Construction: The Windowsills

Something a little different for a different kind of home.

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 movies that go with many them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

I’ve been living in my new home for about a year and a half now and although I’ve had my Certificate of Occupancy since this past spring, I’m still not quite done with the finishing touches. The windowsills were one of the projects I recently finished. I documented my work with video as I finished up.

The Backstory

Most people have their homes built by builders who are managed by a general contractors. At the end of the project, the general contractor hands over a set of keys to a finished home. For my home, I was the general contractor. Whatever I didn’t hire someone else to do, I had to do myself. While this saved me a bunch of money, what’s better is that it gave me an opportunity to add custom design elements that most general contractors couldn’t be bothered with. My windowsills are a very good example of this.

My building is a “pole building” built with post and beam construction. That means the building’s frame literally hangs on a series of thick, pressure-treated 6×8 or 8×8 posts. When the framers came to frame the inside of my living space, I had two options: frame just the inside walls and allow those wooden posts to appear on inside walls or frame the entire living space so the drywall would hide those posts. The posts weren’t very attractive, so I chose to hide them. This means that they had to frame a secondary wall inside the outer wall, creating a relatively wide space between the inner and outer walls. This was great for insulation purposes — I could fit much thicker insulation in that wall than was required by building codes. But it also left deep wells at each window.

Framed Windows
This photo was shot back on December 29, 2014 when I was working on interior wiring. It’s a pretty good illustration of how the framers framed my interior walls inside my building shell. This is my living room; my TV is currently in that corner.

Insulated Wall
This is one of my living room windows after the insulation was put in place in mid January 2015.

When the drywall guys came, I had two choices. I could have them drywall the entire window well, including the bottom part, or I could leave the bottom part unframed and install wooden windowsills later on. I thought back to my old home, which used the first method for its relatively shallow window wells. When windows were left open in the rain or windows leaked — which was a problem with one window not long after we bought the home — the drywall windowsill was damaged and required a professional drywall guy to patch. I wanted to avoid that, so I went with installing wooden window sills later on. I should mention that my four clearstory windows, which are high on my south-facing walls, do have finished drywall window sills. But they’re rarely opened so I’m not worried about damage.

Drywalled and Painted
Here’s one of my living room windows on February 15, 2015, not long after being drywalled and painted. (If you’re interested in seeing what the drywall work looked like as it was being done, be sure to check out the walkthrough video in this blog post. And this blog post includes a video of my kitchen, after installation but before the windowsills were installed.)

So this was what I was left with. Ugly, huh?

The Solution

My first attempt at wooden windowsills used 1×10 and 1×12 lumber that I cut to fit. This turned out to be a difficult job, mostly because the framer (and the dry wall guy) hadn’t created uniformly sized or shaped window wells. Getting the wood to fit perfectly and look good was a nightmare and, as you might expect, I procrastinated about getting the job done. When I finally did it, it looked like crap — at least in my opinion. I started regretting the wooden windowsill decision.

First attempt at a windowsill
This is my first attempt at a windowsill back in March 2015 — it’s the original one in my office area. There were no right angles in the window wells, making cutting the wood to fit perfectly nearly impossible.

Time went on. I cut wooden planks to fit most of the window wells as best as I could. I didn’t like the way it looked, but it looked a lot better than nothing at all.

More time passed. Lots of time. My friend Don built a custom wood cap out of driftwood logs for my stairwell that got rave reviews from everyone who saw it. I asked him to build some furniture for my living room: end tables, a TV table, and a coffee table. He used reclaimed wood and left natural edges. He finished everything with tung oil. They looked great; you can see them in a video in this blog post. He told me about some logs he’d had planed into planks. I talked to him about my windowsills. He asked me how many planks I needed. I told him eight — one for each of my great room windows. He came by one day and delivered 8 raw planks of wood.That was sometime in the autumn of 2015; I don’t know the exact date because I don’t have a photo of the delivered stack of wood, which lay across a pair of sawhorses in my garage. For months.

The trouble was, I didn’t know what to do with the wood. So when Don asked me this past summer how the project was going, I told him I was waiting for his help. So he set a date in July and when that date rolled around, we got to work.

The Job

Don did the first two windowsills for me, start to finish, while I watched and learned.

Wood Plank
A typical wood plank. We began working it by closing up cracks, then cutting off a live edge for the back of the windowsill, trimming its length, and shaping its front edge.

Repaired crack
One of the cracks after gluing it. After scraping away the solid foam and sanding it, the crack disappeared.

The process began with repairing cracks in each piece of wood. The wood had arrived wet and had been stacked horizontally on sawhorses with each row of planks separated by some scrap lumber so they could dry. Cracks along the grain had formed in some of the logs. Don wasn’t concerned. He’d already developed a workable solution for this problem, which he encountered quite often. We wet down both sides of the crack, filled it with Gorilla Glue, and then used clamps to close up and hold the cracks together. Overnight, the glue would set, leaving orangish solidified foam on the outside, That would be scraped away and sanded down with the plank later in the process.

Then we needed to match a wood plank to a window. The planks were all longer than they needed to be, but they came in two basic widths. The wide ones needed to be used for the five north-facing windows while the narrower ones could be used for the east-facing windows, which weren’t quite as deep. We had to pick which side should be the top and which edge should be on the outside, facing the room.

Then Don made a template out of cardboard pieces for a specific window. This had the exact length, including the weird angles, and the depth, including the outer edge. We’d bring that downstairs and he’d lay it on the chosen plank, outline where he needed to cut. Then, using a circular saw, he’d cut off one live edge of the wood to form a straight back edge. He’d also trim the length of the plank and then, using the circular saw and a handsaw, cut the shape of the front with an overhang past the edge of the windowsill area.

Then we’d go back upstairs to see if it fit. And back downstairs to make some adjustments. And back upstairs to see if it fit. Repeat as necessary. When Don was satisfied, we came back downstairs to finish the live edge. That required using a special cutting tool to carve away the bark and shape the exposed edge of the wood. This is where it got artistic and Don did a fine job (as I expected). Finally, he used an orbital sander to sand the top and outer edges of the plank.

