Wednesday, August 6, 2014

All you ever wanted to know about foundations

So after we got our building permit, the civil engineer came out Friday to stake the "building envelope" so that the excavators know where things fit on the property.

Monday, the excavation/foundation company, Palo Alto Concrete came out to stake and string the where things would be so that that they could know where to dig. Pink strings, Orange strings, wood stakes, pink and orange ground marking paint, all the tools of the trade. I haven't figured out the color coding yet…

Palo Alto Concrete staking
Stakes, string, colors… tell them where things are. 

There was one other identifier that I noticed when I walked the site at the end of the day:
Oops, have to be careful of shadows. 
There was a line of pink crosses with a bunched up bit of caution tape that was nailed at the center point. Those signified the position of the stitch piers. 

What is a stitch pier, you ask? 

Well, since we are building a very big basement (1500 sq. feet and 10 foot 2 inch ceilings)  and a very thin lot. During excavation, there is a lot of dirt that is going to be removed and the hole is going to be very close to the edges of the property. So that the houses next to us don't slide into the hole, we have to spend some considerable effort shoring up along the property lines. That is where the stitch piers come in… 

Every 3 feet along the property, where the cut was within a certain amount of the property line, a very deep hole is drilled and then filled with rebar and concrete. Those are the stitch piers. 

It all started around 10:30 as I watched from home:
Attaching the auger

In all, 24 holes were drilled. Their final depth? 22 feet. Final width? About 14" but I did not get close enough to actually measure the diameter. 

The guys who run the operation are amazing. They did one run of the holes with the regular bit. Started on one side, finished on the other side. Then they attached the extension to the bit and that allowed them to get 22' deep. They started on the last hole they dug and then did the order in reverse (VERY efficient). They were in some places about 6-8 inches from the fence and they did not even nick the fence. They had to drill right next to a cedar tree and they hardly upset a branch. It was amazing. 

Here is the progression. 

Drilling the initial hole. Did not even nick the fence. 

My favorite part: cleaning the auger.

Sample finished hole. 

Adding the extension to the bit. 

Filling the hole with concrete. 

The finished pier. Rebar embedded, concrete poured. 

Juan, the master pier maker! 

Some random thoughts from the day:
- Memories of playing with Tonka trucks came flooding back and it was cool… but I have to say, life-size trucks are so much fun to watch too. 
- Machetes are scary powerful. While they were drilling, some of our old landscaping edging got in the way. In one swoop, 3" solid plastic edging was cut away. Advice: if someone comes at you with a machete, run fast. There is no such thing as a nick from those things. 
- Not sure why folks who work in construction are sometimes called "unskilled workers". Even the guy just shoveling is skilled in making the process work efficiently and effectively. And the machine operators? Those guys have mad skills. 
- The sound of concrete, falling 22' to the bottom of a hole is a pretty impressive rumble. 

I have videos from the day once they are on YouTube, I will link to them. 

Today they finish the last of the piers and then they start digging the basement. Yoohoo!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Permission Granted

I realize I am behind in noting what happened this week… but I am going to fast forward to today and just say

We got our building permit! 

Had our demo inspection at 2:20, approved by the lovely Penny from the Menlo Park Building Department. So I headed to City Hall with the ink still wet. Pulled out the old Visa Card and racked up some serious United Miles! But, by 3:00 I was on my way, approved plans in hand to ARC Blueprinting so that I could get the construction plans scanned and get them to subcontractors tomorrow. 

The lot is being staked tomorrow by the Civil Engineer so that the house gets built in the right place and on Monday, we are off to the races. 

Have 8:00AM meetings scheduled for tomorrow and Monday. I am officially back in work mode but a benefit is my commute is 10 minutes, on a bad day, and NO CAL TRAIN! I am OK with the early mornings. The one that is going to have a problem is Dog. He hates the morning. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

End of week one...

I'll post pics this weekend but I wanted to get some thoughts down before I forget.

Our house is down. The only thing remaining is the concrete foundation and the fireplace. 5 days. Amazing. Major props to Roderick and his team from ReBuild Green.  They are fantastic. I cannot say that enough. This deconstruction process has been a snap under his supervision. Every time I stop by (which is twice a day) more than I could ever imagine that could get done is completed.

