Actually it’s the end of Week 5

Pumper truck to the roof.
Pumper truck to the roof.

Here we are at what happens to be the end of week 5 of construction. The structure is complete. Next steps for our team of albañiles (masons) is the half wall on the roof deck and the start of the exterior plaster. Word is the interior scaffolding will remain in place as the roof concrete cures for two weeks. I just looked up the cure curves for concrete to refresh myself. Seven days is generally accepted as 70% strength under optimal temperatures and humidity. We’re pretty close to that here on the Tropic of Cancer, maybe just a little dry and too much day to night temperature swings, for a perfect cure but way ahead of the US right now. So two weeks is well within the margin of error to remove the forms.

The pour was uneventful but a little stressing for me. Our concrete was ordered from Cabo San Lucas. Two of the spinning Easter egg shaped trucks and a pumper truck came in stages but by the time the pumper was situated the concrete was two hours old. ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineering) says no truck over 1 1/2 hours old shall be accepted. I know from past experience that 2 hour trucks get poured but it’s not what you want to do. It was a very dry, difficult to work concrete that landed on our roof. Only time will tell if it’s adequate for the job. Most likely all is well and this is a case where ignorance would be bliss. I have no fears about the structural integrity but I do worry about the finish. Here, again, our location is an advantage. There is no freeze, therefore no thaw, and the concrete finish should not be heavily stressed.

On other fronts I was laid low by a severe bout of vertigo last week. It’s happened before and it’s never fun but this time I projectile vomited. Surprisingly easy to do when your inner ear isn’t working. The ear doctor hear ordered me onto a no salt diet. My ear seems to hurt less, and my fingers are skinnier. I guess I was retaining water. The vertigo is lessened but not gone. It might take weeks.

We have a show next week and we’ve been regularly practicing with our friend Priscila. Check us out on Valentine’s Day at Las Fuentes, 6 PM, Todos Santos. Love gone good and bad.

The roof with a skim coating of mortar.
The roof with a skim coating of mortar. The drainage bulge is visible.
Show at Las Fuetes on Valentine's Day.
Show at Las Fuetes on Valentine’s Day.
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Week 4 of casita construction

Lumber is installed to support the plywood forms.
Lumber is installed to support the plywood forms.

Soon we will have a roof over our casita. Yes, Kevin, I call it a casita because it’s just a one-bedroom home. There’s no room for guests but that won’t be a problem. We have the rumpus room for any visitors. Hint, hint. For those of you concerned about construction management while we are gone for ten days I say you are right to be concerned. We’re pretty relaxed about this but there is no telling what might or might not happen. The Gypsy Carpenters often work in similarly unsupervised conditions with very few problems. We’re extending the same trust to our team that we enjoy from our clients. In addition, our neighbor and good friend Janet will be serving as the treasurer. She can give the guys money if they need any supplies while we are gone. Janet knows our team, she speaks Spanish, and she is right next door. She will be well compensated for any work she has to do on our behalf. The job should be at the plaster and stucco stage so there’s not much that could go wrong. Famous last words, right?

The construction technique for the ceiling has finally come clear in my head. I was confused for years about how insulation and concrete and rebar came together to form a roof. and ceiling. Rebar and insulation are built over plywood forms in a matrix. Concrete is poured over the mass to a thickness of 2″ above the rebar. After two weeks of curing the forms are removed and the bottom (ceiling side) is a grid of  reinforced concrete and styrofoam. They call this style of roof caseton. Maybe casaton. I’m not sure. When the forms are  removed the underside is then plastered. My fears of concrete landing on my head during a Baja earthquake were unfounded. This is a well reinforced structure. If a big earthquake hits only plaster will rain down. I feel better. Were you worried? Our workers tell us only the gringos and really rich Mexicans get a caseton roof. Most families here live under simple concrete slabs or corrugated metal roofs. These homes can be unspeakably hot in summer.

Oh, btw, our workers built that brick colored house behind ours in the photos.

The plywood rests on teh temporary beams.
The plywood forms will rest on the temporary posts and beams.
This styrofoam insulation is crammed into the spaces between courses of rebar.
This styrofoam insulation will be crammed into the spaces between courses of rebar.
The styrofoam blocks are installed after the perpendicular courses of rebar are run.
Here you can see the plywood forms are in place. The styrofoam blocks are installed after the perpendicular courses of rebar are run.
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Construction Technique

Footer and start of foundation wall.
Footer and start of foundation wall. The top of the footer is just below the existing grade.

Concrete construction is not the norm for homes in the US but it is common place in commercial settings and most of the rest of the world. We build homes with wood because it’s what we have. It’s cheap and we know how to use it. Concrete in Mexico and South America is like wood in the US. It’s cheapest and all the builders know how to use it. Concrete block is durable and impervious to bugs but earthquakes can cause widespread tragedy since block comes down more easily in a tremor.

