If you are an architect, you want to see your projects get built. One of the most enjoyable aspects of my job is going to the job site to check in on the progress of my projects as they are under construction. Most of the time I coordinate these site visits with some milestone or because the contractor has a question that requires my presence on site to answer … but I go to the job site even more than required because I truly enjoy it. These extra trips go by many names and happen at all times other than while I am on the clock … going to the job site at nights, weekends, lunches, before work – whenever I can – I how I like it.
But I have been so busy lately, and between traveling for work (projects out of state) and giving lectures, I haven’t been able to swing by one particular job site as much as I would like. As a result, it has been ignored here on Life of an Architect … but that stops today. It’s time for a massive catch up on this project, so buckle in and save your questions until the end.
I originally introduced this project to everyone in a post I wrote called “Sketching during Schematic Design” that I wrote back in November 2014. That post showed the process of going from initial concept to a finished schematic design plan that I would ultimately show the clients. That plan is the sketch I’ve included just above.
Well, a lot of things have happened and there are a number of changes to the final version of the plan you see above – but that’s normal and should be expected. We eventually got to a point where the project broke ground and the house started to become a reality (not that you would know since I haven’t written any posts on it). I’ve planned on writing dozens of posts and for the most part, I have the pictures to back it up. To date, I have taken 1,493 job site pictures of this house. I know where every pipe, conduit, and wire are located … and the clients will too because they will receive a copy of every picture I’ve taken during construction when they move into their new home.
But enough of that, let’s catch you up on where things are (and the posts you missed out on).
Foundation begins. We have about a 36″ crawl space, concrete perimeter grade beams, and we have some steel in place to help us with some of the larger spans.
Picking the brick on this job wasn’t difficult, but picking the mortar was killer. We went through what seems like a ton of different options and while this is actually a long story to get where we are, the client basically went with the top mortar color.
Besides these photos acting as record keeping devices, I also take pictures because I think they would make good learning tools for other folks who don’t get out to the site as often as I do … which is also what drives the ideas behind the educational posts I write on this site. The picture above isn’t all that interesting but it’s something extremely important. the change in elevation is the difference between the high one – where the wood flooring will get installed – and the low one – which is where we dropped the floor so that our stone tile would be flush set with the finished floor.
I took this picture because of the red steel pipe columns They are red because that’s the primer color that comes with the steel that keeps them from rusting. I asked the contractor why these columns only stuck up about a foot above the floor? He told me that they will come back and weld the rest of the pipe in place once the top plate of the framed wall is set. This way, the columns will be set at the perfect elevation.
Framing is progressing – like most of our projects, we have some large openings in our walls. This one is in the Master Bedroom and measures 12′ tall by 16′ wide.
In this picture, you are looking up at the underside of the low slope roof that makes up the canopy around the rear elevations. We don’t use tapered insulation boards – for our projects that are too expensive and the cost isn’t justified. What we typically do is “sister” (which means to nail one piece of lumber onto an adjacent piece) and then slope that sistered framing to the pitch we want. The 2×6’s that are hung using metal brackets will be level and our Douglas Fir siding will attach directly to it. The roof pitch is taken care of by the piece of lumber shown that is not using metal brackets.
This was the first residential project we did where we used prefabricated trusses. The site superintendent was complaining non-stop about them while they were being processed and delivered.
When the trusses are delivered, they are laid up on the top plate of the house in the order in which they will get installed. Once it gets to this point, things start moving pretty fast.
These guys had the trusses in place and secured in literally no time … the site superintendent stopped complaining. See the guy in the picture above wearing the gray hoodie? He is standing on the low slope roof that I talked about 4 pictures ago.
If you are really observant, you know where I’m standing. This picture was taken to record the gap between the vertical sheathing on the exterior wall, and the horizontal decking that makes up the roof. The reason the gap is there is so that the brick can pass through this intersection and down to the brick ledge on the ground floor level. This means we don’t have to carry a massive cantilevered load … always a financial win.
This is the handiwork of our structural engineer. Look at al those 2x members framing out this window … that’s a lot (4 to be exact) but those four 2x members are why I get a chuckle out of all the butt-kicking comments I receive about thermal breaks in some of my detailing. This is what you call a fairly large thermal break – and I can’t get my engineer to modify his detailing. Then again, I also don’t get cracks in my walls.
I included this picture … not so you could wonder what sort of dress code do we allow at my office (it’s pretty slack, to be honest), but to show you what a Saturday morning site visit looks like. Nobody there except me and my daughter Kate … who probably doesn’t want to be there either.
