Sunday, October 31, 2010

Haunted by Construction

Happy Hallow e'en everyone. The Purdy family is joining in the fun with a haunted house of their own. With both the back and the front of the propery turned into a construction zone the whole lot looks eerie and frightening.

I came home from a girls weekend in Victoria this evening and was met by the results of two more days of digging. [sigh] I don't know how Barbara is handling it. It must be difficult for her to see everything her and Roger have planted and nurtured over the last 17 years, ripped up in a single afternoon. While I get depressed, Brendon reminds me that we have to keep our eyes on the end result - when we'll have a beautiful home and hopefully a green space restored to its original beauty.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hoses, vibrators and concrete

Oprah and Barbara Walters know first hand that there is nothing better than a guest with a good story. Just in our case it happens to be someone a little less famous than Bill Clinton or Lady Gaga. Welcome Roger Purdy, the steadfast, unwaveringly father of Brendon Purdy. A chemical engineer by training, Roger has been watching the construction like a Brazilian soccer fan at a World Cup Final. Since I've been at work and Brendon's been in Ottawa, he also happens to be the only person that has been watching. To give you the play by play of the most recent adventures of hoses, vibrators and concrete I'm passing it over to Roger Purdy.

Roger Purdy speaks: Today was the day that the foundation got poured. One monster pumper truck and a cement truck for one little house.

THE PLAN: With cement in pumper truck, a hose would extend to the framed foundation and pour wet cement into the mold.

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED: The pumper truck was so large that the outriggers (stabilizers) on its side could not be extended in the laneway to support the weight of the hose. Under the weight of a 100lb hose and no stabilizers the truck could have tipped over. This was definitely not an option so the men had to rejig their original plan and use the hose on the basement level instead. This was a major change - one worker had to be in the basement all the time supporting the weight of the hose and moving 2x4’s around to prevent it from falling down.

Suddenly, the pour began. The first blast of concrete out of the hose splattered water and dirt all over the place – I thought that a major clean up would be required, but this was the initial priming of the system, not the actual pour.

The pour began with a 4 inch (10 cm) ribbon of concrete coming out and jetting about 2 meters from the end of the hose - thankfully, most of the concrete ended up in the forms, but there was a considerable amount of spillage too. The fellow had a big job. Not only did he have to hold the weight of the hose, balance on top of the forms, manage the changing pressure of the concrete as it came out and make sure that the everything was pointed in the right direction, all while watching that he was filling the form correctly. The man on the vibrator had to balance on the forms, pull the vibrator around with him, untangle the electric cord from the supports and forms, make sure all the concrete was settling OK, and help the man pouring and the man lifting the hose. And then of course there was the third man, (the one in the basement) making sure that the hose moved where needed. The fourth man on the pumper truck was controlling the flow of concrete, yelling instructions, making sure the pumper was full of concrete (or maybe that was the fifth man from the cement truck.

All I had to do was take pictures and drink tea. Good division of labour. Overall, considering the challenge, it was very efficiently done.

Easy and elegant it was not. That said, despite the challenges it was well educated...and highly entertaining.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What a difference a day makes

I went to work on Wednesday and came back to see this 9 hours later. It's unbelievable how quickly it's all going up! What you are see are the footings and the framing for the foundation. Concrete will be poured this coming week to create the walls of the crawlspace and 'garage'.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Rock in a Hard Place

Last week the contractors took out over 14 truck loads of dirt from the site and left a hole almost 7 feet deep. Unfortunately they couldn't take everything away...and what they left behind became Brendon's homework over the weekend. In the pit was a huge rock, one so big that it couldn't be dug up, but in too critical a place to be left behind. With instructions from the Smallworks team that we needed to find a way to take at least four inches off the top we evaluated our options. The first thing we could do would be to blow it up. This would require hiring some other contractors that would drill down into the rock and pack the holes with an mixture that when hard would crack the boulder so that it could be extracted. The price tag on that would be around $700.

The second option we had was to rent a diamond saw from RONA and pick up a sledgehammer. The price tag - $50. Can anyone guess which option won?

What Brendon thought he'd be able to get done in 4 hours took him almost 10 hours... and we're not even sure it's enough. I have to admit that on this task I did close to zero. I tried to swing the sledgehammer once and I think that I shook a little dust off the rock but that's it. This one couldn't have happened without my man!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The hole

WARNING: This blog post is all over the place - likely the result of adrenaline and exhaustion.

Destruction is satisfying. While people all across Canada spent time eating turkey this weekend, we were ripping down fences, uprooting plants and removing flagstone. I have to admit, I never thought that tearing things down would be so much fun! Maybe because (unlike building) you don't need to be exact and probably because it also involves sledge hammers [sigh].

Today was the day we've been dreaming about for a year now - the building phase has begun. An excavator and seven dump trucks full of dirt and we are now the proud owners of a huge crater in the backyard of Brendon's parents backyard. Despite the anticipation, it is only now (at 10pm) that I am fully realizing the magnitude of today's accomplishments. This probably has something to do with the fact that along with 'the big dig' we had take our cat to a veterinary dermetologist, I had a doctors appointment, we had to finalize the contract, sort out our first payment and go to work.

