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Alaska Wittig Family Blog
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
And the Rains Came Tumbling Down

Rain?  In Juneau?  An inch of rain fell into the rain gauge on our back fence in the last twenty four hours, the first appreciable rainfall we've had in over two weeks.  It's been a lovely spring.

And it's been a busy spring too.   Even before the ground thawed I [Michael] was out on the east wall of the house, digging down to the foot of the foundation and out.  We're enclosing the crawl space and installing "wing" insulation in accordance with the latest advice from the cold-climate construction people, as a part of the overall insulation project on the house.  Before the summer is out we plan to completely wrap the house inside of four inches of foam from the footer up to the ceiling, and seal up the attic above the bedrooms while adding more insulation up there.

The work is going well.  The digging so far isn't hard at all, compared to my last endeavor at our previous house (where every foot met with many large rocks).  The original plan was to rent a backhoe to save time, but once I started digging I just kept going, and it was soon apparent that the expense wouldn't be worth the limited time I would save.  The trench pictured here took two afternoons to complete.

And this first trench is already filled back in!  The insulation package and drainage system went in without any hitches.  The only unanticipated delay came with the discovery of a nest of finch eggs outside a bedroom window, which meant delaying the insulation on the upper part of the wall for a few more weeks.  No matter: I moved on to the lower south wall and dug another long trench in a very few hours, then put in a part of that insulation before the weather began to change.

To say that I am happy with the progress so far would be fair enough.  Actually I am quite pleased with the whole affair, and especially tickled to be cruising through this kind of work at the rate my 47 year old (48 next month) body is allowing.  Stiff?  Sore?  Nope!  Even my back has stopped giving me trouble!

The ground work along the east wall was especially gratifying because of the weather.  This was the only wall with a drip line (no rain gutter).  No rain meant no time dealing with tarps, and no struggling to keep water out of the trench.  Dry weather also made each shovel of dirt that much lighter.

And in two more weeks Sheryl will be out of school, and I can devote even more time into the project.  Lots to do, but if the work so far is any indication, it won't be so much that I don't get it all done.

Other events...

Sheryl will be transferring jobs and schools next year.  She's been teaching the extended learning program (and music for a while) at Riverbend Elementary since before we met.  Today she was formally offered (and accepted) the split post of music teacher/librarian at Auke Bay Elementary.  She's looking forward to the change, especially since this is the school Becky is and Michael will be attending.

We got most of our firewood for next winter yesterday, months ahead of when we stocked up last summer.  My neighbor, the same one who gave me half his wood last year in exchange for splitting the rounds he harvested from several trees he had cut, needed the OTHER half moved to get equipment in to landscape part of his back yard!  I volunteered to help him out, and even gave him a little money for the wood.  So for four hours yesterday I moved about a cord and a half of wood four times (once into the trailer, then from trailer to wheelbarrow, wheelbarrow to shed floor, and finally from the floor onto the stack).

And we're finding time to work on the sailboat too, scraping and cleaning, cleaning and scraping.  In truth, the boat is seaworthy now, but we want it to look good too.  We're also hopeful that we may be able to get a nearly new outboard for it from another neighbor of ours...

This would be the neighbor who had something of a feud with the previous owner of our house.  The story I heard was that my neighbor wanted a place to park a boat one year and there was space in the corner of our property.  Once upon a time that corner was the end of the road and there was a turnaround (it's a through road now), and there was disagreement whether the easement for the turnaround still existed (it doesn't).  There were some hard feelings between them.  The first week we owned this house I went over and introduced myself, told my neighbor that I had no plans for the space and he was welcome to use it if he needed it, and that I would let him know if that ever became a problem.  He's never parked anything there, but we've been on good terms from the outset.  We talk regularly.  He came over when the sailboat appeared in our driveway and we got to talking, and he told me about his outboard: a little loud and more vibration than he wanted on his skiff, but probably just right for my needs.

Seems that getting and staying on good terms with the neighbors has benefits.


Posted at 11:03 PM YDT
Monday, May 4, 2009
Someday Sailing

We have a sailboat!

