Elfa cafe

We've been waiting for the 30% Elfa sale at the Container Store to strike! Today we went down to the store in Pasadena and got a bunch of storage for the espresso machine, wall-mounted pull-out drawers in the pantry for each family member to stash their lunchboxes/bags/hats, and an entire master closet setup.

I picked the low-hanging fruit and assembled these two carts tonight. They're great -- Erin is wildly happy to have a drawer for all the paper Trader Joe's grocery bags, we put kitchen side towels in another, and I imagine I'll fill a couple with coffee related gear.


Workbenches from doors

I've got a two stage plan:
Stage one, clean out the garage in order to clear enough space for two large workbenches.
Stage two, build two workbenches from house addition scraps. The scraps are two solid core doors for the worktops and a bunch of original 8ft. long 2x4s from the 1939 part of the house.


Secret hollow book

This has nearly nothing to do with the house, but I wanted to share my secret hollow book. I made it as an enclosure for my Make Controller (a microcontroller board that can serve as the brains and input/output for robots and other fun creations). I was inspired to do it by Bre Pettis's Make Weekend Project video.


Prep for landscaping

Our landscaper came in and put some very nice, low maintenance stuff in the planter boxes next to the garage and behind the living room window. I haven't taken the "after" photos yet, so here's the "before".

1. next to the garage, 2. papyrus staging area, 3. kids watch the landscaping, 4. leaning tree, 5. planter box, 6. plants in waiting


Tile guys appeared

The tile guys returned today to patch up the border around the replaced shower glass. I haven't seen it yet, but their work is always flawless, so I can't wait to go home and check it out.
This means that we have just a few large-ish punchlist items remaining, and a bunch of tiny little ones. I still haven't had the energy to compile a list, but I'll try to get to it very soon.


No tile for us yet

For some reason our tile guy, Severio, never showed up to replace the tile around the shower glass wall. I haven't talked to J.D. yet to see when we can reschedule for, but we've just got a few small things like this left that we'd like to finish before the year 2008.


Cracked glass has been replaced

This is a photo of the cracked glass in the back wall of our shower. The tile got pulled, and the glass has since been replaced. This time there is a small metal frame and gasket to float the glass away from the tile. Tile should be back in tomorrow. Hurray!


Desk installed in guest bedroom

My friend Curt was visiting, and Erin suggested he help me install the fold up/fold down desk in the guest room. I wonder if that should become a new condition of visiting us; all guests must help install something.

High class speaker hole covers

Needing to cover ten in-ceiling speaker holes until we actually purchase speakers, I came up with this: a pack of 35 paper plates for $4 and some double-sided mounting tape.


That lived-in feeling

We put up some framed prints in the hallway and studio. They really add that feeling of, how to say, people actually living here.

The prints are five pieces by Shag that he did for Disneyland's 50th Anniversary.

Scooba issues forth dirty water

Having sent our floor-cleaning robot on five successful missions this past weekend, it's difficult for me to say what the best part about the Scooba is. The results are excellent -- the kitchen floor looks much cleaner than when we Swiffered it. Watching him navigate around objects is tons of fun, "Go little guy, you can figure out how to back out from under the bed!". But I think the kids, Erin and I agree that watching the dirty water pour out into the sink afterward is our favorite aspect of robot ownership.


Robots will clean our house for us while we sleep

I'd like to repeat that, since it makes me so happy:
Robots will clean our house for us while we sleep.

Alright, it's actually "robot", singular. For now.

It's an iRobot Scooba, a hard-floor cleaning robot. It'll do our kitchen floor in about a half hour. It should be safe on:
  • our bathroom tile and slate
  • sealed hardwood
  • concrete floors

It should be unsafe on:
  • the cat
  • all those who threaten us
and, eventually, (when it becomes self-aware on December 20th, 2019)
  • us

Crank it up

One of the painters showed up this morning with a bucket full of window cranks. Hurray!

Up until this point we've only had two cranks, one upstairs and one downstairs. Every time I wanted to alter the state of window openness in the house I've had to run around with one crank, using it on each window like a hand tool. Well, those days are over!


Hand prints

Hmm, how'd all these smudgy little hand prints get here?

Oh, I see.

cause of handprints


Hot water heater outlet covered

I'm not sure when this happened, but some time last week J.D. got someone in to install a proper waterproof box around the hot water heater electrical outlet. They also replaced the guest bathroom GFI outlet that I had swiped when the heater outlet blew.



