Construction: The Punch List

And a deadline.

On May 20, 2014, I began blogging about the construction of my new home in Malaga, WA. You can read all of these posts — and see the time-lapse and walkthrough movies that go with many them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

About two months ago, I was driving a rental car down a perfectly straight dusty dirt road alongside an irrigation canal in California’s Central Valley when my phone rang. It was a woman named Susan who writes for The Good Life, a lifestyle magazine for the Wenatchee area. She had been to the Wenatchee Home Show (which I’d missed because of my trip to California) and had seen the time-lapse video of my home construction that I’d given to Western Ranch Buildings to show off in their booth. She’s spoken to Tanya about the place and learned that it wasn’t just a typical pole building. It would be a home and a garage and a place to store big toys like a giant RV and a helicopter.

She decided that she wanted to do a story about it for Good Life.

I was flattered, of course — who wouldn’t be? But my home was far from finished. The kitchen cabinets had just been delivered and would be installed the day after my return. Then the appliances would come. The countertops, floors, bathroom fixtures, and so much more still needed to be done. And all those wires sticking out of the walls needed attention.

I told her it would be ready in May. She promised to call back. I figured I had a 50-50 chance of her remembering.

She remembered. She called early this week. We set a date for her and a photographer to come visit and see the place. I put the date on my calendar. I had just over three weeks to finish up and move in.

Holy cow, was I going to be busy!

Still, I work best and fastest and produce the most when I have a deadline Susan had given me one. If I wanted my new home to look the best it possibly could when when and her photographer showed up, I had to stop procrastinating and get finished.

In an effort to stay focused, I’ve come up with this punch list of items that need to be done. They fall into two categories: inspection items and finish items.

Inspection Items

Although several people suggested that I build my home inside my building on the sly without getting inspectors involved, I didn’t think that was a good idea. Maybe I’m being naive, but I believe that inspections and housing rules exist for a reason — safety — and that having an inspector (or two) look over my work would help me keep my home up to standards. With that in mind, my building permit has two parts: my main building (which has been approved) and my living space inside it (which has not yet gone through final inspection). To legally live inside my building, I need to pass all inspections and get a Certificate of Occupancy (CO).

I should add here that my property will have much greater value if it includes a legal living space. I’m thinking of the future, too.

There are two inspectors:

  • The electrical inspector makes sure my electrical system meets standards.
  • The building inspector makes sure my building and home meets standards.

The good news is, I’m almost done with all items needed for the inspections. I’m pretty sure this is a final list:

  • Close up drywall in garage ceiling and fire tape. My bathroom is immediately above one of my garage bays. In order to complete the plumbing work, we needed to leave part of that ceiling open. The drywall guy provided precut panels to close it back up. I need someone to help me hold those panels in place while I screw them in. The entire garage ceiling had to be drywalled and taped to meet county fire codes and the whole thing is done except this one place. I estimate it will take about 2 hours and I’ll need a second set of hands for about 30 minutes.
  • Deck Rail
    Using “hog panels” as a deck rail solution was suggested by Bob, further developed by me, and executed/fine-tuned yesterday by the two of us. A low cost, rustic solution that doesn’t look trashy.

    Finish deck. Because two doors open onto my deck, the deck must be finished for final inspection. That includes not only the floor, but a rail and barrier around the edge with openings not larger than 4 inches. The deck is 600 square feet and the rail is 104 linear feet so it’s quite a job. Other than some assistance getting me started the first day, I’ve been doing the deck floor myself. I have about 400 square feet laid. Yesterday, a friend came by to help me work out an idea we had for the rail and barrier. I suspect I have at least another 4 to 6 full days of work on the deck, which could be shortened up with some dedicated assistance from a friend.

