Construction Diary

Construction on Björnslottet started in October 1996. Jeff took lots of pictures (over 600!) as work progressed. Here are some of those along with the commentary that got written at that time. (That was back in the days of 9600 baud modems, which is why the photographs are small. Someday perhaps we'll rescan all the pictures and make a lovely, new, twenty-first-century photo album.)

Christmas 1997

The following diary charts milestones in the construction of the house, written as it happened (or didn't happen, as the case may have been). The photograph at left shows the finished product with a dusting of snow, the first of the year, just a few days after our first Christmas in our new house.

9 October 1996

After a couple of years of looking for a new house--having seriously outgrown our current house--we finally found a model in April which, with some minor[!] modifications, would suit our taste. We liked the builders, and they had a good place to put it.

A long story short: after lots of thought, planning, and time at the CAD program, we pretty much settled on things and decided it was time to get started. Phew.

Ground breaking
12 October 1996

Things are officially underway! Because of so many scheduled activities (this is Quilt weekend, and Isaac's production of Gilbert & Sullivan's "Ruddigore" opens in 6 days), we went out for a little ground-breaking ceremony at 8am. Dennis & Tom were visiting from Cleveland, and Tom was already doing his Quilt volunteering by this time, but Dennis was convinced to join us.

Feeling a little bit silly, we stood in the middle of the wet weeds, about where the front door would be according to the stakes, and turned over a shovel-full of dirt. Photos were taken. We looked at the stakes thinking: could the house really be that small?

Retaining wall begins
15 November 1996

At last, visible activity! The lot has a high, steep hill at the back, which needs to be tamed with a retaining wall (tiered in two 6-foot-high sections). The wall will reach partway around the sides of the house, making it feel all snuggly. Because of the heavy equipment involved, this wall has to be in place before the foundation is begun.

Actually, the excavation began two days ago, but most of this first round of dirt is taken out and carted away now, despite the decorative snow we had all day yesterday. And there are some very large pallets of concrete wall blocks just sitting there, waiting to be transformed into a beautiful wall. Now we see whether the good weather holds for awhile.

Retaining wall nears completion
27 November 1996

We're still waiting for some big equipment to help with the last bits of placing the wall blocks, but most of the retaining wall is in place now. Gently curving, and about 15 feet high (with a nice garden ledge 6 feet off the ground), it is very big and very white (being made of cast, white concrete blocks). The effect is very nice, and it should help make the north side of the house, which faces the wall, seem a bit brighter, particularly in winter.

We're anxious to see the hole for the basement get started; still, it's very much a race against the weather. Although, to be fair, if things get delayed, about the worst that happens is that we don't have to move in the middle of a blizzard.

Basement excavation begins
5 December 1996

Enough of the retaining wall is done that work on it no longer needs the big machines to drive through the middle of the kitchen, so said machines have now turned their attention to excavating the hole that will become the foundation and basement. This goes rather quickly, although weather increasingly becomes a concern. We've lost some days the past weeks because of rain, but it seems that the bulldozer guy likes playing in the mud, so the problem hasn't been a big one so far.

Footings poured
24 December 1996

Rain, rain, a bit of snow, rain, some more rain, and it seemed like instead of a basement we might have a swimming pool. A pump runs to keep the water under control, loads of gravel appear in the bottom of the big hole where the house should be, and then in short order forms for footings appear, concrete is poured, and we have an outline of the house drawn in the mud. Jeff points in alarm and announces that the house will be way too small; Isaac recognizes hysteria when he hears it and stays calm.

Basement walls poured
2 January 1997

It's a new year, and we've got a new basement! Just before the end of 1996, forms were in place for pouring concrete to make the basement walls; first thing in 1997, the concrete was poured, and there it is. At last there's something that starts to look like a house. By the 4th, the forms were removed and the concrete well on its way to being cured. That afternoon we took a tour of the basement, still wet, no floor, no ceiling, but almost home.

The weather is still a big player, but this time we can't really complain since it's been very cooperative around here. Still on the rainy side, but it's been very warm for the past week, with record-breaking heat (about 70F) to welcome the basement. In just a couple of days now we expect to see the lumber for the rest of the house appear, and the ground floor should be underway soon.

First floor deck
9 January 1997

Now why in the world a top on the big concrete box in that big hole should suddenly start to look like a house is a mystery, but it does. Suddenly joists were in place and composition board was nailed to it and it's a floor! Now, without any walls that also meant that there was snow all over the long-room floor (and the kitchen floor, and the front-room floor, and the studio floor, even the bathroom floor), but at last we could walk around on top of it and start to imagine where things would end up. And there's a big pile of lumber there, sort of a house kit, just waiting to be assembled.

Framing is underway
22 January 1997

Talk about starting to look like a house! Walls are being framed now. Most of the first-floor walls are there (there's a big gap in the back of the long room, since that wall isn't needed yet and it makes things easier to get inside--there's an inside!), and we can walk around and not have to imagine anymore where the walls are, or the doors, or the windows even, since there are big holes in the frames. Even the stairs are there, albeit lying on their side still. At this point they are as far as having half the joists in place for the second-floor deck.

It took a while to get going, in large part because of rain and bitter cold last week, but progress is fast when they work. Not to mention that most of the carpenters are very woofy bears, which wasn't even specified in the contract.

