Foundation Work Underway

Brad & Ed begin forming the foundation

The forms for the carport

Erin & Ed work on the main house leveling

Brad shows off the first "beautiful" cut of our
recycled wood.


Siting the Buildings

Ed & Brad

It’s the little things that one doesn’t anticipate that are frequently so remarkable. As perennial remodelers, the location of the house has always been a given. Now, simply locating the new buildings in exactly the right and intended location is a challenge. A few inches this way or that puts one directly in violation of the building setbacks, or changes the angles of the buildings to one another. Each of our three building is askew on the lot, askew to one another and the lot is askew as well. The challenge of layout is multiplied with every wall relationship to every other wall relationship and the buildings' walls to the property lines. The combination results in weird angles every which way and a million ways to be off.

Having done landscape designs for years and years, I certainly understand the difficulty of measuring strange angles and buildings-to-property lines-to-roads-to-buildings-to-property lines, but laying it out from scratch is new to me and brings new meaning to the challenge. I now also understand why so many of my clients say, “well, this isn’t exactly like we’d planned it,” as they hand me their site plan.

So, today Ed and Brad figured and measured and sited and staked. I played official recorder and photographer and sick one. I did manage the other end of the measuring tape from time-to-time, but for the past three weeks I've been with flu/cold junk and am definitely not totally functional again. And, the coughing goes on and on.
Our concrete workers, The Marty Bros., begin with the forms for the foundation next week so the big push to finish the utilities is on. Brad's friends Scott, Erin and Chris will be here for the weekend to join us in getting ready for the concrete's arrival.

Diane & the Floozy

Diane on her "forced march" of the construction
site. We require oohs and aahs from all friends!

The Floozy struts her stuff this year at the
Saratoga garden!

The Floozy (Magnolia campbellii) mixes it up
with a Madrona.


A Weekend of Labor and Progress


Ed and Fran survey the carport-to-be.

Carport Pad





Meadow with camp site in background.


Utilities to Guesthouse & Mainhouse


Ed and Judy

Much of the fun of a new building project is
getting to know the neighbors.

Fred, Laurie and Harrison

Fred & Laurie


Brad, Erin & Chris' job site camp


Another Day, Another Machine...

This is the weekend of ditches and utilities with the entire family, plus friends, working to accomplish the long list of tasks. First, more ditch digging. Then the fillings -- conduit, pipes, wires! All the various bits and pieces required to accommodate our modern conveniences from computers to sewage need to be in place before we can pour foundations. A milllion details...

Chris, Brad's Bellingham housemate and our weekend electricial miracle worker.

The ditches getting ready for the utilities.


Construction or destruction?

Here are Erin, Brad and neighbor Dianne on
the day of our excavation.

Fran & Brad in the hole

Digging the hole...

For us environmental, green building folks, setting out to build a small low-impact home, this site work is a shock. But, by the time the digging is done for utilities, foundations, catch basins and retaining walls there is pretty much no undisturbed soil. The good news--the soil is beautiful and gardens will thrive!

After maintaining our property as a park for almost two years, it is now totally torn up. The machine of destruction has hit, much to Brad's glee -- not at the destruction but at the fun of learning yet another machine. At the end of three days he had mastered all the levers and controls and once again the dirt swirled fast and furious.

It feels wonderful to be on our way with our project fully started and the hopes of our new home coming off the paper and getting firmly planted on the ground.

What a mess

The machine...

Building Permit -- 3-7-07

Fran & Ed
proudly announce the
issuance of their
building permit
The City of Langley
March 7, 2007


Preparations underway...

We're still waiting for our building permit which is expected any day now. Although the process has been slow, the details have been figured and refigured and refigured again. The permit drawings consist of 15 very complex pages. For a small house, 815 sq. ft. of heated space, the complexities are stunningly complicated. We're hoping the effort put into the front end of this project will help the actual building proceed more quickly. What we're constructing, according to the official records, is a 2-building single family residence and carport/shop. Additional construction of a guest house with bath in the rear setback. The 3-building complex focuses on open space, minimal impact, sustainable/green building practices and will include installation of both net metered photo-voltaic systems and solar hot water collectors which will provide 60-80% of the annual heat load.

As it usual with us, in our desire for simplicity we need to work through complexity first. Once our small home is completed we think folks will say, "well, why was that so difficult?" Nevertheless, simplicity requires more design, not less, in my experience. I don't remember who (Jefferson perhaps) said "I'm sorry this letter is so long, I don't have time to write a short one." Perhaps we could say the same about the horribly huge homes these days. "I'm sorry this house is so big, I didn't have time to figure out what I really needed so I just threw square footage at it."

On February 28 it snowed, and again on March 1. Brad and his friend Scotty worked both days in the cold pulling more nails and moving and stacking huge beams. From a warehouse in Tacoma we purchased beautiful, old, dry, tight grain 20' 2x8's and at a warehouse in Seattle we purchased exceedingly heavy 20' beams. Both Brad and Scotty are strong but even they had difficulty moving these beams. Langley's inspector, Bob, has approved their use and seems almost as excited as Brad about their weight, tight grain, and structural integrity. We have enough for the beams in all three buildings plus some left over to mill for other uses.

On the day we picked up the biggest load of 2x8's and the beams, in a rented U-Haul, we exhausted ourselves. It was a long day and because I accompanied Brad he had less than adequate assistance. Fortunately, Kent helped out at the first stop.

