the handrails are going in #renovations

The third, and final, set of handrails for this renovation are going in. They are cedar, coated in a weatherproof sealant that is applied in three coats. Each piece has been individually sealed, before being installed. The tops of the posts are sealed with marine epoxy and and then caulked to keep water from getting in to rot the endgrain. The bolt holes, where the posts are attached to the concrete step-down walls, are also coated with marine epoxy. You can’t see it in these photos, but under the top handrail pieces there are two fine curve lines. These serve as driplines, so that water flowing off the top of the handrail cannot seep back under the handrail and rot the top of the post.

This technique of building handrails is the genius of our awesome contractor, Wallace Smith of Jatoba Contracting. He has spent a great deal of time and thought to design outdoor wood structures (decks, stairs, and railings) that can survive the monsoons and damp of Vancouver. The result is a structure of great strength, presence, and integrity.

There really is nothing else in Vancouver like Wallace’ designs. What I love about them is they speak to our homes, and our housing structures, as a legacy. They also speak to a loving reverence for the trees whose lives were given in the service of our shelter. These trees have not died in vain.

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The handrail is ready to install #renovations

The handrail pieces are ready to install. Matt milled the upright posts a couple of weeks ago and I coated them in three layers of Cetol. Wallace came over late last week and milled the balusters, side rails, and top rail. Over the weekend I have been processing these pieces, covering them with Cetol layers. Today, with luck, the handrail will get installed with Wallace’ help.

Matt is home from landscaping today, so, one way or another we will make progress.

Drying on the front porch, ready for install.

Drying on the front porch, ready for install.

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Soon the handrail will be installed.

Soon the handrail will be installed.

Then and Now Christmas 2011 and Christmas 2012

Last year at this time our house was up on cribs.

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The excavator had clamped onto the exposed foundation and snapped it out like a piece of soda cracker. The excavator operator commented, “Oh yeah, this needs to be fixed.”

I can’t describe the psychological impact of seeing your house hanging in mid air with no foundation. First, you realize the finality of all the choices and decisions you have made to that point. Second, you realize there is no turning back. The only way out is forward. Third, you realize your entire life investment, in this house and property, are in the hands of others: our wonderful contractor, Wallace Smith of Jatoba Contracting, his carpenter foreman, Rob Duncan, and the excavator operators who are running the machines that are peeling the dirt and rocks out from under your house.

The house was up on the cribs on November 24, 2011. As the excavators moved toward the southwest corner of the house we had bad news. The operator could smell oil in the soil, and we were going to have to clean it up before the house could come down. Panic! But Wallace worked with Pacific Environmental and the head of the Environment Office at City Hall and worked out an arrangement for us to accomplish the clean up in stages so we could get our house back down on a foundation.

So Christmas last year, our house was hanging in the air on cribs, I was on Gabriola with the dogs, and Matt was at the house, alone, wrangling the pump, keeping the rain and mud from washing our house off it’s perch.

crib integrity w mud 5

The excavator operator carefully placed the contaminated soil on a tarp and it was covered until I could get back from Gabriola and shovel the sodden load of sludge into a special bin for disposal.

contaminated soil 2_1

Yesterday I walked around the property, in the low slanting mid-winter light. This is how far we have come. Yes, we still have many tasks to complete before we can consider the job done, but to see the house in all her glory on her brand new foundation with a new electrical, plumbing and heating service, is really something.



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painting trim

While I am waiting for Matt to finish installing the countertop framing, I have been keeping myself out of his way by painting the exterior of the renovation. The siding has 4 coats of this lovely deep green. I have painted the door trim an even deeper forest green to match the window frames. The last few days I have been prepping the antique white trim. I have been caulking all joints and holes with NP1, filling the odd crack with expansion foam and then coating it with NP1.

The whole bottom half of the house did not get new trim. The utility wall on the west side is a bit of a mess and I don’t know how to fix it. Perhaps Wallace will give me a hand tomorrow.

Today I am going to go around and spot coat all the NP1 patches. Tomorrow I should be able to paint the whole exterior trim and finish the job. The main floor and upstairs of the house are going to have to wait, though. There is still much work to do after this renovation is completed.

getting to final

It is a very discouraging time. It seems as if the more we get done the further the finish line moves away from us. The pieces for the front porch railing have been sitting awaiting a final coat of sealant for a week. The kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanity have taken much longer than we thought. Now I am teaching, and my work on the house has been cut down almost totally. The tiles are sitting in their boxes awaiting installation. We have run out of money.

Matt is the only one working on the project now, my teaching fees are keeping us afloat. If only we were on a renovation show, and some handsome tv contractor could come in, and with a deft hand on the editing software, speed everything up 10x. Within a few seconds everything would be done, and we would be smiling and waving a copy of the final inspection.

working on a Saturday

Matt has been plugging away today on the front steps. They are going to be gorgeous. He has used the dog’s food dishes to set the curve radius for the bottom step and the top rail. Jethro’s big food dish is the curve of the bottom step, Skipper’s smaller food dish is the curve for the top rail. Very sweet. And the curves transition from a quarter round on the bottom step, to a three quarter round on the top rail, leading the eye up to the full round of the porch columns.

It is nice to be home all day to putter, clean, and plan.