When it was just the way he wanted it, we brought it back upstairs, fit it into place one more time to be sure, and then removed it. Rather than use screws or pegs to affix it into place, he took out his trusty Gorilla Glue and spray bottle, moistened the wood, applied glue to both the unfinished windowsill area and the bottom side of the new windowsill, and slipped it back into place. We used a combinations of rags for padding and lengths of wood to hold the windowsills down until the glue could cure — at least 12 hours.

Don did two of these that first day. I paid close attention. He came back the next day and did the rough cuts for a few more, leaving all the finish work to me. A week later, he dd the last two. I paid him for the wood and his time. The rest was up to me.

Two Windowsills
This photo shows two of my windowsills. The one on the left was completely finished and installed by Don. All it needed was to be oiled. The one on the right is cut to size but not finished. I had to carve out the live edge (removing the bark) and sand it down before gluing it into place.

With the window framing exposed again — we’d taken off my makeshift windowsills — I was motivated to finish up. So although I had a bunch of other stuff going on — including the end of cherry season and a vacation in my new truck camper — I went to work at it and eventually got it all finished up. Along the way, I shot some video clips of the work I had to do. I put them all together in this video, so folks could get an idea of what had to be done. It’s a little long, but it covers all the steps I took.

By the way, I’m finding that creating and saving these videos in my blog is a great way for me (and others) to look back on the progress I’ve made in building my home. As I wrote this blog post, I stopped to watch some of the videos I linked to here. It was not only great tp see things partially done again, but interesting to hear my narration of plans — some of which changed over time. What a great way to document the evolution of this challenging and lengthy project!

Construction: The Garage Shelves

It was a mess. Now it’s not.

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 movies that go with many them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

I need to start by reminding readers that I have a very large garage. The 60 x 48 footprint is split into a four car garage (24 x 48), a double-wide RV garage (24 x 48), and a shop/general storage area (12 x 48). If you’re doing math, that’s 2880 square feet.

Of garage.

Woody Says
My friend Woody wrote this on my big white board during my moving party back in 2014. He wasn’t kidding.

The great thing about a big garage is that there’s plenty of space to store stuff. The bad thing about a big garage is that there’s plenty of space to store stuff.

I’m doing what I can to keep the garage organized, but even though most things have their place, that place isn’t exactly neat and orderly.

It Started with the Bungee Cords

The other day, I decided to clean up and sort out my bungee cords and ratchet tie downs — you wouldn’t believe how many I have because even I’m having trouble believing it.

I’d been racking my brains on a solution that would enable me to hang them neatly in order of size in a place that was out of the way. That’s when I remembered the curtain rods. When I lived in my Arizona house, I’d bought a few really nice ones. I wasn’t about to leave them behind — not even with shrimp stuffed in them (look it up) — so I packed them. Of course, I don’t have curtains on my windows here so I don’t need curtain rods. They remained wrapped up in bubble wrap in a corner of the garage.

Bungees
Some of my bungees and tie downs and ropes after putting up the curtain rod. I found a bunch more here, there, and everywhere the next day. The horizontal wooden beams are called girts, by the way. I live in a post & beam building. Beyond the vapor barrier is the metal exterior of my building. The car garage is not insulated.

I unwrapped the living room rod and grabbed a bungee cord. Sure enough, its hook fit neatly over the narrow black rod. A half hour later, the rod was hung on one of the girts in my Jeep garage — each garage bay is assigned a vehicle; the Jeep is in the first bay — and I was taking great joy in arranging my bungee cords and ratchet tie-downs. And ropes and straps.

The Shelves Came Next

I started thinking about how stupid it was to have all that dead space right below the bungee cords. How about a couple of shelves?

Big Shelves
This was the first set of shelves I built for the garage. (Tiny dog for scale.) They’re free-standing and very heavy duty. And just plain heavy. I made two more shorter sets and a workbench with two shelves based on the same design. The RV garage/shop is insulated.

I should mention here that I’ve created shelves elsewhere in my garage. The biggest project was a set 8 feet long and 8 feet tall made of 5/8 plywood and 2 x4 lumber. It was quite a chore to build them, which I did with them lying down on the floor. When I tried to stand them up, I couldn’t. I had to wait for a friend to come by and lure him down into the garage — which was about as difficult as it sounds. (Men love my garage.)

I had limited space in the car garages, though. After all, I had to fit the cars in. Each garage bay is about 12 feet wide. There aren’t any walls between them — it’s one big open space. I knew I could fit shelves that were about 12 inches deep. (The big ones are 24 inches deep.) And I realized that I could build them in place, right against the wall, using the tops of the girts as supports for the shelves. That would save another inch and a half because each shelf could go right up against the exterior metal walls.

So I went to Home Depot and bought a sheet of about 1/2 inch plywood. While I was there, I saw a really nice piece of sanded 1/2 inch plywood that was in the cull pile because of a nasty scratch in one corner. But 70% off? A $35 sheet of wood for $10? No brainer! I brought both pieces over to the big wood cutter and got a Home Depot guy to cut each of them into 8 foot x 1 foot strips. Then I picked up a few 2x4s, along with some very nice 2×3 cull pieces and a long 2×4 cull piece. I don’t see anything wrong with using cull lumber to build shelves in a garage.

Did I mention that I also returned a bunch of lumber I’d bought about a year before but never used? The return completely covered the cost of the new lumber, as well as some additional screws and other supplies I needed in my shop. I threw everything into the back of the pickup, hung a red flag on the long 2×4, ran a few errands, and went home to make dinner with a friend.

The next morning, I really should have tended to my bees, but my truck was blocking my quad and I figured it would be best for me to offload the lumber and move the truck. Or maybe just offload the lumber and build the shelves to get the lumber completely out of the way.

So I did.

Let me explain a little bit about how a post and beam building — or pole building — is constructed. They start by digging holes in the ground and planting vertical posts. My building is made with a combination of 6×6 and 6×8 pressure treated posts. Then they nail the girts in horizontally, 24 inches on center. Next, they put the roof trusses atop the posts. They add rafters to finish framing out the roof. They cover that with insulation or a vapor barrier or both and then screw on the metal skin. They pour the concrete slab last — if the building has one (mine does). If you’re interested in seeing my building built in a time-lapse movie, be sure to check out this blog post.