Second floor framed
3 February 1997

Framing is now completed up to the roof, and the stairs are put in place up to the second floor, so we now may take our visitors on a tour. This is a fun way to see the house: all the walls are there now, one can tell how high the ceiling is, where doors and windows are, evaluate closet space and move from room to room by walking through the walls. Jeff hates to admit it, but there may be enough room after all (and there's always the basement--just a bit enclosed swimming pool right now, at no extra charge--for storage overflow). Now, as soon as the weather is nice for a bit and the crane arrives, it's time for the roof trusses to be put on; at the moment they're just lying in the street, looking like odd dinosaur fossils.

Under roof
28 February 1997

The roofing is all on and the house now is almost warm and toasty and sealed against the weather: there are still a few gaps here and there, and there's a big window yet to go in (this in the stairwell to the second floor), and there are no doors, but these are details! While the roofers toiled (in unseasonably warm weather), the plumber was working his way around, running pipes here and there, so that's just about done too. Also, they've almost finished pumping out the basement, so it will be getting its concrete floor soon. Meanwhile, we still have a house to sell, and that's been taking the bulk of our attention these past few weeks. Market day is next Wednesday, so tell all your friends.

Sub-System Thingies
13 March 1997

Various activities and several people with different technical skills have been at work, but the focus of the activity has moved indoors. The house is almost enclosed: the last of the windows has arrived and should be installed soon, and the roofing is complete. Meanwhile, the plumber did his thing, the duct man has filled hidden corners of the house (well, soon to be hidden, but quite visible with the current absence of drywall) with big tubes going every which way, and the elctrician (who obviously had no idea how high the wall sconces should be) has done virtually all of the wiring so that the see-through walls are nicely decorated with lots of little, blue outlet boxes. In addition, the second-floor furnace has been installed in the attic, and the (gas-log) fireplace is in place. We're told that bricks should arrive soon.

The Amazing See-Through House
3 April 1997

Boy, like a watched pot that never boils, it can sure take a long time to do the smallest of the details. This moment seems more potential than anything: it's a house without its skin. All the windows are in, a couple of bathtubs and the beginnings of shower stalls are there, as are the doors, all the wiring, ducting, tubing, draining, and piping are done or close enough. The sewer line is in; today the gas connection was made. The retaining wall is nearly complete and more grading of the lot brings it closer to its final state. Today was the day when the basement floor was finally poured.

So there we are, ready for skin to be applied. Inside there are piles of drywall, just waiting for inspections to be complete and insulation to be put in. Outside, we really expect brick work to start next week; the vinyl siding comes later. We're so accustomed now to being able to see through the walls that their sudden opacity may come as quite a shock.

Skin, Inside and Out
26 April 1997

Suddenly the inside of the house looks, well, normal. A week ago the drywallers worked at top speed and all the walls were quickly covered up, thus becoming walls, in only a few days. All of the interior space now is arranged rather the way we expected, and it's looking good. All the interior doors are in place now, too.

Outside, the brick facade took about a week to get through, working around a few rainy days, but the front of the house is now covered in very deep-red brick. As a bonus, the pearl-grey vinyl siding is now appearing on the other sides, about half done at this point. And there was a big amount of near-final grading done on the west side of the house, replacing the big piles of dirt with a broad sloping area.

As a surprise bonus, the tile layer (who has a beautiful Irish accent) was there yesterday (a Saturday!), and had put down the light-grey tile in all three bathrooms. He was particularly proud of the way he was able to align the tile all the way from the master bathroom door, across the floor, up the bathtub surround, across and up the far wall. Painting is in progress, to be followed soon by kitchen cabinets.

Details Appear
7 May 1997

It seems that we're in that final-phase push to finishing, at last, with moving scheduled less than 3 weeks away. It shouldn't be surprising then that details, both inside and out, are appearing with some alacrity. Outside: siding is all done, and concrete (driveway, basement stairs, front entrance) was poured last week--grading continues. Inside: many of the light fixtures are in place (and the on switch works), bathroom and kitchen cabinets (all of maple) are installed, and the vinyl flooring in the studio has been put down. The next big task is putting down the (maple) hardwood floor on the first floor; second floor carpeting will wait until the stair & loft railing is in place, and it's the railing that's holding things up right now, with an expected delivery just days before planned settlement. Just what we need: suspense!

Final Days
20 May 1997

The suspense builds! Settlement is set for this Friday (3 days from now), and today we are waiting to see whether the handrail is delivered today, or whether we'll be delayed. Despite that, everything else is being done with that in mind. Countertops are there, the wood floor is being nailed down today, door handles are in place, heating/cooling is finishing, last touches on the bathrooms, and the yard is supposed to become green today (trees were planted yesterday). So now we hold our breath and wait.

Railings Arrive!
21 May 1997 (written later)

We couldn't be happier--at last! Those pesky railings finally, finally arrive, fetched in person by the builders mother (she's the short one there, in stripes, standing in front of Isaac). Even our neighboors happen to be there to join in the rejoicing (they're the ones standing to the right in the photo). And there was a last-minute surprise: we knew that the newel posts would have a pineapple-shaped carving on the top, but all we'd seen was an outline, and none of us knew that they would be so beautifully carved as they were. That's nice.

27 May 1997 (written later)

Well, as it turned out, things happened ever so slightly out of order. It seems that we weren't able to settle last Friday, because it was the day before the Memorial-Day Weekend Holiday, and 11 of the 14 county inspectors were on vacation. Thus it was that we ended up moving in first and then going to settlement afterwards. Nevertheless, by evening we owned the house we were suddenly living in, and we got back in time for our friends George & Paulette to arrive with their house-warming gift: dinner!