The typical home here is a post and beam style structure. The shape of the house is made with posts and beams of reinforced concrete. Cement block fill in the gaps. The block and reinforced concrete parts go up side by side. The block walls act as half the form for the posts. A word about words: I’m a civil engineer and civil engineers call posts columns. I once made the mistake of calling a column a post in my structures class. I was nearly laughed to the curb. Despite that I graduated and was offered a post-graduate slot studying structures. I declined. But post and beam is the style of construction and I work with a guy that builds wood homes and it’s easier to type post than column. So I have regressed back to my earlier usage.

Since our lot is sloped and the existing structures are at its peak we are building this site up to match the higher level of the existing bodega/rumpus room. That means our foundation is from four to five feet high and we have to add a lot of fill. We’ve reached a bottleneck in our construction. Fill is highly sought after and expensive. It’s been two days of waiting and it finally arrived today. Rather it started arriving today. It’s 2:48 PM and we have received only 3 of the estimated 8 loads we need. That’s about 40 yards of dirt. Our crew is staying busy building rebar forms for the beams to hold up the ceiling. Other than that we’re moving right along.

Any questions?

Filling the foundation blocks with concrete.
Filling the foundation blocks with concrete. The foundation comes up about 4′ above the existing grade. This is to make it level with the upper side of our lot and keep hurricane waters out of the house. You can see the post waiting to be formed on two sides with wood while two sides are block.
Forms for the cadena or chain. It is a beam that ties the foundation together.
Forms for the cadena or chain. It is a beam that ties the foundation together.
The hole and the foundation.
The hole and the foundation. Long view of the beam or cadena that tops the foundation.
Foundation and some wall. Rebar will be poured reinforced concrete columns.
Foundation and some wall. Rebar will be poured reinforced concrete columns. You can see rebar bent at 90 degrees from the foundation wall into the area where the slab will be located. That rebar will tie the slab to the foundation. The slab will be reinforced with wire mesh.
Filling the hole.
Filling the hole. The back wall shows the wooden forms in place around the posts.
Fill dirt
Fill dirt
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We’re building our own home

Many loads of sand and gravel.
Many loads of sand and gravel. The footer excavation is visible behind Burt.

Our yard is full of construction materials and a staff of builders. We have finally plunged into the Mexican construction system. We’ve owned this lot for six years and ever since we bought it we’ve wrestled with the next big step. Build or permanently live in our gNash? If we build, how? Wood or concrete? Rammed earth? Prefab panels? It’s obvious we’d prefer wood since we could do it ourselves and we’d be in total control. The termites would prefer we build with wood, too. Or so most people think. We thought we’d solved the wood dilemma with an anti-termite treatment in our rumpus room. And we have. There’s no termites eating our treated rumpus room but someone wisely pointed out that if we wanted to be able to sell this place most people would be suspicious of wood. Termite bias is reasonable and most likely insurmountable in future buyers. Also, hurricanes. Concrete houses withstand hurricanes and we have hurricanes. With climate change we’re going to have more and stronger hurricanes.

So finally having decided to build meant we had reached the conclusion that we had to build with concrete block. Block is the local preference. There are many competent building crews to choose from here. Block is also less expensive than modular panels and rammed earth. Rammed earth is gorgeous but slow and very, very expensive. And it’s hard to remodel the interior. Concrete is easy to patch. Late last year we started getting estimates but really we wanted one crew, a team of guys whose work we’d seen and who we knew to be great workers. But that team had a boss and regular jobs working for their boss. We did not need the boss and we certainly didn’t want to pay the boss. Between Burt and I we can build a house in concrete and in Spanish. There was no need to pay money for the middle man. So we resigned ourselves to working with some other group but didn’t settle on anyone.

Over the summer we played with floor plans. Independently Burt and I realized an L shaped home would be best for our lot. The L would provide a secluded shady patio and allow us to cram in more floor space without crushing some nice cactii. When we arrived this year Burt noticed the guys we wanted were not particularly busy. So he asked them if they were available for some independent work. We got lucky. Things were slow and the dream team wanted to work for us and they got their boss to agree. The Magic 8 Ball revealed: All signs say YES. So we leapt on the chance to get our casita built by this team of quick and reliable builders. And here we are. The yard is a disaster. Rain fell into the mess yesterday so it’s an even worse situation than we could have imagined. But the workers persist. And the house is flying up while money flies out.

More later on construction techniques and the work culture.

