The biggest change to the space came in a whirlwind of activity over the course of the next 3 days. First the plaster board hangers showed up. They were efficient, quick and noisy. Matt reported a lot of banging but the best part is that they were finished in one day. Here the long runs proved to speed up the process. The long runs also accentuate any misalignment and crooks in the lines/corners. We expect to see some jigs and jogs in the corners since we are using the old rafters for supports.

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Plaster Board and Plaster delivered.

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Board hung

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Dormer Alcove

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The view from Matt’s office end of the Attic.

On the second day the plasterers descended.  This so far has been the most rowdy group of sub contractors. At one point we think that there were about 8 men working in the attic. They came with their stilts and trowels and showed us why the floor had been lined with black paper. When they were done it looked like a tornado of plaster had rolled through the attic space and placed plaster everywhere including the floor. But with the previous Tron themed black paper, the clean up was made easier.

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Rich in texture

We chose a simple pattern with a knocked down texture. It helps to hid imperfections. These guys were like artists and really put down a beautiful job. The way it all came together was exciting to see. They were able to patch the few areas downstairs that had been damaged and blend them into the old. Once we scuff the new patches a bit and give it several coats of primer then paint there is a chance that it may blend.

The smell is an oddly organic one. For several days the plaster drys out. It slowly migrates from a dark greenish taupe to white. It is pretty interesting to see the light pick up the different patterns and have the space start coming to life.

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Zoe now loves the stairs and understands Upstairs and Downstairs.

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Matt and Zoe both in the doghouse storage.

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Now that the attic has been foamed the HVAC crew came back for their installation. They ran duct work and placed the equipment. The original plan was to connect radiators as the attic was already plumbed for them. Also, to install AC for the attic and have vents cut to the first floor.

We really had a hard time letting go of the radiators in the space. We absolutely love the way they heat the house in the winter. We were not immediately convinced that replacing those with a heat pump would be a good idea. So our compromise is this, we had the plumbers cut back the stub ups for the radiator lines to just below the surface of the floor and cap them. This way if we end up really hating the heat pump we can go back.  The cost of adding a heat pump onto the Air Conditioning system was minimal in the grand scheme, about $400 additional.  It help us keep our costs down. So I guess you can say our radiators were Valued Engineered out by us.  This means we also end up with a redundant heating system on the first floor.  Not a particularly bad thing.

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Duct runs and electrical lines run overhead.

Running the duct work requires threading a series of silver round flexible ducts through the openings, reaching all the rooms both upstairs and downstairs. Since we located the Mechanical closet in the middle of the space in theory the duct runs would be even in their distribution. Their was only one snag that required a last-minute bench to cover the duct to get to the downstairs bathroom.

The electric was all run before the foam took place. It really made no difference to them.  HVAC however ran their ducts after the foam insulation was complete. The foam would have contaminated the duct lines and gotten inside unless they had been completely sealed.  And even with the seals in place too many things could have happened that would have been out of their control. It was best to wait until after the foaming process was over.

Ducting to the bathroom downstairs creates the opportunity for Zoe's future bench/perch.

Ducting to the bathroom downstairs creates the opportunity for Zoe’s future bench/perch.

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Another item of note is the black paper on the floor. No we aren’t decorating with a Tron theme in mind. This was done to prepare for the plaster. The plaster board hangers come tomorrow and this is one of the last looks at the space all opened up. We know that after tomorrow it will take its final shape and really start being the space.

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20140427 hvac plaster prep-2-5 And just in case you missed the news from Zoe’s world, she has now mastered the stairs. The scary riser-less stairs with the temporary treads have been conquered. In both directions, up and down. Keeping a dog safe in a construction zone is a full-time job.  She doesn’t go up there unless we are with her and only on limited visits.


We were so excited after the first abbreviated week’s work, little did we know it would only get better and more exciting. The stairs took shape almost instantly. I can barely remember the time when the stairs were hidden behind the closet door. Having drawn the new stair plan so many different times from the napkin sketch when the idea first crossed my thoughts to the CAD plan it appeared just as I imagined it would. In the begin of this idea I wasn’t sure if there was enough room to get the proper run to accommodate the needed rise to get to the attic.  By creating an L-shaped stair it gave us just enough room to run the treads out to a nice comfortable foyer. Seeing this idea come to life was very exciting. It has created a gracious entry and opened up the foyer.