This may or may not be the use that James the architect envisioned for the wide, concrete floored hallway, but either way, it sure is awesome! Erin is zipping along on her Xootr scooter. Ronan is now seriously fast and agile on his LikeABike.


Water permeable threshold

This isn't good. There's some rare rain here in L.A., and we're learning interesting things about the house. Among them, this door frame isn't stopping the flow of water.

Another surprising one, when our awesome (and by "awesome" I mean "lousy") plumber installed the outdoor GFI plug to provide power to the water heater he didn't do enough to water proof it. It blew its fuse last night and then refused to be reset. Probably just a faulty piece of equipment, but still, shouldn't an outdoor water heater be able to resist water?

Elusive low voltage box

My fisheye photos were no help in locating the box in the guest bedroom for cable, CAT5, and phone lines. So, Angel started drilling holes. And continued drilling holes. And cut a rectangle out for good measure. Nothing. Aren't there line tracing gizmos for this sort of thing?

Measure once, mount vanity to wall twice

Thus begins the cataloging of the things that need fixing. The punchlist, as it is called in the house construction business.

This was a case of our plumber going ahead and using the pipe he had incorrectly placed as relative center for the vanity, rather than measuring the space.

Also, this is the wrong mirror; it needs to be swapped with the master bath mirror.



Ronan's birthday party was a blast this past Friday. I wanted to give thanks to J.D. for getting the driveway cleared off in time for the party. This is the second time we've asked him to get tons of stuff finished in preparation for one of the kids' birthdays, and he's really come through for us in spades.



Wind power

This thing screams "do-it-yourself project" to me. This is a 2kw system, for around $3k, but I bet I could get a little bit of energy for free out of the whirly vents on the house and garage roofs (rooves?).


Guest closet shelving

We took advantage of a sale on shelving this weekend and decked out the guest closet with Elfa shelving. What a huge difference it makes! We were accustomed to having a single wooden bar running across the whole closet in our old bedroom, which, in hindsight, stinks.

The fact that they make it in "platinum" now, as an alternative to the traditional white wire shelving makes a big difference. It doesn't hearken back to the laundry rooms of our childhood homes quite so much.

(This is a stock photo from the Container Store website, and not our actual closet.)


Final building permit

Erin says: We've passed final inspection. Let's all stop and say Cheers to that! We do still have a few odds and ends, but they really are just a few, and we're fully living in our new space. Other than the backyard, my favorite area is actually our large hallway. It's a fantastic place to play, and I'm really loving the concrete floors. I'm sure as our little ones get older and I actually am able to spend an entire night in our master bedroom I'll love it, too!

Now on to my wrap-up:

Sixteen months. That's how long our 1200 sq. ft. addition took. Never in my wildest imaginings did I think it could get that bad. It would be easy to say that we have an incompetent contractor, or terrible weather, but neither of those is true. Here are a few things I've learned, for those of you out there who are thinking about embarking on construction or are in the midst of it.

  • Do whatever you can to keep a good relationship with your contractor. Vent to your mom, your dog, your best friend, but try to keep things cordial with the guy in charge. It'll take you a long way.
  • But. Call him at least every other day if you haven't heard from him. I think one thing that went wrong in our project was way too much downtime. We weren't aggressive enough in making sure that we were at the top of the list. We lost weeks and weeks in November, December and January. When I made it my goal to start calling him every day to check in, guess what? Things kept moving.
  • It really, really helps if you trust your contractor/architect's taste. There are so many little things to pick out, and we were lucky that we could trust their taste. With a new baby and a three-year-old, we didn't have a lot of time to research every last grout color.
  • Don't underestimate the mental toll. It was really, really hard to be home with kids while this was happening. Imagine random workmen wandering around outside in your yard at 6:30 in the morning, clearly waiting to get in. And you didn't know they were coming. And they're just wondering, do you know what color this trim is supposed to be? Now multiply that by 400 days or so, and add in the trucks blocking your driveway, the constant dust on every surface, the loss of any outdoor play area, and oh, let's not forget the noise. Would it have been better if we had just moved out? Perhaps, but then our budget would have been completely blown, since we went so far over schedule.
  • Keep a spreadsheet of expenses. We thought we were saving money by, say, picking way less expensive tile than was budgeted, but somehow that "extra" money always went to something else, and we still ended up over budget.
  • Don't do it. And I'm only kind of kidding. Honestly, I wish we had looked around at what was on the market a little bit before we did this. The house is growing on me, but it's going to take me a long time to forget the pain.