Once upon a time, I [Michael] owned a small sailboat.  It was a 19' Cape Dory Typhoon, seaworthy and simple, and for several years I took it out in all kinds of weather, plying the waters around Juneau.  I liked the boat for many reasons: a fixed keel (retractable keel hardware needs extra care in salt water and retractables aren't as suited to heavy-weather sailing), shallow draft (a 30" draft meant that I could see the bottom before the boat could touch it), low freeboard (the height of the deck above waterline, low freeboard means less wind resistance and an easier climb back on in case of falling off), and simple rigging (to make single-handed sailing practical).

I especially liked the CD (Cape Dory) for its seaworthiness and handling. The design was such that the only way to sink it would have been to puncture the hull, an unlikely event unless I piled into rocks, in which case the water would be shallow enough to jump ship.  The handling was stellar, with sails easy to manipulate and balanced to allow for hands-free sailing (so I could lash the rudder in place and go work on the bow if need be while the sailboat proceeded on course, or if I just wanted to sit back and watch the scenery). It was a wonderful little boat, especially in rough weather when all the power boats (and other saiboats too) retreated to shore and I had the water all to myself.

But the old sailboat had its limitations.  Mostly, it was small and could only sleep two.  It also lacked a trailer, so the boat had to be based permanently in the water (sea plants had no trouble with this, which made the boat sail slower) and I couldn't take it to the other launching areas around town. 

When I went into the MAT program a decade ago I thought I would probably leave Juneau afterward, so I reluctantly sold the Cape Dory.  Even before I sold it, I already knew what I would be looking for in my next sailboat.  For the last ten years I have been waiting.

It was with some surprise that I saw the ad in the newspaper on Wednesday last week.  I called right away and was the first respondent, and that afternoon when Sheryl got home we all got in the car and drove downtown to look at it (I waited until Sheryl got home despite my eagerness to check it out).  A cursory inspection was all I needed.  This was the boat I had contemplated a decade before.

Ironically, the Alberg 22 was designed by the same man who designed the Cape Dory, Carl Alberg.  I didn't know this when we bought it, but it made perfect sense in hindsight.  The 22 and the CD are very close cousins, sharing many of the same design features (and it was partly this similarity that made the boat such an easy sell).  The 22 is a better boat for us, with berths for four, a small galley and sink, a toilet (port-a-potty), and a trailer.  The 22 is also a decade newer than the old CD, a fact reflected in updated rigging details and a few other niceties.  The draft is a little deeper (37"), but still very shallow for a sailboat, and quite practical for our waters.

I was originally going to offer less than the $4000 asking price but didn't.  Sheryl pointed out on the drive down that with the price as low as it was, if we offered less and the seller wanted to "think it over" somebody else was likely to offer more and we'd be out of luck.  Her logic was pretty sound: six other people called on the boat that same day, and at least four the day after that.

So we bought the boat on Wednesday afternoon.  On Thursday I towed it home.  My weekend was mostly spent cleaning the inside (the boat belonged to a woman but was her ex-husband's idea, so it had been mostly unattended for the last seven years, taking up space in her yard while the biodegradeable portion of its contents slowly rotted).  As luck would have it, the inside cleaned up very nicely and was stocked with [mostly salvageable] spare hardware and safety equipment.

And that may be about all we do with the sailboat for a while.  While a sailboat has been on my "short list" for some time, I did not anticipate actually buying one for another couple of years.  But of course, we had to buy it: in a small community like ours, finding the thing you want at a good price is very uncommon, and when such things present themselves it's best to buy them, ready or not.  Failing that, the only other option would have been to buy a boat out of Seattle and sail or barge it here, which had been our plan until this boat came along.

This doesn't really change our plans.  This summer the house is still the priority, getting the weatherization/insulation completed.  We may put the sailboat in the water to check it out (a boat is an excellent platform for watching fireworks on July 4, for instance), but any real sailing will have to wait until next year.

And now that we have a sailboat,we can start thinking about all the real sailing we want to do!


Posted at 10:58 AM YDT
Updated: Friday, May 8, 2009 9:43 PM YDT
Saturday, April 11, 2009
The Slow Thaw

Spring has come to Juneau.  The transition comes slowly but arrives suddenly, when the nightly lows begin to stay just above freezing rather than just below, and the weather forecast changes from intermittent snow to intermittent rain.

 While some areas of Juneau are already almost snow-free, there is still a lot of snow on the ground on our property, nestled as we are in the northern end of the Mendenhall Valley, less than two miles from the glacier that gives our valley its name.  There is snow on the ground.  There is snow and ice filling the basins of East and West Creek.  There is snow and ice on our rooftop too, over a foot of it in many places.