The posts are usually 12 feet apart. In the bungee cord area, however, the distance between the door to my stairwell and the first post was only 7 feet. The reason: the front door and entrance vestibule is also on that wall. So the shelves needed to be just 7 feet long.

I dragged the saw horses my friend Bob had made me — they’re taller than standard sawhorses and much nicer to use — to the driveway outside the garage door, which I opened. I used my circular saw to make the cuts; later, I used my miter saw and table saw to get cleaner cuts when needed. And bit by bit I assembled the pieces I needed to build a short set of shelves with just a top and bottom shelf. The bottom shelf needed two cut outs — one for an electrical outlet (long story) and the other for the pipe for the outside hose bib. I got to use my new 1-1/2-inch hole saw, which I’d actually bought for a beehive project.

Bungee wall with shelves
Here’s my bungee cord wall with the new shelves. I arranged all the tools I used for the project on the shelves.

I had to make a few blocks out of scrap wood to support various components of the shelves as I assembled them and screwed them together. I drilled pilot holes — I always do a neater job when there’s a hole predrilled for a screw. I used two 2×2 lengths that had been sitting around forever for the front horizontal shelf supports. These were small shelves so they didn’t need to be very heavy duty.

When I was done, I realized that I also needed a center vertical support. So I used a piece of scrap wood leftover from my windowsill project. Done.

And Then More Shelves

The truck wasn’t empty yet. I still had plenty of wood. I also had a really messy wall at the front of that garage bay. And time.

Old ShelvesHere’s the old shelves with a bunch of car stuff on them. This whole area looks like crap here — and this was after I’d moved some trim wood stored there.

A long time ago, I’d bought a very heavy duty bookshelf for my books. I have a lot of books. I don’t remember if this shelf was from my New Jersey home or if I got it for the office I had at my condo in Wickenburg for a while. In any case, it eventually made its way to my Wickenburg hangar where I stored a lot of stuff on it. When I moved from Wickenburg to an East Wenatchee hangar and eventually to my new home in Malaga, the shelves came with me. I’d put them in the front of that garage bay and was using it to store miscellaneous auto-related stuff.

But it looked like crap.

I texted a friend of mine who has rental properties. Want an old bookshelf in decent condition? I sent a picture. Sure, she answered. Send a man with a truck, I told her. (She’d also taken my old Sony Trinitron off my hands.)

I took all the things off the shelves and used a hand truck to move the shelves over to a spot between Bay 2 (Honda S2000) and Bay 3 (Ford truck). Hopefully, the man with the truck will come within a few days. I swept. And then I got to work.

Four shelves, no shelf cutting needed because 8 feet was fine. I ripped two 2x4s on my table saw and used them for horizontal supports for the front of the shelves. Then I cut 2 2x4s to 79 inches and started piecing all of it together.

Penny and Sheep
I had to crop the heck out of this cell phone photo. My truck mirror is on the right.

And that’s when Penny started barking like a little nut. I went out to investigate. She was halfway down the driveway at a standoff with a bighorn sheep. After some more barking, she spooked it and it bounded off. And then a dozen of its friends shot out of my side yard after it. There had been a whole herd of them less than 100 yards from where I was working and I didn’t even know it.

I took a break for lunch. I saw the sheep again later. They got very close. I got photos. But I’ll save that for another blog post.

I eventually got back to work. Again, I had to cut supports as I mounted each shelf. But once I got the hang of it, it went very quickly. I was done within an hour.

I put away my tools and set about organizing car and motorcycle-related stuff on the new shelves. I found a garage door opener for my old house. I found the stock mats that had come with my old Ford F350. (It had custom rubber mats so these were brand new; I photographed them and put them on Craig’s List.) I walked around my whole garage, looking for anything remotely car or motorcycle related and moved it to the shelves. I still had lots of space to fill.

I had some extra wall space between the shelves and the garage door. I measured a crate I had in my shop and moved it into position. I cut a piece of wood to give it a sold top. Then I moved my gas cans and spare propane bottle onto it. It made sense to keep stuff like that near the door where it could be quickly removed.

I found a few more bungee cords and put them away.

I spent some time admiring my handiwork. I might be the Queen of Clutter, but it isn’t by choice. If everything has a place, everything can be put away. The trick is finding a place for everything. Now I have a place for my car stuff.

Finished Garage Shelves
These shelves look a lot nicer than the mess I had there before.

Up Next

Before I called it quits for the day and went upstairs to get cleaned up, I took a look at the wall in Bay 4. That’s where my little boat and motorcycle live. It’s a big mess and could really use some shelves. I’m thinking it might be a good place to organize all of my extra beekeeping equipment.

Looks like I’ll be hitting Home Depot for more lumber again.

Footnote

After writing this and posting it and then re-reading it online, I started thinking about all the work I’d done to build these shelves — and to do all the other things I’ve done as part of the construction of my home. A lot of it is difficult, challenging work that requires me to use my brains as well as my physical strength to get a project done. A lot of people would shy away from work like this and either hire someone else to do it or not do it at all. I know this from experience; so many projects at my Arizona house just didn’t get done. Or got done the way a contractor did them — which might not be the way it should have been done to meet needs.

Doing things like this myself is a task and a challenge I really look forward to. I don’t have a regular job that requires me to show up at an office or sit at a desk and make calls all day. My time is infinitely flexible. I could spend it sleeping all day or watching television or just goofing off. Yet many days, I choose to spend my time working hard on projects like this. The way I see it, there are four benefits:

  • I get the thing done and get the benefits of that. In this case, I’ve got a bunch of neat, new storage spaces where I used to have a wall with a lot of stuff piled up on it.
  • I save money on what it would have cost to hire someone to do the job. It’s a lot cheaper for me to spend a few hours on a project like this than to pay a carpenter to do it. It’s not like I don’t have the time.
  • I learn new techniques, often through trial and error. The things I learn can be applied to other projects. The way I see it, if I can’t learn something every day, why bother getting out of bed?
  • I get an amazing feeling of satisfaction every time I look at something I created with my own hands. My home is full of things like this. Read my construction posts to see what I’ve done; I’m proud of every single project I finished.

The people who think I’m doing these things because I’m cheap or bored are completely missing the point. They likely haven’t taken on projects like these, projects that can meet a specific need and give them so much satisfaction for every minute of effort put into them. It’s not difficult if you think it through and have the right materials and tools. Dare I say it? It’s fun.