I am also amazed at the care and attention to detail that is going on. Wires that ran through the house are neatly wrapped and stacked. Wood that will be reused is being cut, to identical lengths and on a palate. (Is that the right spelling?) There is a neat pile of copper pipes. Wood we are salvaging to use as an accent wall in the new house is against the fence waiting to be de-nailed. There is a stack of things that are tagged with stickers that will go to the ReUse People to process and send along to where they send it.

And as little as possible is being wasted. Even stuff that cannot be reused is being recycled. No one wants top nailed flooring, so that was being loaded into a truck yesterday to be recycled. Somewhere along the road I am sure it will become OSB (Oriented Strand Board-- that plywood like stuff that is not solid wood)

I know I am going on and on about this but every step of the way this week has just been a bit mind blowing.

And, let's not forget that there is a lot of stuff going on behind the scene in this house build too. I have spent hours reviewing and revising contracts for excavation/foundation, framing, and plumbing. I have met with our designer to update our electrical and AV plan (more on that later). OH and I reviewed interior elevations for the kitchen cabinets and other built ins. Plus research research research on additional vendors so I can begin to get estimate for things like stucco, patios, finish carpentry, flooring, etc. But I have to say, I am loving it. Tons of work but also tons of fun.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Well, that escalated quickly.

So, it was more like 10:15 when the ReBuild Green team showed up (Add 2 hours to the waiting tally) but after seeing what was accomplished they are completely forgiven.

So, to begin with, house looks like this but imagine with a "deader" lawn and the port-a-pottie on it:

And the interior of the house looks for the most part like this:
Living room wall with asbestos removed/look into kitchen. 
At 10:15 yesterday, a bunch of trucks and cars arrive. Out jump about a dozen gentlemen and they begin to take with no exaggeration 12 ladders of various sizes, a pile of shovels, rakes, and brooms, 2 coolers, a boom box, and about 10 industrial strength plastic garbage cans off one of the trucks. Each of the guys has a hard hat and a crow bar. Literally within 10 minutes they were set up and working. 

I looked in at about 10:30 and this is what I saw:

The baseboards were off and the trim around the door beginning to be removed. There was one guy on a ladder working on the ceiling light fixtures. 2 guys in the kitchen working on removing the dishwasher, one guy in the closets removing poles, shelves, etc. Two guys propped the garage door open. It was a hive of activity.

Some other shots from 10:30-11AM:

Microwave and stove removed from kitchen already. Staged in garage. 

Molding and trim from the master bedroom.  There is a fantom arm in the closet removing the shelf and pole. 
So at about 11, I decided I was nothing but in the way and went home to do other house stuff (budget, cash flow, insurance… the behind the scenes stuff).

I returned at about 2:45 to check in. No more than 4.5 hours later and this is what the state of affairs:

This used to be the kitchen! Stay tuned for another shot of this a little later on. 
Our tub is now in the master bedroom. Remember that closet from 2 photos up? That formerly stood where in the right hand part of this photo. 
Our living room… 

By the time I returned at 2:45, they were down to the studs throughout the house. There was hardly any sheetrock left on the walls. AMAZING!

They were also finished packing up a truck with the appliances, interior and some exterior doors, and other fixtures. This was headed out to Oakland to be processed and to be resold/recycled. 

I left around 3:15 and then OH stopped by on the way home from work. This is what he saw… less than 2 hours later:

The kitchen, 2 hours later. 
Living room taken from a different angle. 
More done and more than that, debris removed. Woosh! Amazing. 

ReBuild Green you rock! 

I have photos from this AM (Tuesday) which show even more progress. I am headed back to the house now to do my afternoon check. Will include those updates with the ones from this AM a bit later on. 

As OH said last night, we are past the point of no return. That was an understatement! 

Saturday, July 19, 2014


Roderick texted today… we start deconstructing the old house on Monday at 8:00 AM.

Wow. Just Wow. This thing is really happening!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ready, set...