But stay tuned -- we'll continue to update; JP is planning a punch list extravaganza. I'm looking forward to our next solar power bill (especially since it's been over 100 degrees here this week), and I'm still angling for an orange front door. After property taxes, that's next. Thanks for joining us on our journey.

HVAC inspection

The inspector called for an additional HVAC inspection, to the tune of $400, but boy are we glad he did. It seems there was a good bit of cold air blowing directly into the attic. This probably will save us more than $400 over the next few of months alone.


Return of the Inspector

The inspector is expected to arrive in ten minutes. We seem to have fixed everything that was wrong since the last inspection. We'll post some photos this weekend of what that amounts to.

The main things that have happened are: dimmer switches got installed two days ago for all the can lights, the circuits are all labeled on the fuseboxes, and four paving stones were placed under the main electrical box outside. This meant replanting our parsley and rosemary, incidentally.

Also, as a continued follow-up on the solar panel cleaning, we've been churning out around twelve kilowatt hours a day. Go Sun!


Washing the solar panels

Think of all the things you could be doing right now other than looking at pictures of a guy washing his solar panels!


Dusty panels

Everything finally got submitted for our solar rebate, and we passed the solar inspection! I was up on the roof with John Joyce of Burbank Water & Power when I realized why our daily output had dropped from around thirteen kilowatt hours to fewer than seven -- dust.

So, I bought a giant squeegee, hauled a hose up on the roof and cleaned them all off yesterday morning. By the end of the day we were back up to around twelve.


We failed because of dimmer switches?!

Really?! Really. There is some code requiring them for can lights. Despite the fact that you can't use (normal) dimmers on compact fluorescents. I haven't talked to J.D. about it yet, so I don't know if there are other reasons we failed. But this one sure seems silly.


This just in: We didn't pass...

... but we don't know why yet. Erin and the kids left for an hour, and when they came home the inspector and J.D. were both gone. The inspection card remains unsigned. Erin has a call in to J.D. to try and find out what's going on. I'll post when I find out more.

Inspector is really, really there inspecting

Right now as we speak! Please cross your fingers with me.

By the way, this photo was taken almost exactly a year ago.


Working baby monitor

We bought a few baby monitors at Target, and only this one was able to punch through enough walls in our house to work properly. This one uses cordless phone frequencies (2.4Ghz, I think).

In a related note: While baby monitors seem to be too weak to actually function properly, ceiling fan remotes are overly strong! After the second morning of finding the lights on in Ronan's room, we realized that the fan remote in our bedroom was so powerful it was controlling both rooms. I hope there's a choice of frequencies on them that'll work.


Final inspection today?

We've been told the final inspection for Certificate of Occupancy is scheduled for today. Angel got the stair rails up last week, which was the last thing needed before the inspection, I think.

We need to walk around and make a punch list to figure out what zillion little things remain that aren't for the C of O, but need to get done. Stuff like swapping the mirrors in the bathrooms, fixing the cracked glass wall in the shower, screwing down the drain covers in the showers, moving the cable drop point, blah, blah, blah.

I've also got a call in to Burbank Water and Power to see if everything has finally been submitted by California Solar for the reimbursement.


Audio surveillance

Our baby monitors (a Sony and a Graco) don't reach from the kids' rooms downstairs to our bedroom upstairs. Why are these things so underpowered? Don't they test them in real houses?

I'm going to buy every model at Fry's and try them all out to see if one is powerful enough. (Why bother with online reviews; I'm a sucker for hands-on, scientific method!) If none of them work, I wonder if there's an easy way to run some sort of wired intercom over our Cat5 cable? When I was a kid we had Radio Shack intercoms that transmitted over the powerline, I think. Do those still exist?

Or is there some kind of computer network based solution?

I was getting excited about using a couple of pairs of Motorola FRS 2-way radios, but then I found out that that is seriously discourage by fans of the over-crowded FRS spectrum, and possibly against FCC rules.

Any recommendations would be great.


Lonely light

This fixture is in place, but looks a little strange without the mirror under it.