Try it sometime and see for yourself.

The Sun Shades

A solution to a “problem” I’d hoped I wouldn’t have.

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 movies that go with many them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

Earlier in June, I finally broke down and ordered sun shades for my home.

My living space has 15 windows, 11 of which are 4 feet wide by 5 feet tall and, as positioned, offer a nearly unobstructed view of what’s outside. (The others 4 are 6 feet wide and 3 feet tall up near the ceiling facing south.) Because I have no close neighbors and no worries about people looking in, I don’t have any curtains or shades. The result: my home is very bright with natural light during daylight hours.

Great Room at First Light
My great room, looking west northwest, shot from my desk at first light. The number and placement of windows offers an almost unobstructed view of what’s outside beyond my deck.

This isn’t perfect, however. (What is?) While the 7 north-facing windows are shaded by the roof over my deck on that side, the 3 east-facing and 1 west-facing windows are not. This time of year, I get a lot of direct sun into the east windows in the morning and into the west window in the afternoon. Although this tends to raise the temperature in my living room (morning) and bedroom (afternoon), that’s not really a problem — my air conditioning and ceiling fans can handle that. What is a problem is that I can’t work comfortably at my desk in the morning with the sun shining in my face. I’m also slightly concerned about the affect of direct sun on my living room’s red leather sofa and bedroom’s brown leather sofa and the various antique and heirloom items I own.

Solution: sun shades: shades that offer some filtering of the sun without completely blocking out the view. These are extremely popular in Arizona, where the sun can be brutally strong, especially in the summertime. I had a set at my home there for afternoon relief on the west-facing downstairs patio. Those were off-the-shelf roll-up shades from Home Depot that were admittedly cheap and ill-fitting but did the job. I’d want something a lot nicer for my new home.

In the past, I’ve ordered blinds from Select Blinds, a great source of blinds, shades, and other window treatments. This is where I ordered faux wood blinds for the little windows in my Howard Mesa cabin in Arizona and cloth vertical blinds for the sliding glass doors on the Phoenix condo. These folks do great work at a good price. There’s always a sale or special deal.

This time around, I ordered inside mount sun shades that filtered out only 14% of sunlight, thus letting a lot of light through. I’d be able to see through them, even when they’re down. I figured I’d put them on the 3 east and 1 west windows and use them in the summer. If they were easy to remove from the mounting hardware, I’ll likely remove them for the rest of the year. I don’t want anything blocking my view.

What I liked a lot about the blinds I chose is that they didn’t have to be wound up or down with a cord. They were spring-loaded, just like the blinds my parents had in our house for privacy back in the 1960s. You could pull them down in any position and with a tug, let them retract back up. No cord to worry about getting sucked into my Roomba or tangled into the power cord for my router or TV.

As usual, there was a special deal. (Deals aren’t really “special” if they’re always available, but I’m not complaining.) This time it was 35% off plus an additional 10%, 15%, or 20% off depending on the order total. My order of four custom-sized blinds — each window opening is a little different, thanks to the slap dash nature of the window framing — qualified for the extra 15% off, bringing the order total to just $370, including shipping. I sincerely doubt I could have gotten a better deal locally

Weeks went by. I was out working in my garden when the FedEx Ground truck came and dropped off a long box. My blinds.

I got to work the next day. The first chore was to finish the seal between the window and drywall. Although the drywall guys had done a great job hanging a lot of drywall in my home and fitting it around windows to create the box-like effect I have, they did a crappy job of finishing. I had to buy paintable caulk, run beads in the joints, and smooth it with a neat little caulking tool I have just for that purpose. A bit of paint once the caulk had dried finished the job.

Bad Finish Better Finish
Left: typical bad joint between drywall and window frame. Most of my windows were like this. (Apparently, the general contractor (me), was supposed to hire a finish guy. Who knew? I guess I’m that guy.) Right: joint between window and frame after applying and smoothing caulk. A bit of paint made it perfect.

Drywall Anchor and Screw
An example of a drywall anchor and screw.

Installation of the blinds was easy. Although I used the mounting brackets they came with, I could not use the screws. I needed drywall anchors, since the screw positioning did not connect with any of the studs. No problem — I had suitable drywall anchors with corresponding screws leftover from another project that didn’t need the anchors. I measured and marked, drilled holes, tapped in anchors, positioned brackets, and screwed in fasteners. (Any job is easy when you’ve got the right tools.) Using the tags in each blind bag, I matched the blinds to the windows. There was a bit of a challenge getting the middle east blind in — they were all a tight fit — but some creative use of a hammer resolved the problem.

Blinds Down
With the blinds down, plenty of light comes through and I can still see what’s outside. Although the blinds are long enough to go down to the windowsill, I typically only lower them to the part that opens so air flow is not restricted.

Blinds Open
When the blinds are open, the roller at the top of the window frame is nearly invisible, so I don’t have to look at them at all.

The result was perfect — exactly what I wanted. Actually, even a little better, as these two photos of two east side windows illustrate.

When the blinds are down, the light is filtered just enough. I can sit at my desk and work comfortably to get things done, but there’s still plenty of that morning light to illuminate the room. And I can see right through the shades for a sort of gauzy view of what lies beyond.

When the blinds are up, they roll tightly to the top of the window. Because I chose a neutral color — a sort of linen white — they are nearly invisible. No need to remove them in the winter months — which is good because the hardware would be very noticeable without them. This is a total win-win for me because I really don’t want to see any window coverings on any of my windows unless they are in use. I don’t believe in “dressing” a window when the real beauty is outside.

Of course, I only need the blinds down on the east side in the early morning — say before 10 AM — starting about a month before the summer solstice and ending about a month afterwards. The same goes for the one west side window in my bedroom for the afternoon — say after 4 PM — although I tend to keep that one down all day long because I’m not usually in that room during the day.

In all, I think I found the perfect solution to a “problem” I was hoping I wouldn’t have. The sun shades do the job, look great, and weren’t outrageously expensive.

This is only one of the challenges I’m facing and working through as I put the finishing touches on my home. The loft rails, which I finished this past winter, was another. Coming up is a big one: the stairs to the loft. Now that I have all the materials I need to start working on them, I hope to be blogging about that soon.