  • Install safety rail around loft. This is a bummer and I’m hoping I can get the building inspector to give a little on it. I have a loft over my hallway and laundry room and bedroom closet. Because it’s tall enough to stand up in the county requires a rail around it like the barrier around my deck. But I don’t even have a ladder to get up there (yet) and won’t be using it. Such a shame to be delayed for this space. It’ll take about 2 days to get this job done — once I figure out how I’m going to do it.
  • Finish electrical work. Yes, there are a few fixtures remaining to be wired. They’re all on the deck. I need to climb a ladder to do them and I figured I may as well wait until I had a deck floor to put the ladder on. There are six light fixtures: two spotlights and four sconces. There’s also the outlet I need to install for my air conditioning compressor; most of the wire has been run and I just need to put in an outlet. (Note to self: call HVAC guy to ask where he wants the outlet. And maybe encourage him to take his man-lift home?) Total time for all electrical work needed to be finished: 3-4 hours, mostly because of some additional conduit I need to run.
  • Install hand rail for stairs. I keep forgetting this one. I suspect I’ll use the dowels that were curtain rods in my old home for this job. So glad I packed them and took them with me — it’ll save me a bunch of money. Total time for this job: about 2 hours.
  • Install doorknobs and locks on fire doors. I was required to have 20-minute rated fire doors between my garage and my living space. There are two of them in the entrance vestibule at the bottom of the stairs. A friend helped me install them well over a month ago and I bought the doorknobs. Don’t know why I haven’t installed them yet. Total time for this task: 1-2 hours.
  • Finish shower stall. I’m actually not sure if this is required for the county. The shower plumbing works, but there’s no enclosure to keep the water in if I used it. This is going to be a bit of an involved task that will take at least 2-3 days. Not only do I need to erect the acrylic block walls I bought, but I need to tile the back wall. And I hate doing tile work. If this isn’t required, I’ll shift it to the list below.

Finish Items

Finish items are the things I need to do to make the house more cosmetically pleasing or functional. They’re not required for final inspection and, therefore, should be done after those higher priority items. This list is extremely long, but I’ve managed to list the ones I want done before the Good Life crew come visit.

  • Doors. Right now, I don’t have any interior doors. Even my bathroom has nothing more than a curtain — and that’s just because I assume my guests would want some semblance of privacy when using the facilities. I need the following doors: bathroom, linen closet, coat closet, bedroom closet. I would also consider doors for the laundry room and pantry, although I think both could be handled with a nice curtain. This will require me to order the doors, wait for them to arrive, pick them up, and install them. I have no idea how long this will take or whether it’s something I can do on my own.
  • Windowsills. I have eleven windows that are deep set into the walls and need window sills. I’m going to make them out of wood. I figure it’ll take me about 3 hours to measure and cut them and then a total of 3 hours to apply stain and two layers of urethane. And then another 2 hours to install them. Of course, none of the wood working projects can be done at one shot — they all need time for the stain and urethane to dry.
  • Ledge around stairwell wall. My stairs are open on top with a wall around them. The top of the wall is unfinished. A woodworking friend will be making a custom ledge to top the wall. He’s coming tomorrow to measure and discuss his ideas with me. With luck, he’ll have them finished and ready to install in a week or so.
  • Wood trim. There’s a gap of 1/8 to 1/2 inch between the Pergo flooring and the walls. That has to be covered with wood trim. I’m using 1×4 lumber that I stain and urethane. I really need to get my act together and get this done. I’m probably looking at a total of 3 days worth of time to prep the wood, measure, cut, and install. A friend loaned me his nail gun so installation should be relatively painless — if I measure and cut right!
  • More wood trim. If I don’t put doors on the pantry and laundry room, I’ll need to trim out the openings. I’ll use ripped 1x6s with 1×2 or 1×3 framing. All this wood needs to be prepped, measured, cut, and installed. I’m thinking a whole day’s worth of time for this.
  • Move in furniture. I don’t think I’m allowed to move my furniture in until I get my CO, but I could be wrong. I’ll find out for sure this week. I’d like to get most of the furniture in so the place actually looks like a home. Most important: bedroom and living room furniture.
  • Get the front yard in shape. I need to reseed and mow the lawn, put in irrigation, and plant vegetables in my front yard planter boxes. I really should get that done soon so it looks good for photos.

These are the important items — the ones I need to make my home look like a relatively finished home for the Good Life crew. There are other things I need to do as well: ladder for the loft, window treatment for the bathroom, shelves/rods in the bedroom closet, shelves in the linen closet, towel rods in the bathroom — the list goes on and on. That’s one of the best things of putting together a new home: the little projects that come with it. Once cherry season starts, I’m pretty much stuck here so I’ll have plenty of time to get these things done. My goal is to be 95% finished by September.