Floor plans
Floor plans
The foundation and supervisor.
The foundation and supervisor.
This is where the floor starts. The visible block is part of the foundation.
This is where the floor starts. The visible block is part of the foundation.
This is our current classroom. It's a little tight.
This is our current classroom. It’s a little tight.
How many white wing doves are there? The raptors want to know.
How many white wing doves are there? The raptors want to know.
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The end is in sight

Shower - rectilinear fixtures all around.
Shower – rectilinear fixtures all around. The one faucet isn’t on because the set screw had no threads.

My services are suddenly in demand as we wrap up this major remodel. My new meds and the increase in work has improved my tennis game. I’m quicker than I’ve been in a while. Laying flooring requires hand strength and squats. Look out Dad and Sara Gay, Burt and I are in training to take you on this winter.

This summer’s weather has been better than we could have hoped. There was a month on smokey skies but only a few days over ninety degrees. The evenings have cooled down without exception. We haven’t needed our A/C once. The post-Mimi remodel has given the gNash new life. There’s more room and better fengshui. Aside from the truck being at the mechanics for over two weeks it’s looking like a successful summer on the Gypsy Carpenter business and pleasure plan.

Burt thinks we have about 8 days left of work. we’re going to play tennis, music and hike and work from now until our departure for Portal.

Powder room floor demo.
Powder room floor demo.
Our Mexican hammer has the best staple removal tool.
Our Mexican hammer has the best staple removal tool.
The stove is in and it works.
The stove is in and it works. Check out that back splash.
Then I did this. What is wrong with me?
Then I did this. What is wrong with me?
Drilling tile requires a water cooling stream. Here's our system.
Drilling tile requires a water cooling stream. Here’s our system.
Here's a visiting box elder bug. Some say stink bug.
Here’s a visiting box elder bug. Some say stink bug.
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Work Update

Double vanity with carpenter.
Double vanity with carpenter.

The truck has been at the mechanic’s for over a week. Rumors of a reunion trickle in. Maybe we’ll see it again early next week. Other rumors of her possible demise were premature. She was leaking oil like a broken pipeline but it turned out to be a connector deep in the engine. So we hear. These last ten days Burt and I and the Olvis have been sharing our 24 year old Subaru and getting things done. Actually, it’s Jen’s Subaru. It was mine from 1998 until 2009. I gave it to Jen when we hit the road. Lucky for us it is a spare car in her corral now and we could borrow it for the summer. It has made for a much more interesting summer for me since I was more mobile than usual.

The job moves along and as usual for us, hitch itch is making us cranky. Some more than others. The kitchen is nearly complete. The backsplash was grouted today. The stove can be moved in now. The dishwasher and a faucet need to be installed. The faucet is electronic. You wave at it and wash your hands just like at Coscto. New skill set coming up.

Installing the tile backsplash.
Installing the tile backsplash.
More flooring
More flooring
Tub and magic wand.
Tub and magic wand.
Vanity.
Vanity. That drawer front was damaged. A new one is on the way.
Shower
Shower
Burt gets a little edgy at the end of the job.
Burt gets a little edgy at the end of the job.
Detail on backsplash.
Detail on backsplash.
I am tired but I am also sneaking up on it.
I am tired but I am also sneaking up on it. Sorting the lengths in advance makes the work go quicker.
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Bath Tub

Space for the tub
Space for the tub.

Measuring, to me, seems to be the most basic skill of carpentry. You can’t do anything without measuring. This bathroom formerly had a jetted tub fit into this nook. The remodel would have a stand alone tub in the vacant space left when the old tub was removed. Our trusty carpenter Burt would have to help the client pick out a tub that fit nicely in the space and then without actually having the tub he’d have to make sure water and drains were in the right place. It’s no fun when the spigot doesn’t reach the tub. Messy, too. I am happy to say everything was just where it was supposed to be.

Work is wrapping up. We’ve got maybe half the square footage of flooring installed. The bathroom is just waiting for the toilet and shower door. Doors need painting. A kitchen back splash remains to be tiled and then it’s time to reinstall trim and do touch ups. There is light ahead.

Considering the install
Considering the install.
The drain has to line up. Feet must be adjusted.
The drain has to line up. Feet must be adjusted.
It's tight under there.
It’s tight under there.
It's in!
It’s in!
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Work Update

Heated Floor
Heated Floor. Job not done. That tail at the top was attached where wires were not crossed. Notice the cardboard bath tub model.

Last week I installed a heated floor. This was my third installation but we used a different style than the previous two jobs. This heated floor is built from one long loose wire that you weave between anchors to fill the desired floor space. The previous jobs used a mesh where the wire was embedded and the mesh had to be cut to fit the space without cutting the wire. It required solid engineering calculations and origami skills to determine how to fill an irregularly shaped space with a rectangular mat. The style we used this time was quite a bit easier to install but it left me feeling kind of empty. Anybody could have done this. I really enjoyed using my measuring and folding skills on the previous jobs.