Golden Hour at the Aerie

Two shots showcasing my home.

Even amateur photographers — or at least serious amateur photographers like me — know that the best time for landscape photography is during the so-called “Golden Hour.” This is the time of day roughly one hour after sunrise and roughly one hour before sunset when the sun’s light is soft and often golden in color. Long shadows provide depth which adds texture and highlights contours in land forms. Colors are skewed reddish, which can make everything look just better.

Construction on my home has been mostly done — I still have a few things to do inside like finishing trim and building a set of stairs to the loft — for a few months now. I got my official certificate of occupancy about two months ago. I recently did some outside work to clean up “the yard” and make it look presentable. I have ten acres but I really only maintain about an acre of it — the rest is natural vegetation: bunch grass, sagebrush, and wildflowers. It gets really green here in spring but starts to brown up by late May. This year, we’ve had just enough rainfall to really turn on the wildflowers and keep the grass green and gold. Really pretty.

Perfect for capturing some shots of my home to share with friends and family.

I got the first shot the other day. I happened to be down at my Lookout Point bench late in the afternoon when I looked back up at my home. The light was just right to illuminate the multitude of wildflowers that had grown between the bench and my building. Unfortunately, I’d left my Jeep and truck in front of their garage doors and that made the place look less than perfect. By the time I moved them and came back, the light would be gone. I decided to do it another day.

Afternoon Home
I like this shot the best, mostly because you can also see the nearly full moon in the sky above the cliffs.

That day came a few days later. I was inside, resting up from some minor surgery I’d had earlier in the day when I realized that the light was perfect. I grabbed my phone and ran down the stairs with Penny at my heels. We hurried down the path to Lookout Point and I turned around. Perfect!

I shot about 10 photos from different angles. This is the one I like the best.

I very seldom share this view of my home. The reason: it only photographs well in the afternoon in late spring, summer or early autumn. Other times, the cliffs to the south are in shadows.

This shot really shows off the beauty of the cliffs behind my home. They rise about 1,000 feet above my road and consist of basalt columns of rock laid down during Washington’s prehistoric volcanic past and carved away by ice age floods. My home sits on a shelf of tightly packed silt; the land drops away again toward the river to the north.

The vegetation up there, by the way, is ponderosa pine with the occasional aspen grove. I’ll be planting some of those on my property in the years to come. The irrigation lines to get them started are already laid.

This morning, the light and clouds were perfect again for a golden hour shot of the front of my home, which faces east. I didn’t mind the truck being parked on the concrete apron by the big RV garage door — although the truck does manage to make the 14 feet tall by 20 feet wide door look small. I grabbed my phone again and hiked up my driveway and partially up the road behind my home. I took just three shots from different angles. This was the middle one and I like it best.

Morning at Home
This shot, taken this morning, shows off the front and north side of my home, as well as the view beyond. The view, privacy, and quiet is what sold me on this building site when I first saw it back in 2012.

Every time I look at my home, I realize that none of it would have been possible if I’d stayed married to the sad sack old man who was living in a rut in Arizona. I’m sad for him — he would have really liked it here, maybe as much as I do — but I’m thrilled to have had the freedom to build the home I wanted and to live the lifestyle I’ve come to cherish.

Life is what you make it. If you want something badly enough, you need to make it happen. There’s nothing that says that more to me than my home here at the Aerie.

Two Years Ago Today

A photo reminds me of a personal milestone.

Two years ago today, on May 19, 2014, the builders broke ground on the construction of the home I’d designed for myself on 10 acres of view property in Malaga, WA. I’d bought the land the summer before, the day after my divorce decree was [finally] handed down from the judge. The building would utilize post and beam construction, commonly known as a pole building, to give me a 2,880 square foot garage/shop area and 1,200 square feet of living space with a 600 square foot deck. The goal: all my possessions under one roof with a comfortable, modern home that would showcase the amazing view.

After doing some prep work — bringing in temporary power, putting in a septic system, finalizing plans with the builder, and getting the building site prepped for construction — the four-man team that did 90% of the building construction work arrived with equipment and started digging. They dug 44 post holes that first day and had the posts set in concrete by the end of the next day.

This photo, which I stumbled upon this past weekend while digging up photos for another blog post, shows the workers digging that first hole. The auger did most of the work, but they did hit rocks that had to be removed by hand. Miraculously, this was the only hole with large rocks in it.

First Hole
X marks the spots where the holes needed to be dug. They only hit rocks on the first hole. The trusses for the RV garage roof are leaned up against the hill in this shot.

I was living onsite at the time, in my RV parked near the building site. I had a GoPro camera set up on top of it and made daily time-lapse videos of the work, which I shared on my blog starting on May 20, 2013. It was an exciting time — I was watching something I’d designed be built right before my eyes. I kept out of the way but took lots of photos. In the evening, after the crew left, I’d wander around the site and play with the equipment, sometimes using it to move dirt or easily climb to the second floor once it had been built.

Now, two years later, I’m living in that home with a Certificate of Occupancy as the County’s approval for not only my design and Western Ranch’s construction, but the hours of labor it took to turn a metal building shell into a home.

When I look at these old pictures of the place before my building existed, I find it hard to believe that I’ve come so far in such a short period of time. It’s amazing how much I can get done when there’s nothing holding me back.

This photo — and the blog posts and videos and other photos that document the work done — marks a milestone in my life, proof that I can move forward and make things happen — better than ever on my own.

It’s hard to believe that this photo was shot only two years ago.

Construction: The Loft Rails

One of the last big projects to finish prior to final inspection.

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 movies that go with many them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

The living space in my home is small — less than 1200 square feet. I designed it to have a vaulted ceiling which climbs from about 10 feet on the north side to 18-20 feet on the south side. (One of these days, I’ll measure it.) My floor plan is simple, with a large great room on the east side and the bedroom, bathroom, and laundry room on the west side. A hallway on the south side connects these two spaces.

Floor Plan
Here’s one of my working floor plans with some measurements. North is down in this image.