Yes, you read correctly. We did in fact take our cat to a doctor that specializes in skin disorders for pets. I had a moment a few days ago when I could feel the weight of the house payments looming and for a second I felt like Brendon and I were exiting the freedom of DINKdom and entering the weightiness of adult responsibilities. Our appointment today with the cat reconfirmed that despite the move to 'homeownership' we are still clearly DINKS. Before going to the appointment I had to fill out and 8 page questionnaire for Steven. One of the questions (and I am not kidding) was the following:
Has your pet been out of his or her usual environment recently (i.e. vacation, play date, day-care, visit to family or friends, kennel, pet-sitter, etc.)?

Look at how cute he is in the hole! cutchie, cutchie, coo....

Monday, October 4, 2010

The week the parents weighed in.

Okay, so while we loved our trip to see the salmon, the truth is that the post was a deflection of all the other crap that really happened over the last two weeks. Maybe it was the image of the money on a toilet paper roll that got our parents all in a tizzy or the fact that our budget had ballooned by almost 50 percent from our original projections. Whatever the impetus, soon after my post on September 23rd I had two phone messages and a long email from my parents desperate to 'discuss' our plans.

I've been living away from home now for well over ten years and it's almost been just as long that my parents have sat me down for one of their talks. Their roles as parents had pretty much wrapped up once I had secured the first symbol of adult success - a business card. The expectation on my part was that they wouldn't re-emerge with serious advice until the inevitable grand kids...or so I thought. Home ownership was the milestone that I had effectively forgotten and the Schatz's were quick to resume parenting roles upon reading our last entry.

Now before I discuss the details of their advice, I should provide a little context. My parents live in Ottawa, Ontario and even though their lives have been nothing like traditional (Dad lived in an ashram in India and Mom hitch hiked across Africa on her own in the 70s and had me in Ghana), when it comes to their kids, their style of parenting is to approach a decision through a cataclysmic lens - illustrating every possible configuration of disaster that can occur. When I recently went to them for advice on re-occurring vertigo symptoms I was experiencing my mother was quick to point out that I likely had Multiple Sclerosis and my father told me to call 911. When they read my last blog post, everything about our decision rang alarm bells. We were going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a home that we wouldn't legally own. Right away they questioned the logic of a young couple choosing this path and wondered about the financial viability of the project. Thankfully, they also brought up several ways that we could mitigate the risks, first by bringing down the cost of the building and secondly by building out a well thought out contract between ourselves and the Purdy's to 'create' and protect our asset.

The Schatz's weren't alone in their reservations. Though slower to share their concerns, Barbara and Roger too came to us with advice. Would this really be the best financial decision for us? Why not instead reconsider the project and explore home ownership options within Vancouver? This was especially alarming coming from the Purdy's who are (as we like call them) - the utopians. Their world view is that every cloud has a silver lining...a pot of gold and a lepricon too.

So we resisted our 15 year old tendencies to slam the bedroom door and ignore the advice of our parents and instead sat down like adults to look at our options. The thing about being in your 30s and living in North America is that there is enormous pressure to own (...get married and have babies). Not only is it a status symbol that tells the world you've made it, but embodied in ownership are a whole suite of other predictions: home owners are wealthier, healthier, more intelligent and take better care of their lawns than renters. To be a couple in our late 30s without a home would be an indicator that we had failed in some way - or in the words of my 22 year old sister, we'd be 'serious losers'.

Brendon and I would be moving to something somewhere in between home ownership and renting. Building a laneway home in your in-laws backyard is not a way to financial clarity or home ownership status. Yet, even with our eyes and ears open to our parents advice, we are choosing it again and with even more excitement. Maybe this is our way of designing our own version of adulthood. It's one that definitely does not have as much clarity as our friends that have bought outright, but it appeals to us in ways that a 500 square foot condo in downtown Vancouver just couldn't.

What does salmon have to do with our new home?

In British Columbia this year something spectacular is happening. The sockeye salmon are returning to their birthing grounds in record numbers. Call this the 'Halley's Comet' of fish. Scientists haven't seen a return like this in 100 years. A good news story about nature seems to be a rare thing these days. Everything we read or see has to do with decline or destruction of the planet so Brendon and I leaped at the opportunity to see these healthy salmon make their voyage upstream.

Wow. Mother Nature still has a few tricks up her sleeve. 15 million salmon are making their way from the ocean up the Fraser River, travelling hundreds of kilometers inland to mate, lay their eggs and die - leaving their bodies to fertilize the rain forests, farms and grasslands touched by the Fraser. As they travel from salt water to fresh rivers, their bodies transform from a steely grey to a bright red, the colouring part of an elaborate mating ritual.

So what does this have to do with our home? On the surface, I'd say nothing. We're building in downtown Vancouver, and the fish will be spawning up in Salmon Arm. Yet, so many of our decisions will either help protect or destroy future fish stocks.
+ The energy efficiency of our home impacts how much carbon we emit and its contributions to the warming of our planet. As the rivers that the salmon travel warm, their survival rate plummets.
+ The paint and products we use in and on our home will end up off-gassing and leaching chemicals into our water ways and ultimately find their way into he bodies of fish like salmon. These days, you can source more innocuous products that do not harm people or animals - hopefully one day soon non-toxic products will just be business as usual.
+ The wood we use for our house will come from the forests around our home and to make sure it is harvested sustainably, it will be FSC certified. Maintaining forests is key to ensuring a healthy habitat for the animals and plants that depend on the salmon return for their food.

It was a good piece of perspective to gain, especially since both Brendon and I (with the serious support of Smallworks) have struggled over the last week with how to bring the budget down. We're nearly there and I'm happy that the sacrifices we've made aren't ones that will also have an impact on the earth.

P.s. We've got the permits!!!! Yeh!