I [Michael] mentioned the ice dam problem back in February.  Not only did we have leaks in places I expected, we developed some new leaks that were unexpected and very unwlecome.  All of them manifested themselves by draining into the cavity of the exterior wall, and the ones I noted emerged through the top of the windowsill. Those were the ones I noted: I have no doubt that other leaks flowed where we have no windows, causing troubles unseen but no less problematic.

And so I spend parts of my days now tracking around the house with tape measure in hand, looking at the existing structure and reasoning out details of the new construction.  I'm also working with pencil and paper, drawing rough (and some not-so-rough) diagrams of new components, getting an idea about the scope and design of the coming project, and making materials estimates.

And until the snow melts and the ground thaws, there is really very little else I can do towards the project.

This summer's project will be scaled back from our original plan.  The addition will not be possible, but the remainder of the work is still pretty much the same.  We will be changing the roof from composite to metal.  We will probably modify and extend some of the eaves.  We will replace some windows.  We will insulate and reside the walls.  We will more properly insulate the attic above the east section.  All that, plus some other little changes.

More than enough to occupy a summer.


Posted at 11:00 AM YDT
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
A Really Big Bid

We won't be using a contractor for our home improvement project.  

That's the stark conclusion Sheryl and I [Michael] came to upon examining the bid from Bicknell Construction.  They want over $130,000 for their part of the work: the shell of an addition, insulation and siding, and extending some of the eaves (they were still waiting for a subcontractor on the roof repair estimate).  That's more than I envisioned for the entire remodel, and way beyond what we can afford.

We were disappointed with the level of financial detail in the bid.  The only money itemized was the total of each bid (there were three), and the terms of payment.  If there was any enlightenment in the numbers, it was a notice that "extras" would be billed at cost plus 15% overhead plus 10% profit; it probably isn't too much of a stretch to believe all the materials in the project were similarly billed.

So last night I started drawing rough sketches and estimating quantities.  Time becomes a really big issue too, since I'll be doing much of the work, so the sequencing of what happens and when is now much more important.  We want an addition.  We need roof repairs.  What is desirable versus what is prudent, or even possible within our time frame: the clock is ticking on our energy improvement rebate from the state (assuming they honor it when the time comes).

The most likely scenario is that roof repairs, siding, and windows will take precedence over expansion.  That's probably a big enough bill for any handyman, but I'm still working on the plans for the addition, just in case I can figure out how to do a little more.

 


Posted at 12:25 PM YDT
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Getting the Ball Rolling

Here is the latest version on the remodel plan:


 

What's different from the last plan?  Sheryl's brother Mark mentioned that the location of the new bathroom in the last plan seemed awkward given its proximity to the new family room.  Likewise, Sheryl didn't really like the main bathroom opening onto the main hallway.

So...

We changed the configuration of the new master bathroom so that it could also serve as a second bathroom for the rest of the house, eliminating the need for an additional half bath.  The closets for the master bedroom have also been relocated to provide better flow through.  We reconfigured the main bath to accomodate the changed entry, making room for the heating system hardware in the process (this was going to be out in the garage before, but that was not a great option as it would require sectioning off an area plus enclosing and heating the space).

We need to have a clear idea of where we're heading with the remodel very soon.  We had an energy audit done earlier this month, in which a man came out with some equipment to test for airflow (leakage) through the house, made some measurements, and plugged everything into a piece of software that told him our house is an energy hog.  We knew that already, of course, but now we have outside data.

The audit was step one.  In the next 18 months we need to do what we can to upgrade the insulation package and get the auditor back out for a follow-up.  Depending on how much we can decrease the energy loss we can get money back from the state of Alaska, up to $10,000 (depending on how much we spend and how much better the house is as a result).

Step two comes on Tuesday, when the folks from Bicknell Construction come over to look over the house.  If the price is right (and we have no idea how much we're talking about), we'll have them build the shell of the addition, reroof the house, and reside/insulate the walls, replacing old windows as they go.

We've also got an architect coming to visit.  Sheryl won four hours of architectural consulting in an auction a few months ago.  We're not quite sure what that means, but I [Michael] am hopeful it will get us toward working drawings that the construction company can use to erect the addition.

So here it is, the new floorplan, as it currently sits.  Any comments?

 


Posted at 12:59 PM YST

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