Speaking of sad things, I noticed a large crack running through the glass wall at the back of the shower. I forgot to take a picture of it. We're going to have to get that replaced before some unsuspecting early-morning shower taker gets decapitated before their time.

Electricians should finish today

I love the way this fan looks in our bedroom. I went by the house at lunch to drop off a light fixture for the closet under the stairs. Roc had hung one fan, and had two more to go.
He thinks they'll be done today!

Trellis that looks, but isn't, load bearing

How old will the kids be the first time they try walking on those 2x4s?

Unfired from the job

I haven't talked to JD about it, but it seems that he's unfired the window/door/everything guys. The day after we reported their removal from the job, they showed up bright and early to start building the trellis, and they've been going strong in the days since.

I love the way it's shaping up. I'd forgotten about this part of the design, actually. Probably because I never built it into the 3D models. It looks like it'll increase the visual flow between the old and new parts of the house, and add some more shade to the hallway in the afternoon.


One, zero

Erin says: The latest: Friday the stucco guys finished (at least as far as I can tell). They also finished all the necessary drywall patching inside.

Today the electrician was here, but he still didn't finish. Forgot some screws, he said.

But now on to the most interesting drama of the day. JD (our fearless contractor) has often mentioned how difficult it is to find tradesmen who are both good at what they do and dependable. The window and door guys have been pretty flaky through our whole project. They are awesome perfectionists, but have a habit of saying they'll be here on Wednesday and then not showing up until Sunday. And after today, they won't have to show up ever again. JD says he's taken them off the job and he's going to finish their odd jobs himself next week. I think I'll have to get some photos of that.

I am glad that the window and door guys got our towel racks and toilet paper holders hung before they were dismissed. We have a vibrant orange hand towel in the guest bathroom to match the orange stair tower. (I'd post a photo, but my beloved mac laptop is in the shop, and without iphoto I'm lost.)

For those keeping score: No certificate of occupancy this week. Hopefully the fire inspector will be here early in the week, because he has to sign off before final inspection.



Erin says: You know why I like the fire sprinkler guys? Because they never park in our driveway. When you're coming home from the grocery store with six bags and a one-year-old, nothing will make you grumpier than finding that some subcontractor has parked in your driveway.

I'm also fond of them because they were here today. Alas, they were the only ones here today.



Erin says: Zilch. Zero. Nada. Nothing. That's what happened today. The painters actually called to say they'd be here in the afternoon to seal the concrete floors, but unless they were wearing their invisible capes, I'm pretty sure they didn't make it.

I mean, come on, people! Maybe I should offer a bonus to the first subcontractor to finish his job...



Erin says: The contractor was here today, as were the fire sprinkler guys. But they weren't able to cap all the sprinklers because they were missing some extender part, so there are still three left to do. I think that's the most frustrating thing -- couldn't just ONE sub finish his job, completely??

The floor sealer guys are supposed to be here tomorrow morning, then the stucco crew, who are going to patch everything that's left to do inside. Saturday will be the electrician for the lights and ceiling fans.

So there was progress. That's something, right?



Erin says: Since our contractor said they'd finish up this week, I thought I'd write a daily update. There were some painters here on Saturday. They were mostly working on baseboards and touch-ups. They still have the baseboards in our old bathroom to paint, and an attic access panel in our son's closet. They also did a test sealer on the concrete floor. They have to seal the whole thing still, though.

Doorstops are installed!

Still waiting on stair railings, ceiling fans, floor sealing, fire sprinklers to be covered, can light trim, door hardware, new door on the old bathroom, and a big hole in the master closet to be patched.

It's 2 in the afternoon, so I feel fairly safe in saying that no one's going to show today. I'll be back tomorrow!



Erin says: For those who are keeping score, no, we haven't really moved into the new space and no, we don't have a certificate of occupancy. It's getting really depressing. The contractor has been telling us "two more weeks" for at least six weeks now, and I think we've hit two weeks with no work whatsoever.

It's frustrating especially because we're so close that it almost seems like we could complete the work ourselves. A few ceiling fans and light fixtures, touching up paint, installing mirrors and door stops, sealing the floor. Almost.

There are times when I wonder if being "the nice clients" has backfired. If we were more unpleasant, would things happen more quickly? Does the squeaky wheel get the grease?


Solar eclipse

We've been having lots of trouble getting the company who installed our solar panels (California Solar) to turn in the correct paperwork to Burbank Water & Power.

