Ramble On

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Uncle Bucks and Upper Hawksbill @ SNP

Yesterday I made my weekly trip out to the cabin to check progress and meet with the electrician – we’d been working with our GC Jesse to find someone we could work with to take care of a number of electrical issues. After meeting with them for an hour or so, I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and hike in the Shenandoah National Park (SNP).

First stop was Uncle Bucks – a little short order place in Luray, right on the main street there. Mary and I have been there a few times, starting from our first visit to the valley back in May. The cashier lives in Stanley, and the wait staff is friendly and chatty. After I had an omelet and a hand pressed sausage patty, while I was checking out I learned about a little country auction and decided to go check it out.

The location was a 12 acre property north of Luray – it turns out the property was one of the lots for sale. There were about a dozen farm and commercial vehicles for sale there, and another few personal cars. There were lots of personal items and a couple of house trailers. Two auctioneers worked the crowd. Also, there was a bunch of restaurant gear from an old barbecue place – including a huge pig sculpture and a couple of little concrete pig barbecue waiter sculptures. I just didn’t see anything of interest, so, no bid on this one.

After the auction, I drove up to SNP (http://www.nps.gov/shen/ ) to hike the upper trail to the summit of Hawksbill Mountain. There is a wikipedia page about the peak here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawksbill_Mountain . In the winter, with leaves down, we’ll be able to see the peak from the cabin - this photo is from the Wiki page.

I did a quick 2 hours out-and-back on the trail, stopped at the peak for 20 minutes and tried to figure out where the cabin is…looking southwest, towards Stanley, I didn't see it. I guess I’ll have to work on the orientation a bit more to figure out where the Hawksbill Cabin is located looking out into the valley from the peak….

Thursday, September 27, 2007

There's a reason I'm posting this...

Quick note about the DC United soccer game last night at RFK - they beat Guadalajara Chivas 2-1 in the Copa SudAmerica. Shout out to Stan to say thanks for a great idea - photos of the Barra Brava celebrating Goal 1 below - and also to thank him for not getting too riled up with the hostile fans surrounding us!
Announced attendance was 20K plus but that stadium was rocking!
The reason I am posting this? I gave notice at Booz Allen today!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Midweek Update

There's always work going on at the cabin - in fact today, there was an early plan to get out there and meet an electrician to get started on the electrical issues. The electricians out there are all in pretty high demand, so the meeting was cancelled - rescheduled for Saturday.

On another note, last Friday we were delighted to be invited once again to celebrate the anniversary of our friends' architecture firm - http://www.cunninghamquill.com/ . In addition to meeting up with some old friends there (shout out to Kelly and Tom Kamm here - welcome back to DC! I never got it straight whether you guys were in the Urbana part of Champaign or the Champaign part of Urbana), Lee Quill had been helpful with some suggestions about permitting and the structural design of the new roof. We followed up on these insights with our contractor subsequently.

C+Q have put together a very nice portfolio of projects over the years - be sure to check the URL above.

On the way to their Georgetown offices, I stopped by a tobacco store to pick up some Glorias de Cuba (parental warning - product :-) ). The music in the background was Parlaiment...I was pretty happy to hear it and told the clerk about my "Tear the roof off the sucker" blog post a few days back.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters

New Roof Progress!

At several points thus far I have mentioned the roof issues. We visited the Hawksbill Cabin on September 22 to check progress – remember last week, the roof was off and we were shocked to encounter the cabin in that condition!

I have some extensive documentation of termite damage to share down the road in the next Battle of the Species entry, but for now I want to write about the roof technology we selected.

Basically, when we first identified possible roof damage, all that was revealed was one beam and a wet spot in the roof above it. There is a photo early on of the suspect beam and the ceiling around it.

As the GC and roofer got to work, it became clear that the termites had gotten into all of the beams in the original part of the house. They eat wood from the center out, and had made their way across the ceiling, 12 to 15 feet into the span of each beam – a hard freeze and wet snow would have brought the whole thing down.

The pitch of this roof is not optimal for shingles, as water will tend to wick under the lower edge of each shingle, leading to early failures of the roof. Complicating the situation was the fact that each time there was a leak in the roof, the previous owners put a new layer of shingle on, rather than demo/removal of the old system. During demo, six layers of old shingles were removed! Finally, a layer of corrugated metal was put over that, and then, on the original side, that metal was even tarred!

We had secured escrow money to repair the beam and re-roof the entire building with new shingles – not optimal as we were learning. Then we discovered the full extent of the damage and worked with our GC to put together a better – and more expensive solution.