And, as any homeowner can tell you, you can never be more than 95% finished with a home.

Cherry Drying, Cockpit Distractions, and Safety

My thoughts.

Today I had to withdraw a cherry drying contract from a pilot who wanted to fly for me because he insisted on being allowed to have a “pilot friend” fly with him during cherry drying missions.

Because more than half of the cherry drying crashes in this area have occurred with two people in the cockpit, this is something I simply don’t allow — and I specifically forbid it in the contact terms.

Why Just One Pilot?

I blogged about this back in June 2012. There had been a crash with a fatality just a few days before. Two pilots had been on board, although the dual controls were reportedly not installed. The aircraft hit wires and crashed into the trees. The passenger was killed; the pilot sustained serious injuries. In my blog post, I raised the question of cockpit distractions.

The previous July (2011), there had been three crashes during cherry drying work. Of the three, two of them occurred with two people on board.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Although performance might not be an issue in an R44 — which the guys who work for me fly — in these flying conditions, distractions can be. Cherry drying is done in an obstacle rich environment just a few feet over the tops of trees.

Cherry Drying Near Wires
Wires and poles and trees, oh my!

So many pilots whine about the danger of flying in “the deadman’s curve.” That’s not my concern when I’m hovering with my skids brushing the treetops. My concern is wires and wind machines and bird houses on poles and tall trees bordering the orchard. I’ve struck a pine tree branch with my main rotor blade and trimmed a treetop with my tail rotor. That’s how close I can get — which is obviously too close — to obstacles that could easy damage my aircraft enough to bring it down into the trees.

Now imagine having a chatty friend on board. Or the dual controls installed and someone “following along” with you on an instructional flight. Is this a good idea when you need to keep focused?

I don’t think so. I think it’s dangerous and I won’t allow it.

Training

The argument I hear most often about why two pilots should be allowed to fly cherry drying missions is training. How can a new pilot learn the ropes unless he experiences the flight?

Easy: teach him on a nice clear day, when weather is not an issue and there isn’t an orchard owner on the ground freaking out because he’s worried about losing his cherry crop. A day when there’s no stress and no demands to get the job done quickly and move on to the next orchard. A day when rain isn’t making the cockpit bubble nearly impossible to see through and you have to worry about the flight path of the other helicopter on the next orchard block.

Start with an overview at an obstruction-free orchard and show how you scout for obstacles in a new orchard and determine where to start work. Descend slowly and start your instructional passes high, showing the student how the downwash affects the trees. Work your way down to the point where the future cherry drying pilot should be flying.

Of course, you’re doing all this after some ground training where you’ve already sketched out how the job is done and discussed all aspects of the work.

This is how I learned to dry cherries. I spent 2 hours talking about the work with an experienced cherry drying pilot and some notepaper that we sketched all over. Then we flew for about an hour over some uniformly tall trees and practiced various maneuvers.

And this is how I teach new pilots to dry cherries. In a controlled, stress-free environment.

So the argument that having a pilot on board during an actual cherry drying mission is the only way to teach him simply doesn’t fly with me. (Okay, pun intended.)

Is This a Contract Killer?

Is the one person vs. two people on board argument worth preventing a contract agreement? Apparently, the pilot I withdrew the contract from and I think it is.

In his words, “If this is not possible I don’t see this working for my business.” That makes me wonder about his “pilot friend.”

It seems to me that a friend should understand that when you have work to do, he needs to stand aside and let you do it. I have friends who fly fire contracts and power line contracts and heavy lift contracts and spray contracts. I am one of their “pilot friends.” I’d love to experience one of these flights first hand. But I know that (1) their employers most likely prohibit fly-alongs for pretty much the same reason I do and (2) my presence could jeopardize our safety or their job. So I don’t even ask and they don’t offer.

The claim that having only one person on board won’t work for his business makes me wonder whether there’s some financial gain to be had from having that second pilot on board. Would that other pilot be paying for that flight time, perhaps as a student? In that case, it’s “double-dipping,” pure and simple — being paid by two separate parties for work on one mission. And frankly, there’s a bit too much of that in this industry for my taste.