Because it made absolutely no sense to have 20-foot ceilings in the hallway and the bedroom closet and because I needed some way to access at least two of the four clear story windows at the top of the south wall (so I could open and close them for ventilation), I added a “storage loft” to the design. You can see it as the gray space in the above floor plan. While I was doing the design work, I envisioned this as a sort of shelf where I could store things that I didn’t want in the garage. But when the framing and drywall work was done, I wound up with a nice-sized room that I figured I’d use for my library — I have a lot of books, including 85 that I wrote — with a futon I had brought from Arizona that could be used for guests. Although the ceiling on the north side of the loft was only about 5-1/2 feet, there was plenty of headspace at the rest of the loft.

That put the loft into a sort of limbo area as far as the county’s building inspectors were concerned. It was clearly not a shelf, but it also was not a room. This was good and bad for me. Good, because I didn’t have to worry about putting in stairs, which I had not designed space for and bad because I still had to surround the entire loft with a guardrail that met county code specifications for height (at least 32″), openings (no larger than 4″), and durability (able to support the weight of a 250 pound person leaning against it. I basically had to build a rail like the one I’d put around my deck outside.

I was not looking forward to this job and, like most jobs I don’t want to do, I put it off. I put it off for a long time. Part of me was trying to figure out how to do it so it would be aesthetically pleasing — I didn’t want anything ugly in my home. The other part of me was just too damn tired of building. I’d already done a bunch of huge projects: I’d wired my shed, my shop, and my living space; I did 95% of the electrical finish work; I’d tiled the bathroom floor; I’d laid 1,200 square feet of Pergo flooring; I’d laid the composite decking and built rails for my 600 square foot deck; I’d set up shelves in various closets and rooms throughout my home; and I’d gotten about 75% finished with baseboard and door trim — a project that’s still in progress. I was worn out.

But putting a job off doesn’t make it go away. This was a job I needed to get done if I wanted a certificate of occupancy for my home — which I did. So by autumn 2015, I was trying to move it to the front burner of my life.

The Hard Part: Design

The hard part about the job was coming up with a solution that would not only be aesthetically pleasing but also allow airflow — some of my HVAC ductwork is up on the loft — be affordable, and be relatively easy to construct. Making that difficult was the fact that the larger of the two spaces was not rectangular, as shown in the above floor plan. I needed to make some adjustments during the framing stage to accommodate a ships ladder to access the loft. For various reasons, that required a sort of cut out. That meant that if I wanted to enclose the entire space, I’d have to have a rail that followed that cutout, with a gate at the top of the ladder.

I have to say that I wasted a lot of time thinking about that. And making measurements. And stressing over how I was going to adequately support each vertical post I needed when I didn’t really have anything to fasten it to. In the end, I decided to just run the rail straight across the top of the ladder, cutting off some of the loft’s floor space to form shelves. Since most of that space was in the low ceilinged area anyway, it wasn’t a big deal.

Railing
The railing system I originally bought. Ick.

As for how I’d build it, I started by looking at the easiest solution: a packaged railing system. Home Depot had one and I actually ordered enough to do the easier of the two rails: the one over the shelf in the bedroom. This was clearly a “shelf” — it was only 4 feet wide, over my closet and the linen closet — but because it was accessible from the larger part of the loft, it also had to be safeguarded with a rail. I bought a white metal railing kit on a special order from Home Depot and even managed to bring it all up to the part of the loft where it would be installed.

It sat there for at least four months. I just couldn’t bring myself to start installing it.

Why? It was ugly. It was designed for outdoors and it was white metal. Everything inside my building was mellow earth tones and wood. Why the hell would I put an ugly white metal railing inside my home?

Wire Railing
Another, more attractive but also more costly option for the railing.

I went to Marson and Marson, the folks who had sold me my doors and had also provided much of the building materials — trusses, lumber, posts, etc. — that the builders had used to build the shell of my home. Rita, the special order lady, priced up another solution: horizontal wire railings. The wire could be combined with hemlock — the same wood I’d chosen for my doors and door trim — for vertical supports and top rails to give me the look I wanted. But by the time she priced up the wire, the special hardware and tools needed to secure it, I was looking at thousands of dollars and a ton of work.

When I balked, Rita suggested another possibility to work with the wood: powder coated “hog panels” from a company called Wild Hog Railing. This would give me essentially the same look I had on my deck outside, but the powder-coated metal would be a bit more polished looking than galvanized wire. I ordered up some panels with black powder coating and then started to think about holding them all together.

The wood was easy. My doors were hemlock and I’d been trimming them with hemlock trim pieces I bought at Home Depot and cut to size. I’d finished the doors and the trim around them with Danish oil (at Rita’s suggestion) and I really liked the way they looked. On a trip to Home Depot, I realized that they sold hemlock lumber — 2x4s, 4x4s, etc. I’d use 2x4s for the top rail, bottom rail, and side rails affixed to the walls. I’d use 4x4s to create support posts on either side of the gate, in the main loft corner, and at the center of the bedroom loft.

Fixing the vertical supports to the walls wasn’t a big deal — I’d find studs or use anchors. But the four 4×4 posts were a problem. I needed a way to fix them to the floor. I’d been looking for appropriate hardware for months and had been coming up empty. But the folks at Marson came to the rescue. They suggested a pair of brackets for each post that could be attached with lag screws to the 4×4 and through the Pergo floor to the underlying wood floor. I bought eight of the brackets and a box of lag bolts.

Trouble was, the hardware was metal colored. The wire for the railings would be black. When I pointed this out to the guy at Marson who was helping me, he suggested getting them powder coated. So on my way home, I dropped them off at Cascade Powder Coating. They had a bit of a backlog, but thought they could have them done within two weeks. That worked fine for me, since I didn’t have the wire panels yet anyway. The total cost to powder coat the brackets and lag bolts: $70.

Putting It All Together

Once I’d assembled the panels, hardware, and lumber, it was just a matter of doing a lot of measuring, cutting, and assembling.

I figured that I’d fit the panels into a grove I’d cut on the inside of the supports. So I went out and bought a dado saw blade set. For my table saw. If you’re not familiar with dado saws, they basically make it possible to cut a groove of just about any width into a piece of wood. But on assembling my new dado blades to give me the right width, I realized that the plate covering the blades didn’t have enough of a gap for the blades. Some research made it clear why: my table saw could not be used with dado blades. This is one of the drawbacks of buying low-end, home improvement grade tools.