We have our demo permit! Went into the city today and dropped off the letters and things they needed and our permit was already processed... And we had no waiting period. So, we are ready to go. Roderick is marshaling his troops and we can start. Since we though we had a waiting period, he was not ready to go today, but hopefully we can start over the next two days and get some time back from the PG&E screw-up.

Needless to say-- very happy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Starting the week right!

Yesterday (Monday) was a very busy day and there was absolutely no waiting to be done!

Since we are deconstructing the house as opposed to demolishing the house, The ReUse People came to tag everything that is being donated. So, windows, cabinets, wood, bricks, etc. all have stickers on them and have been inventoried. Measurements were taken, things tagged inside and out and all done in record time. Our hope is to get as much as possible to be recycled and reused and limit the amount going into the landfill. This process is 10 times longer than the bulldozer and twice as expensive but it at least provides us with a means of being green. And, truth be told, we do get a tax deduction, which is nice. If you need a new water heater, I can find out where it is going and when it will be available!

And, the heavy equipment made its debut on the property for the first time and within minutes of being fired up made the place look like a real construction site. Roderick, the President of ReBuild Green was up on the bobcat and dug out the sewer line so it could be capped. Capping the sewer is another checklist item for receiving a demolition permit, so after the inspection (today) we will be one step closer. 

The first piece of heavy equipment & ready to strike!
Sewer dug out, cut, and ready for the cap. 

Just back from the house and met with inspector from West Bay Sanitary District and we passed! They definitely win the prize for how a utility company should operate. Inspection time set for 3:30, they showed up at 3:25 and were done by 3:27. They need to teach PG&E how this all works… including letting a subcontractor do the work and then just swinging by to inspect. But, that is another story. 

So, next step is to meet Roderick at City Hall tomorrow AM. I bring the PG&E letter, the letter from the arborist stating that the trees are protected to his satisfaction and a few other things and we can wrap up the demolition permit process. The city will review for a few days and then we get our Demo Permit and we can start taking the house down. Roderick thinks we can start a week from tomorrow.

Looking like a construction site. 

I am crossing my fingers. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Inching closer

So… the thing that has most held us up is getting the gas capped, at the street, by PG&E. When I applied for service changes in February, they took my application for electric but not gas. So, when I called in May to have the electric swung to the temporary pole and ask for gas disconnection, we needed to start ALL THE WAY at the beginning with another application for gas changes. That then put us the actual date out to the cutoff until July 7. Uggh.

Finally July 7 arrived… yeah! I had emailed my contact on the 3rd to confirm but never heard back from him. But, given it was the long weekend I figured what the hey. I truck over to the house at 8AM on Monday the 7th… No sign of PG&E. At 9:30, I started to call and email with a vengeance. I called my contact, emailed him, called him again, called his boss…NOTHING. It was not until 11:30 that I heard back from his boss. He knew nothing but said he would check and let me know. An hour later I get a call from another guy. Start the spiel all over again. He knows nothing but will check. Said would call right back. Nope… guess again. After 45 mins I call him. No answer. 15 mins later he calls to tell me, bad news. Not going to happen. Seems there is some sort of emergency and they can't make it out. Mind you, this is now over 5 hours sitting waiting in the garage, on a lawn chair, with my batteries slowly dying on my phone and iPad.

I blow a gasket, mostly because does no one ever call to say that plans change??? Also, the week was planned so that on Monday gas capped; Tuesday, sewer capped; Wednesday, sewer cap inspected, Thursday, march to city to finalize our application for the demolition permit. The delay with PG&E was now going to set me back… it was just a matter of how much. And I was pissed about that too.

By 2PM I am back on with his boss who tells me in reality the reason that my work was not done is that many people called in sick. (The 4 day weekend was not enough for them, I guess). I was assured that I would have the work done first thing in the AM and I would get a confirmation phone call.

I get the call Tuesday at 7:40. They are leaving the yard shortly and will be there at 8:30. I go to the house. Arrive 8:24. And sit again… until 9:10. But, at least they show up.

I am DEATHLY afraid of gas… natural gas lines and propane tanks. Regular gasoline and butane, not a big deal. I think it is the magnitude of the boom and fire of the first two. As the crew was jackhammering the street to get to the pipe so they could cap it, I got the heck out of dodge. Pronto.