The two closets we sacrificed will of course be missed but the funny thing about this house is that there are more hall closets than I have ever seen in any house, at least there were. Before there were 4 now only 2 remain. although temporarily we have claimed the leftover space at he bottom of the old stairs for a coat closet at least until the kitchen goes to renovation. So for the next year, most likely, we will utilize the odd but useful coat closet at the bottom of the stairs leaving us with 3 hall closets, for now.


Almost instantly they appeared. The stringer for the original stairs can be seen through the back of the new stairs.


First look from landing to front door.

With the temporary treads on and the ceiling opened up a bit, the attic is now open. With our late spring arrival the temperatures have dipped back into the 30’s, the attic is now open. The little things you don’t think about can make the biggest impacts. We improvised a solution. Nightly the opening got covered with a drop cloth and leftover piece of paneling. It made a world of difference in the comfort level and heating on the first floor. Correcting the lack of good insulation in the attic has been one of the goals of this phase of the renovation.

One of the other things we didn’t count on was that Zoe was terrified of this new obstacle between her and her humans. When we would go upstairs to marvel at the progress that had been done that day, she would just sit at the bottom and give us the look.


All cleaned up for the weekend.


Are y’all having fun up there without me?


Weary Traveler

Earlier today I drove to Clifton Forge, VA and picked up Matt after his long adventure out and back.  It was a very different experience from dropping him off in Staunton, VA.  Zoe went with me as she as been a little mopey since last Sunday when this whole adventure began.

The 1 hour ride to Clifton Forge is 1000 times better than the drive to Staunton on 81.  Rt 220 goes directly to Clifton Forge.  It was a delightfully scenic divided highway most of the way until the last 10 miles or so.  Going up I only passed one (maybe two) tractor trailers.  I knew I was early so I took my time and really enjoyed the scenery.  Because of weather delays coming out of Chicago the train ended up being about 3+ hours late.  I had to chuckle at the Amtrak customer service rep.  I asked when exactly the train would arrive in Clifton Forge, she said 3:30ish.  I just thought how silly that would sound to any European.  ish, now that is something I would say about when arriving for dinner but not for a train.  Seems it isn’t that much of an exact science.

Clifton Forge’s Amtrak Station/platform leaves a little something to be desired.  If you are looking for the full train platform experience then stay with Staunton.  But if it is a closer/easier commute from Roanoke with a descent parking area then opt for Clifton Forge.  The signage into the station is almost non existent.  I guess most people from there know where it is.

The town itself was a bit lost in time.  The downtown has a crazy one way two street pattern that didn’t seem to have that much traffic to control.  Not sure if we were just being directed to the second street of stores or why exactly the streets were like that.  One interesting place that caught my eye was the C & O Railway Heritage Center.  As I approached I was hoping that this was the train station.  You can see and learn about trains there but not Amtrak.  And then the other very odd thing that caught my eye was the Kroger.  The style of the building took me back to my childhood.  It was set up exactly as I remember the Kroger and SuperX (drugstore) in my neighborhood.  A long vestibule with storefront windows and then a small cramped store.  Definitely a flashback lost in time.

So after meandering around Clifton Forge for a short time Zoe and I went to find our spot to keep a lookout for Matt’s train.  First lots of CSX cars and trains at the very industrial railyard/Amtrak stop.  Then finally a light and an Amtrak train.  Matt was one of the first off.  He looked tired, dirty and very glad to be home.

With a full belly, a freshly showered Matt is already sleeping at 8:30 tonight.  Proving once again it is always so much fun to travel but even more wonderful to come home.

Our Fence (and the lessons we learned)

After much debate early on, we decided on a fence to incorporate much of the back yard.  I now realize that this is more for my emotional well-being more than the physical safety of our precious pup, Zoe.  But we persisted and finally the fence is mostly done.  Just the final hardware on the gates and we are finished. So here is our fence journey and the lessons we learned along the way.