Grooves in Wood
I had the guide set so that I could run the wood through once in each direction to create two grooves like this.

I realized that I could simulate a dado set by running each piece of wood through the table saw’s regular blade two or three times, shifted a tiny bit over for each pass. So that’s what I did. It wasn’t difficult, but it certainly wasn’t fun. And, when I had to do the 11-foot long 2×4 length for my bedroom loft’s top rail, I had to wait until I had company who wasn’t afraid of table saws. (There was no way I could get that long piece through by myself.) My electrician friend Tom and one of his buddies, who’d come by to help me with an outlet for my new freezer, helped guide that long piece through the saw three times.

Grooved Wood
I then adjusted the guide and ran the wood through a third time to cut away the piece between the two grooves.

Here’s the process I followed to prepare each part of the wood frame:

  1. Measure the space to be fitted. Then measure again. Do something else and then come back and measure one more time.
  2. Cut a length of wood to size.
  3. Run the wood through the saw blade 3 times to cut the groove. I got really good at setting the guide bar on my saw.
  4. Sand the length of wood with 80 grit and 160 grit sandpaper using an orbital sander. I have a belt sander but don’t like to use it.
  5. Wipe all the sawdust off the wood with a damp cloth and allow to dry.
  6. Coat the exposed sides of the wood with 2-3 coats of Danish oil. Allow to dry between each coat.

Prepping the metal was more straightforward: all I had to do was cut it. Fortunately, I had a 36″ bolt cutter I’d used to cut the fencing for my chicken yard. Still, it was hard work to cut it accurately. And if I screwed up, I’d be looking at buying another $50 panel. So I was very careful.

Gate
The gate was my proof of concept. I think it came out pretty good.

I assembled all the panels with screws, with two in each corner. I drilled pilot holes in every single one. The gate was the first panel I finished, since it did not have to be affixed to the wall or floor. In a way, it was a proof of concept. I was pleased with the way it turned out.

The rest of the rail had to be installed in place. That meant doing a lot of measuring on the loft, cutting and finishing in my ground-floor shop, and then carrying pieces up the stairs and the ladder I’d put in place for temporary access. By this time, it was mid-December and cold downstairs. It was hard to stay motivated. For some reason, I got it in my head that I wanted final inspection done before year-end, so that drove me and I got a lot done very quickly.

I worked through the main loft in just a few days. I had it down to a science. For each section, I followed these steps:

  1. Install the vertical posts against the walls. I used 2x4s and ran the screws through the groove so they’d be invisible in the finished product.
  2. Posts
    Here’s the post at the top of the ladder. And yes, I screwed right through the Pergo. I know you’re not supposed to do that, but at that point, I really didn’t care.

    Install the freestanding posts. I used 4x4s and bolted each one in using two brackets and 8 lag bolts.

  3. Install the bottom rail. I used a pair of blocks cut from 2x4s to prop up the bottom rails while I screwed them into place.
  4. Measure, measure, measure, and cut the wire panels.
  5. Slide the cut panel into place.
  6. Set the top rail over the posts and wire panels and screw it into place.

Panel
Here’s the first panel installed.

I drilled pilot holes for every single screw I put in. I was not interested in splitting wood or stripping screws. I wanted it done right the first time. I had my drill set up with two drill bits I could quickly swap out and my impact driver set up with a screw driver bit and a socket that could be easily switched out. (Someone I knew once used to say that any job is easy if you have the right tools. It’s one of the few things he said that are worth remembering.) Because these tools are cordless, I didn’t have to deal with wires up there. But I did do a lot of crawling around on the floor.

I finished the main loft area just before I went away for Christmas. I go cross-country skiing up the Methow for Christmas. It’s become a bit of a tradition for me — this was my third Christmas away. Just me and Penny, winging it.

Loft Rails
Here’s what the main loft’s rails looked like before I went away for Christmas. The gate is installed and ajar. As you can see, I still have a bit of trim to do up there in the shelf area.

When I got back, I still had the bedroom loft rail to do. All I had installed was the side and central vertical posts. The wood was grooved and cut, but hadn’t been sanded or oiled. But by this point, I’d run out of steam and was thinking only about my upcoming snowbirding trip. It was unlikely any inspector would come during the week between Christmas and New Year. So any thoughts I had about having the project finished by the end of the year were gone. I figured that if it waited this long, it could wait a little longer.

So I left everything just as it was and went on my trip.

Bedroom Loft Rail
The finished loft rail in my bedroom. The top rail is one continuous piece 130 inches long. It’s the one I needed help getting through the saw three times.

My trip included a week home, mostly to relieve my house-sitter so she could go on a trip and to check on things. But while I was home that last week in January, I figured I may as well finish up the rail. It only took about 6 hours split over two days. And then I was done.

It’s a funny thing about the jobs I’ve done at my home. Before I even start, I spend a lot of time thinking about them, planning them out to minimize the chances of doing them wrong and then having to redo them. Then I eventually get to work and, in many cases, work on them for days or weeks or even longer. And then one day, I’m just done. It feels weird to be done because I’ve been so consumed with the project, thinking about it and working on it for so long that there’s suddenly a hole in my life when I don’t have it to work on anymore.

But then I get on to the next project and it’s all forgotten.

Construction: Some Memorabilia

It might sound goofy, but I framed the pants I wore throughout most of my construction project.

Maria the Electrician
My pants didn’t look nearly as ratty here as they ended up.

Back in January, 2015, in a blog post about wiring my home, I shared a photo of myself dressed for winter wiring work inside my future home. In the photo, I was wearing a pair of Levi’s that would become my official work pants. Over the following months, I’d slowly but surely destroy them simply by wearing them while working.

They became my work pants when I wiped spray form insulation on them. Do you know the stuff I’m talking about? It comes in a can and you spray it through a narrow straw into cracks. I was working in the autumn of 2014 with my friend Barbara, spraying foam into the cracks around my windows and the doors to my deck. I got some of the spray on my finger and wiped it on my pants. Not sure why I did that — I should have known that it would never come off. It became a crusty yellow stain on the outside of my left thigh.