This is the Tacoma Warehouse, near the Port of Tacoma, where we picked up 100+ 2x8's

These are the beams. A find by Kent Richards, who also helped Brad load them.

Late at night, Ed and Brad unload the U-Haul Truck.

Although it seems like we haven't begun "real" construction, we definitely have. We now have much of the lumber we need; a fully functional shop; site preparation well underway; alders removed; garden begun; design in for permitting; and subs lined up for many tasks, including solar, concrete, electrical and roofing. The weather gets better each day and the days longer, so work will begin in the most pleasant working season. Craig's List continues to be searched daily for more gleaning of supplies and furnishings.

Today, Marach 7, the sun is shining and it's warm, in the high 40's. Brad is skiing at Stevens Pass. Fran is finishing up design work and working on accounting details. Ed is at Monroe teaching away. A week ago Sunday we all rode the Chilly Hilly in the pouring rain. Brad and Erin on one tandem; Fran and Ed on the other.

wood recovery - January 2007

I’m cold, very cold, and wet and I smell like a chicken farm. My hands are foul, my boots are covered with manure, my back is breaking and I’m hungry and sore and out of sorts. I want a warm shower in the worst way. Brad my delightful son and the energy behind my condition is upbeat and excited. “Look at this beautiful wood, Mom,” he enthuses. I groan, yearning for new wood from a lumber store, delivered, clean, ready to go.

In time I know I’ll agree with Brad but for now, the old barn wood seems like too much trouble and I’m only sadly reminded of the beautiful old barn being demolished for a row of new ugly houses. We’ll reuse the wood, taking satisfaction in that, but it’s still ugly at this stage and its potential seems far, far away.

The first sight of this old wood, on a cold day in December, was in a pile of crisscrossed boards, full of rusty nails, covered with the foul smelling reminder of its previous residents – chickens. The stench is strong, leaving me with little satisfaction as I scrape manure from each board and throw the decomposing mess onto our future garden site. As I bend my back into yet another impossible position, pulling yet another rusty nail, I question the wisdom of our recycling mania.

Whatcom County is where our chicken-shit-wood originated. Brad and I piled it so high and heavy on Brad’s 1995 Nissan wonder truck I was uncertain if we’d make it the few miles back to his Bellingham home. Then, from the same site, there was another load picked up with Brad’s friend and housemate, Erin, to help with the larger pieces. At a different site nearby, huge 8x8 beams, some 16’ long were also loaded. Erin is strong! Brad is strong! The loading of the truck a miracle to watch as leverage, strength, and ingenuity are employed. Another marvel, no busted backs or rusty nails through a foot. The truck, a small and old pickup, 4-wheel drive, 4 cylinder engine, wonder machine, hauling an impossibly huge and heavy load home with no mishaps, wins our praise.

Once the wood was in Bellingham it needed to be delivered to Whidbey. Several trips later with Ed, Fran, Erin and Brad’s hands all getting dirty and with more unloading, loading, nail pulling, cleaning, hauling and wear and tear on bodies and machines, the wood is housed under a tarp at the end of Grace Lane. The receipt says 1x6 and 2x6 and beams and miscellaneous, $240. Our designer, builder and enthusiastic recycling guru, Brad, is exclaiming not only about the “deal” we got but about the grain of the wood that you “just can’t buy anymore”. His passion for old wood is catching and my spirits lift. A warm shower, rinsing away the filth, and a good meal help me see the beauty of the wood grain too.

Another day, a cold and wet January day, brings another huge load of wood from a demolished building in Snohomish, picked up by Brad and Erin on their way to Whidbey from Bellingham. This billing statement reads 818 lineal feet: $129.43. More nail pulling, but no chicken manure. The new load is stacked, under a tarp, at the end of Grace Lane as well. Brad wears a huge smile of recycled wood glee.

The weather the past few weeks has been severe. Brutal winds, gusting up to 65 mph or more have left us without electricity for days at a time. More wind and snow and freezing temperatures are expected tomorrow so today, the 9th of January, despite the developing wind storm, we’re taking advantage of the clear sky for site work. The electricity has blinked several times and gone out twice, but quickly come back on. Then at 3:00 it went out again, settling in for the night it seems. Brad needs to catch a 6:00 ferry to spend tomorrow with his Dad, so at 5:00 we wrap it up cold but pleased with the job.

There’s nothing like a tractor to rip into the land, performing all manner of demolition. The soil is rearranged and site is contoured and flattened and changed to our will. Brad, the mad tractor operator, couldn’t be happier. Somehow, the levers and peddles, and wheels and gadgets are like extensions of his hands and feet, working at a rapid speed as he directs the machine to go forward, backwards, push, pull, cut and carry. Bucking, wheel spinning and tipping at precarious angles adds to my angst and Brad’s delight. Any comments from me urging caution are brushed aside, very much unappreciated. At the end of four hours, like magic, there’s the flat area for the first building we’ll build. This building is called the sleeping wing and is made up of a bedroom, bath, laundry, shop and carport. It is the first of three buildings that will make up our new home.

The carport clearning. 1/10/07

The tent is our shop. Plum full of tools for building our new home. Recycled carriage doors for our carport. They came from a home being demolished in Edmonds. Barn wood is stored behind carriage doors.