I checked on them from the car, down the block, about 1/2 hr later. And, they were working… I even got a picture!

And they were done by about noon from what I hear. But, as I feared, the schedule is set back a week. I had to cancel the sewer being capped on Tuesday and lost my spot. They are trying to get it done sometime later in the week. It does not really matter because West Bay Sanitation only inspects Tuesday-Thursday so we will miss that.

Hoping next week is better and we can get the demo permit all signed off and begin!

In case you could not figure it out, I HATE PG&E more than National Construction Rentals. I did not think anyone would take that crown but someone did in less than a month!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Quiet Day

Today is an admin day. Setting up appointments and going through bids is the order of the day.

Monday I have to apply to have the sewer temporarily capped. Need to stop in at the city to confirm what else I need prior to starting demolition.

Next Tuesday we get construction fencing and the power switched to the temporary pole. 

Other things that we need to do before we get our building permit:
- Arborist letter saying we protected our trees (we get that after the fence goes in) 
- PG&E needs to cap our gas. (We are scheduled for July 7 (YUCK) but trying to move that forward since PG&E screwed up. 
- Road Impact Fees! (Have to see the city for that one…) 
- City approve structural plans. Submission is imminent, approval takes a week. 

Next week we have to select vendors so I can begin to schedule for after demolition. 

Estimated guess for demo start at this point, provided we do not get pushed up in the schedule by PG&E… July 10. Then 2 weeks for deconstruction… so getting to ground breaking is getting closer! 

First Inspection, Passed.

Yesterday National Rentals came back to fix the temporary power pole that they dropped off two days before but did not install properly. 5 minutes to hook the ground to the actual panel and check the rest of the circuits led to an all good.

City inspector came at 11:20 (only had to wait 20 mins!) and it passed.


So, next week PG&E comes to swing the power from the house to the temporary power pole. That means that no electricity in the house after Tuesday but we can pull from it on the front long, if necessary.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Waiting waiting waiting

I think my symbol for this stage of the process will be the spinning beach ball that Apple uses while it is "working". Made the decision to be at the site at 8 since national rentals would be back for their 3rd visit in as many days to fix the ground issue. Well needless to say, they showed up at 9:25. I will post an accounting of time spent at the house waiting for vendors in a later post.  That count should be interesting. Maybe I will ask OH to build me a widget to track it on the blog.

In 20 mins I have to go to the house waiting for the city inspectors again. We'll see how much time is added to their tally above the 1.25 hours from yesterday.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Where we are now…

Just for reference.

This is a picture of the house last fall. In all its glory.

And, here is where we are now. Tree gone and a big yellow blob on the dead front lawn. 

Well, it is only going to get worse before it gets better! 

And so it begins…in medias res

This will be, hopefully, a chronicle of the house build we are doing. I can already tell that this blog will be filled with trials and tribulations and hopefully, lessons learned. I should have started a few weeks ago but with school, a move, and some travel, I was not able to set up the blog before now.

As of today, we are working on finalizing the building permits. We are out of the house, the asbestos removed, the gardens farmed out to others, trees cut down, the temporary power pole and portable toilet have been delivered. 

Still a few hurdles to go before the city says we can deconstruct, but we are moving there slowly but surely. 

Today's frustration was having a city inspector come to check on the temporary power pole installation. My dealings with National Rentals have been a very frustrating experience this week. They did not show up on Monday, which meant I had to cancel the inspection set for Tuesday. They show up on Tuesday and deliver the thing, but it has the wrong cover on one of the things on the panel… so they had to come back this AM to change that out. The inspector shows up at 12:15 and fails us because the ground wire is not connected to the actual panel. They grounded it to the actual earth, but did not hook the wire to anything. So… they are coming back for the 3rd time in 4 days tomorrow. Then, another inspection. Hopefully it will pass so that we can have PG&E come to move the power over. (Ironically, the city inspector asked for my temp electric permit… which her building department did not give me…I think she let that slide because it was her own folks who messed that part up. They gladly took my money, just never gave me a paper to go with it that she says they should have.) 

As of now, the only thing that is holding us up is the gas shut off. I will go into that whole PG&E debacle at another time.