, encouraging because we expect things to pop up. The rain torrents we've had, haven't caused problems. We've settled on an electrician, after getting almost identical bids from neighbors (surprise??). Whatever is happening, their bids are reasonable and both came with good recommendations so the choice was hard on Axel -- glad that's his job. We got one bid for plaster and stucco but the other guy seems to have gotten cold feet since the job may be too big for him. Axel said he'd get some competing bids before giving the job to the "pope of plaster" (although he's REALLY the guy we'd all like to do the work.) Our "contractor" will start Friday with site fencing.

And, oh by the way, the bid for re-building the roof system on the back building isn't too high. This is a "contingency" job, since we'd not planned it, but it seems necessary. Otherwise, we'd all worry when a heavy snow came around.

We will see the house in a couple days, and have a more visible report.

July 7 - Evening inspection and July 9, another walk-through with Axel

We hadn't seen the house in ten days and we were eager to take a look. We'll let the pictures speak for what we saw.


Excuse the bad blend of this picture, but it was hard to get all the destruction in one frame! The living room is shaping up and now we can see how open it will be.
The kitchen too is looking good -- by our standards anyway.
Up close, we saw that the idea of a clear view from the front to the back is possible -- although just a little. Removal of these walls really open up the place!
Out in the barn, Marianne checked out the relics. Most of this came from the walls.
The middle of the house still seemed to be supported by a temporary column. Later we discussed this with Axel and he was confident that the old beam itself is enough support so the steel will go. He also pointed out that this main beam had apparently been recycled from an earlier building since it had unused notches.
We also uncovered the location of the original kitchen and an explanation of the small door that had opened into the side of the chimney. It seems the chimney was added in 1846, as attested to by inscriptions on one of the bricks. The original scheme would have been a simple hole in the ceiling, causing a very smoky kitchen. With the inner wall removed, the smoke stains were still quite visible.

We also looked at a few layers of decorations from the inner and outer walls. Each had several layers of heavy plaster-paint and stenciled decorations. Somehow, we want to re-introduce some of this flavor.

Under the floorboards were remnants of support beams. The wood had long ago turned as soft as the dirt.
We were also introduced to the Einbecker brothers, who would be the contractors for the heavy construction, starting with everything below ground.

July 10 - Driving home

We always keep our eyes peeled for color models for our new home. Tradition holds around here, but the tradition is so colorful that it's a tough search for just the right combination. What do you think of this one?

July 13 - Making progress

After putting Marianne and her mother on the plane to California, I returned to Pommersfelden. In the three days, Einbecker's start of real construction was obvious.

The Einbeckers had completely opened the foundation. The story looked pretty good down there with intact wall stones all the way down to bedrock.

July 14 - Next day

Progress continued -- but it obscured the whole Hof! The digging had to make room for sewers and a natural gas tank. There was so much dug up that there didn't seem to be space for the digger!


July 16 - Inspection Saturday

Saturday's are settling into a pattern: look around the house for signs of progress and "new ideas" and then meet with Axel and others to get the stories about the last week and plans for the next week.


The foundation work is progressing. All the holes and cracks have been filled and the first of two or three layers of material has been applied all around. No bad news so this is great. The buried foundation had always been a "potential" for using up the contingency allowance.

While waiting for Axel, I looked again at the barn. The crack on the side is still there, but at least Axel's test spot (the white patch above the window) showed no new cracking in the last month or so.

If this situation looks OK, and if we don't go broke on Phase 1, we hope to have a Phase 2 with a loft guest suite and a better garage downstairs. Later.

After this, it was a report from Axel, our architect/construction manager. Nothing earthshaking, just a stream of details: two small bills to pay; two new bathroom layouts to evaluate; discussion of a couple bids; progress report. The bills I can manage on my own, but the bath layouts definitely need Marianne to evaluate. I know my limits.

The terrazzo bid is a bit high, making it three-times the price of tile, but the space (and cost) is still limited and I think we're set on this historically-correct detail. Again, however, I only have one vote and the slightly larger vote will happen later when Marianne is back from California. The bidding for paint and plaster, our largest contract, was interesting. The contractor with the highest reputation came in with a high price. I guess that's no surprise, however the next bidder was one-third lower. Axel has worked with this guy before and added that, while he does good work, he always ends up charging 15-20% more than his bid, for legitimate extras. We do the math and decide a 20% over-run on a 35% lower bid is still a good deal. I think.