Window flashing … check. Building wrap goes on the exterior, folds into the opening …. then we add a 3/4″ x 4″ strip of sheathing on top of the wrap so that our windows can sit where we want them to set (I don’t like brick mold … but that’s a post for a different day). Then we add some peel and stick Flex Wrap to the bottom of our window sills prior to the windows getting placed.
But wait … there’s more flashing to come!
Setting windows is always a terrific day. I’m sure the contractor loves it because it means one massive step closer to making the building weather tight – but I love it because the house actually starts to look like the end product. Up until this point, it only looks like a job site.
More flashing. Once the windows are set and the nailing fins are set against that 3/4″ x 4″ exterior sheathing I pointed out earlier, the entire thing gets covered with more peel and stick flashing.
It’s easy to see why a post on setting windows would be a good one … sorry for not writing it. I can only trust you to believe me that when I say I was too busy to write it, I really was too busy. Eventually, I’ll write it.
This is looking up at the underside of the Douglas fir soffit. Eventually, the brick veneer will run up against the building wrap and cover the gap ou see in the picture. Where the Douglas fir siding and brick come together, there will be a piece of wood trim that will cover up that transition … and that crummy piece of plywood is attached so that our trim piece can have something to nail into.
Now we’ve moved on to the plumbing rough in. It’s called “rough in” because there’s aren’t any exposed finished pieces of plumbing exposed … this is all the hidden nasty bits that will be covered up with finished materials (like cabinets, tile, wood paneling, and painted sheet rock).
Then there was that time I took about 100 pictures of the metal roof flashing … seeing the real thing is better than the SMACNA (Sheet Metal & Air Conditioners National Association) manual. What do you mean you don’t have a copy of the SMACNA Manual?? It’s not a sexy book but you should have one of these in your library … even at $350 a copy, it’s completely worth it.
More metal bending goodness. This is more of the G90 metal I frequently reference here on site – as far as metal siding goes, it’s clearly one of my favorites. This is looking up one of the valley’s on the roof – looking to see how the individual roof panels flash into the valley shape. I really did intend to dedicate a post to metal flashing and roof details … I don’t typically have regrets when I don’t get a chance to write a certain post, but this was one that I think a lot of people would have benefitted from reading.
Finally made it to the electrical rough in. Did you know that the different gauges of electrical wires are typically indicated by the color of the plastic they are sheathed in? I make site visits a lot easier when you can simply look and know that the electrical wire to kitchen appliances should be yellow and not white. 14 gauge is typically white and is suitable for outlets and lighting. 12 gauge is typically yellow and is used for most appliances. 10 gauge is typically orange and is used for dryers, some larger appliances, and air conditioning units.
If you’ve never walked a residential job site during the electrical rough in, you might wonder why electrical wiring is sometimes run in these zigzag patterns. It is typically done so that later one, when the electrician has punched a small hole in the sheet rock and is trying to snag the wire within, this makes it a lot easier. I’m not entirely sure under what circumstances they decide to do it … we certainly don’t tell them.
Pictures like these are worth their weight in gold years down the line when someone wants to know what happened behind the wall. This is a perfect example of record photography documenting what went where … what I like to call, the “Triple W” (I just made that up)
The houses that we are getting built these days are a lot more weather tight that they used to be. In this case, the post I didn’t write on weatherproofing and caulking (that’s was just a working title … even I know how boring that sounds) was to show how every crack and crevice between every ganged stud and change in direction from vertical to horizontal receive some sort of treatment – foam, caulk, or sealant. All the white stuff you see up above was caulk to seal any gaps that exist.
Foam insulation. Pretty boring from a post standpoint but one thing that comes up repeatedly is that spray insulation does not provide any sound protection. If there’s any research out there that says otherwise, I’d like to see it.
While all that interior work is going on, folks have been hard at work putting the brick in place. Of course, most traditional brick houses can get their brick installed lickety-split, but not so much with a modern house. There are millions of little tweaks that have to happen so that everything lines up just right. Occasionally, something needs to be moved so that we don’t have little slivers of brick.
More G90 metal siding. This is looking up at the second floor on the back side elevation. Truth is, you can barely see this elevation (or this material) from the street … but you can see it. We generally break up or material selections based on our building massing – and this was no different. One thing that looks really slick, the detailing around the windows – it’s almost nonexistent. There aren’t any trim pieces that wrap the windows that makes the termination of the siding look heavy. You can see for yourself how clean that window looks punching through the metal siding.