This paperwork is needed before we can get our inspection.

We need to pass inspection before we can see the correct power consumption on our electric bill.

We also can't get our rebate until the paperwork is done. It's a large rebate.

We aren't happy.

Here's what we've learned a little too late: If you pay the company doing your solar the full amount, they don't have much motivation to process paperwork. If you hold back the amount of the rebate check, they turn things in quickly.


I love my drill press

I've been searching for a good-old, heavy-duty, American-made drill press. I think I hit the mother load. For $100, I brought home this Delta 17" industrial drill press from a garage sale this weekend. It must weigh around 300 lbs.

It was probably made in 1939, the same year our house was built. It was from the Burlake Manufacturing Company, a WWII munitions factory, here in Burbank.


Crestview studies

These are the design studies that David Erwin of Crestview Doors sent me for our new front door. He said that he thinks the wider windows are more dramatic, and I have to agree. I love design #6. As David said, it makes a reference to the window architecture of our stair tower, without replicating it.


Buried alive

We have a mystery! The phone/data/cable outlet in the guest bedroom seems to have been buried alive. The low-voltage wiring guy (I wonder if that name gives him a complex around high-voltage guys) said he remembers installing it, but it must have been drywalled over. Luckily, I have an unprocessed fisheye photo that reveals its whereabouts, so we should be able to rescue it without too much damage.

The steps from the living room (old house) to the hallway (new house) just got installed today. Symbolically, this is huge. It means we're finally bridging the two parts.

In fact, we've got our first guests coming to stay with us in a couple of days. Why bother finishing the addition, or getting your C. of O., for that matter, when you can just plunge headlong into it?! It's going to be fun, and a great trial-by-fire of Park Haus Guest Resorts. Please book your room early.


LEGO soccer

To answer Silvia's other question, LEGO soccer is this. The fun part is that Ronan likes to bring a ref onto the field to admonish the players for dirty play. I heard him say, "Player nine, no more spitting on other player nine".

Fiorenzato Bricoletta

Since Silvia asked, this is the espresso machine I have and love. Its companions are a Mazzer Mini burr grinder, and freshly roasted beans from Phil Hand at Supreme Bean in North Hollywood.

For way more info, check out espresso master Chris Tacy's review on Home-Barista.


MAKE Magazine plug

Blatant plug time! I wrote an article for the new issue of MAKE Magazine on using the free Google SketchUp software to design a workbench. You can also follow along with my video version here.


Feeling out the space

We've started to move a few things into the new part of the house and spend some time back there. We love it. We put the daybed and a small table in the guest bedroom. Ronan and I have been playing LEGO soccer back there while Beatrix toddles around -- it's fantastic to throw open the glass wall and live indoor/outdoor.

We aren't finished yet, but it sure is starting to feel real.

In more technical update news, the solar inspection is going on right now, hopefully that goes well and they officially hook our meter into the billing mechanism. We've been pumping solar into Burbank's batteries for a month now, without seeing any benefit on our bill.

The plumber's son said he'd have the washer/dryer moved out to the laundry room by next week. The side of the pantry where they will vacate from is to become my espresso bar. I'm a bit of an espresso fanatic and I can't wait to have a proper home for my machine and grinder.

We need to run out and buy some exterior and interior lighting fixtures before the inspection. I kind of like these:


Crestview door

We're moving forward with getting a new front door from the awesome David Erwin of Crestview Doors. He's going to be playing with the three-horizontal-windows design, and we'll be painting it the same campfire orange as our stair tower.

I "met" David and his wife Christiane through their wonderful house blog, Erwinhouse. Since they couldn't find a door to match their swank mid-century modern renovation, they built their own door. This lead to them starting a door company. I wonder what happens when they can't find anything good to watch on T.V.? Do they start a production company? What about when the fridge is empty? Restaurant empire??

Towel ring

We just ordered towel bars, robe hooks, toilet paper holders, and a hand towel half-ring. Not being fans of the full circle towel rings, we were happy to find this groovy one from the Ginger Kubic line.


Levers installed

We're still waiting on levers for our current bedrooms, but most of the doors in the addition now have them installed.


Beatrix surrenders ...

... to the awesomeness of the playset. What a huge relief to have reclaimed the backyard. Big thanks to Melesio and J.D. for getting this done in time; Bea's first birthday party was a smashing success!