As for progress, there's what can be seen and what can not. The foundation went well. Another coat of plaster plus a waterproofing coat plus a layer of foam insulation should finish things this week. Then, with drain pipe along the bottom, the ditch can be filled with faith that foundation wetness should not happen. The not-seen development is the suspicion that the gas tank will not fit in the dirt. Well, it would fit if the bedrock were blasted away but blasting and old buildings don't mix well so we'll have to see what happens.

After the on-site report, Axel and I went over to visit Mr. Sporlein, our carpenter. We needed to settle on choice of wood for our living room and office floors. Marianne and I had decided that the light woods being suggested just looked too bland so I was under orders to insist on oak for both the outer frame and for the "fill". Axel "seemed" to agree, although he may have preferred at least a color difference between frame and fill. And then there was the choice of "quality" of oak. I said I kind of liked the "rougher" version, in part because it has more grain and would come a bit closer to fitting with the very rough upstairs floors. Mr Sporlein will make a sample square for our next visit.

Last but not least , we got the bid for the granite kitchen counter. As expected, the wonderful "Bahia Blue" stone was thousands more than the "Labrador LTV" that was our next choice. Bye bye Bahia.

At the end of the day, I took one more picture of our dream. I suspect that this view will last for a couple more weeks and then it will be worse, as all the old, loose stucco gets stripped from the house. Sometimes it's hard to keep in mind that this will work, but we have to have faith.

I thought I'd add a picture of another construction project I am associated with: our company's new power plant at Olkiluoto in Finland. So far, the Pommersfelden project is still ahead since we now have power on-site and our foundation is almost done. Unit 3 at Olkiluoto is scheduled to be done until 2009 so I hope Pommersfelden continues to stay ahead, way ahead.


July 18 and 22- Last look for a few days


These were just quick after-work look-sees. Monday evening I wanted to snap a couple pictures to measure progress. On the foundation, things looked good. There was now a "plaster" coating on all the buried parts. If today's rains don't damage it, we are making good progress.

The other job Monday evening was to see if the gas tank could be buried. This didn't look good. The back-hoe had managed a trench about half as deep as we need. I wondered what Axel would suggest next?

By Friday, the gas tank hole had grown and seemed big enough. Somehow the contractor had managed to dig into the sandstone rock and had created the required cavity.

On the other side of the house, things were shaping up. The moat-like trench had been filled and the patched foundation hidden away behind layers of plaster, tar, and that historic standard: styrofoam. With our little garden space leveled out, it was a sign that each repair can come to an end.

July 23 - Future Glimpse

Alex sent over some new drawings and the front of the house looked great. Eventually, there will be a wall and fence in front. (I had asked Axel to install something substantial enough to stop an errant car.)

Meanwhile, the question of burying the gas tank had forced more detail about just how the outside of the house will be. The tank will be buried, but just barely, as one end will still be higher than the surrounding driveway. Notice too, the patio out back.Next year at this time we will be sitting out there relaxing in the sunset.

July 25-27 - End of July Progress

Marianne's long-time friend Adrienne came down with her to check out what we've gotten into. I couldn't tell if she thought we were completely nuts, but she assured us it's not something she and husband Tony would try. Here's what she saw:


Outside, the below-grade work is almost finished. Above ground, we have a new back door. Pretty soon, this door will lead out onto our patio where we will sip wine and watch sunsets. Well, maybe "soon" isn't the right word, but eventually.

Our big event was the installation and burying of our "submarine". This natural gas tank should hold a year's worth of heating. We just hope it will eventually be less of an eyesore.

Inside, things are looking more and more bare. The tile in the entry way had been removed and dirt floors had been dug down to make room for a real base for floors. Over in the downstairs bath, removing the plaster revealed the remains of an old bread oven (see filled-in arch on the far wall). Axel wants to try to make that a niche in our shower. Maybe.

So, this is where we end July. It's been just over a month since we started serious reconstruction. We have utilities and a good foundation. There is nothing new inside yet, but that comes next, at least for basics like underfloors. We hope August will be as productive.

Diaries - Travel

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Between House And Barn Projects
The Diary of Our House And Barn Projects