As a side note, if you want one of these floors and aren’t planning a full remodel it will be a very pricey job. It’s not very difficult to install a heated floor if you’re down to the subfloor and have stud bays opened for the power and thermostat. It’s a whole can of worms to rip out existing flooring and not damage the walls and temporarily remove toilets and tubs (because all the flooring will have to be replaced) and route the wires up the walls to a thermostat, and then install and redo the floor. It’s also a high risk job. The wire needs to be kept intact and in position while the floor is retiled. If the wire gets cut the floor won’t heat then the whole thing has to be ripped out and started over.  It’s so risky there are current testers to use as you install to make sure there isn’t any unseen line break. Personally, if someone wanted me to install a heated floor in an existing bathroom I’d charge at least plumber’s wages. That’s $120 an hour here. On the other hand, if you’re a DIY homeowner and you are redoing your bathroom, I’d say go for it but skip the box store kits. Buy this style kit from an electrical wholesaler and plan ahead. At the start of the job you need to know where you’ll be sourcing power and placing the thermostat. If you forget this headaches will follow as you try to get wires up stud bays. And be very careful when you cover the wires with thinset.

The counters also came in this week. These are a cultured quartz. Manufactured stone gives a lovely, consistent appearance. Ground up rocks and pigments are mixed with polymer glues and then poured into forms. I prefer this more predictable finish. Granite tops always gave me the shivers. Ordering your dream kitchen from a 4″ x  4″ square that never shows the natural color and texture variations of a full counter is a high stakes game. I love how these tops complement the dark cabinets.

Undermount sink with half divider.
Undermount sink with half height divider. I like the square cornered sinks, too.
Counter install
Counter install.
This is a cultured stone. Quartz style.
This is a cultured stone. Quartz style. I really like it.
Installing a marble style tile.
Installing a marble style tile.
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Demo well underway

Kitchen open floor plan now visible.
Kitchen open floor plan now visible.

The Gypsy Carpenters have been on the job less than a week and almost all demolition has been completed and major style decisions are made. The cabinets and counters are measured and ordered and paid. Tile and bath and faucets and flooring have been selected. Now we just need to find an electrician. Hopefully that will become clear tomorrow.

Besides intensely working (we’re sore and tired) we have managed to fit in some fun, too. I had my first fiddle lesson with Mike on Friday. Mike was my first music teacher nearly twenty years ago. It’s a little weird to be back sitting in his studio after a ten year hiatus. We learned a hornpipe and worked on some tunes I already knew. We’ve also played music for fun with our former WMD band mates Todd and Barb. Todd and his wife Gretchen left Helena right after we hit the road and they returned to stay a couple of weeks ago. Fortuitous timing for all of us.

Today we are celebrating Burt’s birthday with a trip to see some live local theater. The Full Monty is on at Helena’s Grandstreet Theater. I am embarrassed to admit this is my first visit to our local theater institution. As they say better late than never. It took a while for me to figure out my husband is a fan of live theater. I grew up in Drama Club and drifted away. We’re both looking forward to this hilarious and bawdy show.

As decision fatigue set in I noticed that Keith is the most stylish Home Depot employee we've met. He says all credit goes to his wife.
As decision fatigue set in I noticed that Keith is the most stylish Home Depot employee we’ve met. He says all credit goes to his wife.
WMDs
WMDs
I don't know what this is but I like it. Accidental art.
I don’t know what this is but I like it. Accidental art.
Master bathroom demo.
Master bathroom demo.
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Working Again

We are removing this wall.
We are removing this wall.

This beautiful kitchen is already a thing of the past. Twenty-two years ago Burt and his partner Ralph built this house for our clients. Twenty-two years ago Burt said the kitchen and dining room were a bad design. Burt thought the dividing wall should be removed. Twenty-two years later Burt is getting what he wants. This morning we started demolition. Every nail I pull I think, “Why did he build this so well. Couldn’t he have skipped a few of these nails?”

If your worried about these beautiful cabinets, have no fear of waste. These old cabinets have a new home. Next year you might see us reinstalling them somewhere else. This year’s job includes the kitchen remodel, a master bath and laundry room remodel and new flooring throughout the main floor. After three hours I’m already sore. It’s going to be a long summer as I get into carpentry condition.

Kitchen to go.
Kitchen to go.
The wall on the left and the peninsula in the foreground will both go.
The wall on the left and the peninsula in the foreground will both go.
First toss in the dumpster.
First toss in the dumpster.
My job was to try and remove moulding intact. Not as easy as it sounds.
My job was to try and remove moulding intact. Not as easy as it sounds. The entry way will be expanded and the laundry room remodeled.
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