Just a general progress shot – I typically walk around the entire perimeter of the house and that these sots of pictures every time I come on site. It isn’t to show anything, in particular, just an overview of the entire building at a certain point during construction. You can start to see just how some of these large windows punch through the brick massing – from the top of the finish floor all the way up, flush with the gypsum board ceiling (but you’ll see that better on the inside).
It takes a while to get through the tape, bed and floating period of the project. For those of you still reading this who don’t know what that means, it’s the three steps that happen once sheet rock has been installed to make it ready for finishing. You put tape over the drywall joints and screw holes, and you apply drywall compound (think of it as liquid sheet rock) over those holes and the tape. You then let it dry, sand it down, and repeat based on how finely finished the wall has been specified. In this house, all the main spaces and the bedrooms were called out to receive a Level 5 finish.
I should also point out that wherever you see plywood on the interior, it is because there will be floor-to-ceiling wood paneling installed.
This picture shows the process go adding the drywall compound. the lines you see up above is what you get when you apply compound over the tape and the screws. To achieve a level 5 finish, that requires many more steps …
Like covering the entire wall with drywall compound – not just joints and screws. They will actually cover the entire wall, let it dry, and then sand it down. And then they will thin the joint compound down and do the entire process all over again.
This is what an unfinished level 5 wall looks like … there is no paint on this wall whatsoever.
No paint on these walls either. Achieving a level 5 finish is an arduous process but one that is necessary when you have large windows that allow in a lot of light. The light – especially when it rakes parallel across the wall from a window that is perpendicular – will expose every little flaw.
Now that the walls have been finished (from a “prep” point of view) the finished flooring process begins. In this case, we have wood floors throughout a majority of the house and the wood flooring needs to acclimate to the same relative humidity and temperature as the house. This way, it will minimize the amount of expansion/contraction that will exist when the house finally gets closed in and they start conditioning the air within the house.
This is a post I probably will still do – it on the custom metal front pivot door we have designed for the house. The picture above is just the top left-hand corner of the door, but what will make this door so special, is that it is the entire width of the entry hallway and as such, do you see how the drywall on the left meets the red metal of the door? It’s perfectly flush.
If you can’t stand waiting, you can see the design of the door here.
I am standing in the entry hallway looking back toward the entry door – you can get a feel or just how big this door will be once it’s completed. 10′ tall and almost 6′ wide … it will be a memorable process walking through this door.
That guy up above? That’s the site superintendent Bruce, and he always follows me around when I come on the job site. Most site super’s leave me alone but Bruce follows my every move … it’s like he thinks I am going to steal something. It used to get on my nerves because he was always getting in my shots – but I’ve come to appreciate that A) I can always ask him to move (which I frequently do) and B) I can typically pepper him with more questions than he asks of me. Other than some of the exterior pictures in today’s post, Brice was probably there – somewhere – in every single one.
Do you remember where Bruce was standing in the picture right before this one? Well, that where this current picture is taken. We had lowered the entryway floor to accommodate a stone slab tile floor – and this is the process of bringing the floor up to the right level so that the tile and the wood flooring are perfectly flush with one another.
Maybe a view from another angle will help clear this up –
Make more sense? In the end, they will probably float the floor up about 3″ – and this guys job is to make sure that it’s level and at the right height.
The wood floor is installed and now we are moving on to wood trim and tile work. I don’t know what I love these “trim racks” as much as I do, but I take pictures of them in every single project.
Tile is getting installed at this point … this definitely would have made for an interesting post. I wrote a post a while back on how to build a shower that won’t leak – and while it’s still an excellent post, it’s already falling behind the times. Now we use a roll on damp proofing membrane over cementitious backer board.
Cabinet installation. It’s another one of those moments when the job site starts to feel more like a house.
We spend a lot of time on our cabinet drawings and detailing but nothing beats going out in the field and looking firsthand at how these things get built. It’s one thing to talk about how a cabinet gets scribed to a wall and another altogether to see it happen. It’s a lightbulb moment if there ever was one.
We are almost caught up with the current level of construction at the house – some, but not all, cabinets are getting installed. This house is a combination of white painted cabinetry and rift cut walnut cabinetry – both are looking amazing and I’m fairly certain that a cabinet post is in your future.
So that’s it … you are now caught up on one of the other projects I have been working on of the last year. It is very clean in terms of its layout, detailing and its finish palette. I don’t have a name to call this house yet – maybe you can suggest a name in the comment section. Hopefully now that you are a bit better acquainted with this house, the next few posts won’t seem so weird … you can consider this your first date together.