I pay a generous per-hour flight rate for cherry drying work. The rate is considerably higher than any charter or utility rate a pilot could charge for flying the same helicopter. I pay that because the work is risky and because that’s what the market will bear. Isn’t this enough to head off any need for double-dipping?

As for me, I want my pilots safe and their flights accident-free. I can’t serve my clients when one of my pilots crashes in an orchard and his helicopter is put out of commission. It’s my goal to minimize the risk — that’s why I require pilots with at least 500 hours of flight time and at least 100 hours in the helicopter they’re flying. That’s why I don’t allow two people in the cockpit when flying in an obstacle-rich environment.

It’s not all about money and milking the system to maximize revenue. It’s about the safe and reliable performance of a mission to best serve clients — and live to fly another day.

Construction: Deck Overview Video

A Periscope video captured and shared.

On May 20, 2014, I began blogging about the construction of my new home in Malaga, WA. You can read all of these posts — and see the time-lapse and walkthrough movies that go with many them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

I’ve been experimenting a bit with Periscope lately. That’s a Twitter-owned app that makes it possible to do live video broadcasts. Although the vast majority of what’s on there is utter crap, there are a few accounts with live broadcasts of very interesting material. (My personal favorite is the Department of Interior (@Interior), which seems to have embraced Periscope as a way to show off our national parks and monuments.) Like Twitter, it’s all about who you follow.

Deck Construction
My front deck is just about done.

While I don’t think my broadcasts are so interesting, they are a way for me to share what’s going on in my life with folks who might be interested — and to answer questions that they type in while the broadcast is going on.

Although Periscope only saves broadcasts for 24 hours, the video I record is also saved on my phone and can be copied to my computer. From there, it can be edited and shared to non-Periscope users. That’s what the following video is.

In this video, I offer a narrated overview of the work I’m doing on my deck. The front deck, which measures 10 x 30, is just about done; I still haven’t started the side deck, which is 6 x 48. I haven’t done the railings yet, but hope to get them started this weekend. In the video, I discuss the materials and tools I’m using and why I made some of the decisions I made. The wind machines in nearby orchards were going while I recorded and you can hear them in the background sounding a lot louder than they really do.

The only drawback I see to recording in Periscope and then sharing is that Periscope seems to severely limit the resolution of what it records. As a result, any Periscope video I share on my blog is at only 240 pixel resolution which, quite frankly, sucks.

Spring Day from My Deck Time-Lapse

A windy spring day.

I set up my GoPro on a tripod on the deck outside my bedroom door for a time-lapse on Monday before dawn. Unfortunately, Monday was a rather ugly day — cloudy and kind of dreary. The resulting time-lapse would not have been share-worthy.

So I left the GoPro running and captured enough images for a 4 AM to 10 PM time-lapse on a much prettier — but windier — day. Can you see the point where the wind blew over my tripod? (I deleted the shot of my deck roof.)

Should have set this to music but I didn’t. Sorry!

I’ll try this again in a few weeks with the image zoomed in a bit. I thought I’d set it right for this one, but apparently I didn’t.

Taking “Home Made” to New Levels

I realize that I can take home-cooking to extremes.

French Toast Breakfast
My home-made/grown bread, eggs, and honey went into this.

This morning, I made French toast for breakfast. For most people, that’s not a big deal — French toast is easy enough to make. But I realized that my French toast went beyond what most people would consider a home-cooked meal for a few reasons:

  • I baked the bread.
  • The eggs came from my chickens.
  • The honey I put on top came from my bees.

The only thing related to my plate that I didn’t make or grow was the cooking spray I used in the pan and the fresh strawberries. In two months, the strawberries will come from my garden.

While anyone with an oven (or bread machine) and a tiny bit of skill (or ability to follow directions for a bread mix) can make their own bread — and I highly recommend it! — I agree that raising chickens or keeping bees is not for the average person. So no, I’m not trying to tell you to follow my lead here. I’m just pointing out that it’s possible to have better control over what you eat.

And the results can be delicious.