The pants, which I’d gotten from my brother for Christmas in 2012, already had a patched hole in the left thigh. The hole had manifested itself early on, almost as if by design. I know it’s fashionable — or maybe it was fashionable? — to have torn jeans, but I prefer mine intact. But this hole was just the first of many in that leg. (They don’t seem to make jeans the way they used to.) I patched them with iron-on patches as quickly as they appeared, but I never seemed to keep up with them.

Jeans in May
Here’s what the jeans looked like on May 7, 2015.

On May 7, I shared another photo of the jeans, this time on Facebook. My update text read:

Heavily patched and washed three times each week, I’m determined to make these designated work pants last until my home is done. I might frame them when I’m done.

I think I was kidding about the framing.

Jeans in June
Here’s a closeup of the torn up leg on June 1, 2015.

On June 1, I shared a closeup of the torn pants leg stretched out on my red leather sofa. I couldn’t seem to prevent them from ripping. By this point, the fabric on the legs and butt was so thin that I had to be careful putting them on. I said:

It’s a good thing this project is almost done — I don’t think these pants would last through many more washings.

Somewhere along the line, I’d managed to get paint on them. That was okay. The best thing about work pants is that you don’t have to worry about getting them dirty. They become the rag you don’t have handy when you need a rag. It kind of reminds me of when I was a kid and my dad painted houses as a second job. His old police work pants became his painting pants and were soon covered with all colors of paint.

Retired Jeans
I took what I thought would be the final photo of the jeans in August 2015. You can see the original yellow insulation stain on the back side of the left leg’s outer seam.

By August 31, it was all over — even though my construction project wasn’t. (To be fair, it was mostly done and I’d gone into a slow motion completion mode fueled by procrastination, which I excel at.) I shared a photo on Facebook with the comment:

After much soul- searching, I have decided to permanently retire my work pants.

The comments came quickly.

One person (Mandy H) suggested cutting them up and sewing them together as a bag. But the fabric was so thin, I didn’t think it would last, even as a bag.

Another person (Mike B) suggested:

Frame them as a memento of your hard work to build your new home and life.

I replied that I’d thought about that but that I had enough stuff. (I actually have far more than enough stuff.)

He replied:

Nothing signifies the amount of hard work than worn out work pants.

I certainly couldn’t argue with that. The pants had seen every aspect of my construction project.

Another person (Jorja) said:

Save them…………they won’t take up much space………you worked hard……….they deserve to stay………..a while longer!

The clincher was when another friend (Shirley) added:

Yeah, I’m thinking you should frame them as part of your house building memories. :-)

I decided to look into framing them. I’d need a shadowbox frame for them, so I went to Craft Warehouse, which had done some framing for me before. The price quote I got gave me serious sticker shock: $350. Ouch!

So I went online. I wound up spending about half that for a shadowbox frame “kit” that included the completely assembled frame with glass, felt backing, and hanging hardware. The box came about two weeks later.

And sat in my garage for a few months.

Meanwhile, I’d washed the pants one final time and had folded them neatly to wait for when I had time to frame them.

Last week, I did some garage cleaning and stumbled upon the box with the frame in it. I brought it upstairs and opened it. It looked like a big project.

I put off doing it for a few days.

I needed a photo, I decided. A photo to put the pants in context. I found the photo at the top of this blog post and emailed it to the local Walgreens photo department. I ordered a 5×7 print. I picked it up the next day.

Yesterday, I got tired of seeing the frame standing in the corner of my living room. I laid it out on my big dining table, disassembled it, and stretched out the pants. I put a fold in one leg to make room for the photo. I attached the jeans to the felt board by punching holes in them and running black wire ties behind them, out of sight. I used tape behind the photo to attach it to the felt and stood back to admire my work.

It looked boring. Flat.

I thought about what I could add to liven it up. How about a piece of Pergo under that photo? After all, I’d been wearing them when I laid 1200 square feet of Pergo laminated flooring.

And wire, of course. I’d done about 95% of the wiring in my home. How many days had I spent on the floor, creating grounding wire pigtails for outlets to satisfy the electrical inspector? One of those pigtails would be nice to show.

I went down into my shop and started poking around at material scraps.

The deck. I’d laid about 600 square feet of composite decking material. Maybe a piece of that? I’d thrown most of the scraps away, but still had a piece I could cut for a cross-section.

And quarter round trim? I was still laying that around the house so there were plenty of tiny scraps around.

And some of the many different types of screws? Wall screws, wood screws, deck screws, self-tapping screws. T-25 heads, T-15 heads, Philips heads. I grabbed a few.

And a sanding wheel from my orbital sander? I’d been doing a lot of sanding lately, working on my loft rails. I had at least a dozen spent wheels in the trash.

And of course, the stub of a pencil which seldom seemed handy when I needed it. I found two small ones in a pencil jar on my workbench and grabbed one of them.

Mounted Jeans
Here’s the final piece, standing against the wall before hanging.

I began laying out all these things on the black felt “canvas.” I liked the way it was looking. But how to attach them? I had a small glue gun someplace.

I lost hours looking for it and getting distracted by other things. Just when I though I’d lost it and reached for a tube of silicone sealer, I decided to look into the toolbox drawer labeled “Adhesives.” Duh. I’d put it away. I brought it upstairs and got to work.

When I was done, it looked a lot busier. But not too busy, I think.

Hung Pants
The pants, hung on my wall.

I already knew where I was going to hang it. Although my first thought was to hang them in the bedroom, on the wall I was standing in front of in the photo at the top of this blog post, I wanted to put it in a place where everyone would see them, a place where they could become a conversation piece. There was a big piece of empty wall over the stairs that was the right size and shape. I did some measuring and used the heavy-duty picture hanger that had come with the frame to hang the finished piece there.

It looked good.

I’m very glad that my friends — especially Mike, Jorja, and Shirley — talked me into keeping these jeans and making them into a piece of personal memorabilia. I put a lot of work into my home and I’m still amazed, every day, at how good it came out. These pants, framed with a few other mementos of that work, will remind me what it took to get it done.

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 movies that go with many them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

Once free to do what I wanted to do, the way I wanted to do it, I made it happen. I’ll remember that every time I see this piece.

Would I do it again? A few months ago, I would have said no. But now I’m starting to think that this was just practice for my next home.