Figuring out what type of fence, and realizing we were not building a fortress against the Cherokees was the hardest thinking part.  Finally it came down to what mixed best with the rest of the neighborhood.  While there are many different styles around our neighborhood, the French Gothic seemed to be the most common in our area.  The 4′ high worked best with the house, the dog’s reach and our budget.  Since there are both flat and hilly sections of the fence line, straight panels weren’t going to work in all sections.  We had to adopt a two prong approach to the fence strategy.  Premade panels came in 8′ x 4′ high from Home Depot.  They were special order, but only took a few days to come in.  The sloped sections would have to be stick built.

Once we figured out how big the panels would be then we knew how far apart to set the posts (in theory).  We ran neon string around our proposed perimeter and marked each 8′ section with a flag.  We had 40 sections and some questionable terrain.  I think it was at this point that Matt got a bit discouraged and doubtful about digging holes through rocks and roots in the fencerow area.  We made the first of many trips to the hardware to gather supplies.  40 – 8’x 4″x4″ Posts, 20- bags of Quikrette and some gravel.  We later discovered that the gravel was not really necessary.

A quick call to Miss Utility to mark any underground lines and we were ready.  That was an easy no brainer to assure that we would not hit anything unintentionally.

Then came the post hole digging.  thankfully Matt, in true engineer/male testosterone  style, selected the biggest machine at Northwest Hardware for a weekend rental.  This Gas Powered Fulcrum Auger was towed behind the car and was self propelled once unhitched. It was a 9 hp Subaru motor powering the hydraulics.  That saved a tremendous amount of pushing and pulling and cussin’ and swearing.

The moment of truth had arrived, the first hole with a post hole digger.  I could not wait for Matt to see how easy this was going to be.  Auger down, power on…… spinning, spinning not much coming out, spinning, more spinning.  Oh no, this isn’t going to be easy.  Turns out that the first hole was one of the hardest.  We just lucked into the worst spot in the yard full of rock hard dried out clay, unlike anything else in the rest of the yard.  With hesitation I was able to convince Matt to try the next hole.  Auger down, spinning and viola….. lots of dirt and a nice clean hole.  Great only 39 more to go.  Soaking the first hole with water for an hour or two was all it needed, and the auger eventually brought it up as easily as the rest.

We used a 6″ auger bit.  In hindsight, we probably should have used a slightly larger bit, say 8 or 9″.  It would have given us more room for more  concrete around the posts.  Some of the soil we hit was a bit unstable unlike the clay soils I have hit in past hole digging experiences.  So more concrete would have been better.

The post hole digger was rented for a full 24 hours.  It was the beginning of some really hot weather we have had this summer.  Fish was nice enough to come help on most of the holes.  It made the job alot easier.

Setting the posts came next. This handy level, designed for post applications was the best $5 we spent on the job.  The rubber band came with it and made it hands free.  Neat trick. It says “Magnetic” on it, but that only works for iron wood (or metal studs).

Finally we used the wheelbarrow enough in mixing the concrete to chip up the newish paint a little and make it look like a real wheelbarrow should.  Mixing the Quickrette was simple and had a wide margin between too wet and too dry.  Matt developed a skill at this so much that should he ever give up Solidworking he has something to fall back on.

The panels went up with a little effort.  The rails on the panels are smaller than a 2×4 width and are made from very dry pine.  There is not alot of room for error when placing screws.  We ended up splitting a few until we got the hang of it.  But here is the thing that they don’t tell you about the panels.  8′ panels are not exactly 8 feet long. Some are shorter some are longer, slightly.  The only way I can figure to get around this is to set each post as you work around the yard, but that would take forever.  And as much as my architect brain say – yea yea, that is the way to make sure of a perfect fit. It just isn’t worth it.  Some we had to cut and some we had to reach with a simple angle bracket.  In the end it isn’t that noticeable.

The stick built sections went together much quicker than we expected.  It was somewhat daunting to see the big pile of 200 pickets laying under the tree, knowing we had to touch, align and put 4 screws in each one.  As we worked, we developed a rhythmical system that made it go by quickly.  There were times that we didn’t talk but communicated effectively.

This morning we worked on the gates.  We have two of three up.  They still need the latches but that can happen, when it happens.  Self-closing hinges make sure that the gates don’t just stay open. Maybe the next post will address those.  We are pleased with our complete enclosure and as for Zoe she played so hard the first day that she slept well before her usual bedtime.  We will hold on to the satisfaction that comes with a finished job for this Labor Day Holiday.

Lyons and Dogs

Yesterday, we took off in search of more fall scenery.  The destination was to be Lyon Mountain.   We drove and drove and saw lots of color.  We drove around the mountain and back again.  Along the way we saw lots of wildlife, a coyote, wild turkeys, and a few thrush.  Here are a few pictures from the day.


Then after the day’s travels we ended back at Matt’s parents place.  They have been great hosts, keeping us well fed and rested.  It has been a relaxing place to call home for a few days.
I know as much as they have enjoyed having us here, their dog, Mozart will be just as happy to see Zoe leave.  Mozart is a stately gentleman of a schnauzer, that has tolerated Zoe’s puppy playfulness gracefully.  He is less amused by her visit and ready to have order restored to his world.
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truckWe are on the road again.  This time it is a driving trip to upstate New York.  We are taking in the sights and visiting Matt’s parents.  The one difference is this time, Zoe is along for the ride.

The first day was a full moon.  And while Matt gets annoyed when I blame anything out of the ordinary on the full moon, I believe it had alot to do with the events on our first day.

Almost first thing, we were confronted with this truck.  OK, it is in tow but it was a bit unnerving following it.

Then we made the turn onto route 15 off I-81.  For a moment I thought we had jumped states and ended up in some rural part of West Virginia.  But it was just a rough start to an otherwise beautiful drive up 15.  Nicely underused road except for one spot that we decided to have lunch.  Extreme views of the wide river and stunning vistas.  Beautiful places along this route.

Early evening we made it to Corning, NY to discover that our usual hotel was completely booked due to a marathon the next morning.  Which happened to coincide with our plans to visit the Corning Museum of Glass.  I had been looking forward to this since we started planning this trip.  So after a few stops and a few more full hotels and hotels that just wouldn’t take dogs.

Eventually we settled for a motel that was located mere feet from the on ramp – how convenient!  This was the kind of place that I didn’t want to take my shoes off and you are sure if the walls could talk there would be blue flashing lights involved.  My barefeet never touched the floor.  It was the kind of place that even after a shower I still felt dirty.  yuck!  Mercifully we survived the night, very little real sleep and Zoe in between us all night.

During our quest to find our hotel room, I notice a Panera and we headed straight for it the next morning. Bagels, Chi Tea and a real internet connection….. ahhh back to civilization.  It was a turning point.  The events of the previous day and night were behind us and it was a new day.  And we were laughing about it.


The Corning Museum of Glass was fantastic for a glass nerd like me.  Matt enjoyed it as well.  We soaked in every bit, while Zoe chilled out and slept in the car.  It was an overcast day in the low 60’s so she was in a very comfortable place.

The building is of course mostly glass but quite beautiful.  It is a campus of several buildings.


It follows nicely in the several blocks it occupies.  Inside you are greeted by the first big piece by Dale Chihuly.

You have probably seen something by him as he is very popular.  His style is


very distinctive.  Upon closer inspection, I noticed that it is constructed much like a Southern bottle tree – almost exactly!  Now I understand.

The Corning staff was very friendly (yes even for Yankees, there I said it).

One of the security guards was nice enough to point out some hard to see details in one of the pieces.  We saw all kinds of glass through the ages and different processes.


I even got the chance to turn some big glass in the kiln …. OK not really.

We then headed north to Rochester.  Matt needed to check out old haunts.  It has been 28 years since I visited so not much was familiar to me.  We did drive through/around RIT.  I did consider going there for college and Matt did attend there.  It has changed a bit and grown outward.

Then we got lucky.  We found a magnificent Hampton Inn that gladly accepted dogs.  All three of us had a great night and are now feeling refreshed and ready to take on the Adirondacks.

Tonight we end up at Matt’s parents.  We are hopeful that Zoe and Mozart become friends.  I am looking forward to seeing them and the fall foliage.