The original beams, assuming you could find enough trees to produce the 12 joists needed, cost $1500 each; we had $5K in escrow so you can see this wasn’t going to be an economical choice. Plus in the do-it-yourself original design, the beams were spaced at 36 inches, which we were concerned wouldn’t meet modern code.

The roofer suggested a new engineered wood product: http://lpcorp.com/ijoists/ijoists.aspx, which was available in the length we needed for about $250 a pop. Plus, we could fix the beam spacing problem for more support.

The photos below show the newly installed ceiling – not finished, but the advantages of this technology are clear.

Back to the outside part of the story: because shingles were not the optimal solution, we looked at two alternatives – a membrane roof and standing seam metal. Both have their advantages and disadvantages – the membrane is cheaper (much cheaper!) but it only lasts a few years and given the overhanging trees, there is much risk of puncture. Standing seam metal, on the other hand – expensive, but is a “100-year roof”. It is a typical material for the area out there. So even though our quote was $7K for this, we opted for the peace of mind.

During yesterday’s visit, the roofing team from Knott’s Roofing and Siding was putting on the finishing touches, shown in the photo below. The second photo shows the new porch area, which has been completely rebuilt during this project.

When they finished, Allen Knott invited me up to “see my new roof.” I can’t tell you how great it felt to see the projects this far along.

Field Trip

In early September, knowing that work was underway at the cabin that weekend, we took a field trip to the Pope Leighey House in Alexandria, which was designed by Frank Llloyd Wright in the 1930's. (wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope-Leighey%20House). I snapped off some Moto Photos, but only a few are usable:

The Pope Leighey House is an example of Wright’s Usonian design concept – more from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usonian below:

Usonian is a term usually referring to a group of approximately 50 middle-income family homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright beginning in
1936 with the Jacobs House [1]. The "Usonian Homes" were typically small, single story dwellings without a garage or much storage, L-shaped to fit around a garden terrace on odd (and cheap) lots, and environmentally conscious with native materials, flat roofs and large cantilevered overhangs for passive solar heating and natural cooling, natural lighting with clerestory windows, and radiant floor heating. A strong visual connection between the interior and exterior spaces is an important characteristic of all Usonian homes. The word carport was coined by Wright to describe an overhang for a vehicle to park under.

The straightforward design of the Hawksbill Cabin reminded us of the Usonians and after our visit we are even more convinced that the builder had studied the idea and used much in the concept for the cabin. Especially in the use of clerestory windows, natural cooling, and the “Lazy L” shape of the house to take advantage of the geology of the two lots it straddles.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Poll's Closed

Hey thanks for voting in the poll!

Looks like the favorite is Windward, with four votes; "someone" voted for Black Jack; and we had a vote for Money Pit as well. Suggested names not in the poll included the Termite Mound and Mountain Dew - thanks all for the suggestions, all worthy names!

Until all the work is done, looks like we'll keep it as Windward for now!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Blue Skies Above

These are pictures of the inside of the cabin with the roof off. In photo 1, behind the tarp is the bathroom. In photo 2, the boards behind the scaffold protect the big picture windows.

We visited the cabin over the weekend to check progress on the roof job. Earlier I had reported that they took the old roof off of the stone portion of the cabin. That means demolition – messy job no matter how you slice it. So as we hit the road we were steeling ourselves for the worst.

We found incredible piles of debris everywhere. The old beams in piles in the front and back, the old roofing materials (Jesse told us there were six layers of shingles!) here and there. The termite damage on the beams was incredible, and I still have that battle of the species episode to write.

As we entered the house, the feeling of not having a roof overhead was very strange. Even weirder, having plastic draped all over to protect the contents – there really isn’t much there yet; and then all the scaffolding inside, the rig they jobbed up to move all the big pieces of wood.

We were definitely there for the worst of it….

Thursday, September 13, 2007

They've torn the roof off the sucker....

The news from Stanley is that they have torn the roof off of the cabin. This is one of the major projects on our list - I've written before about the damage to one of the beams and the legacy "triple threat" roof system. It turns out to be an interesting project, one I'll post a longer description of in a future post.

Foreshadowing: the damage was not limited to one beam after all.

We hear that clear blue sky is the current roof when you are sitting in the living room right now!

Monday, September 10, 2007

It's Not All Work

It’s not all hard work when we go to the cabin. Here is an iPod playlist that I had on in the car during our last trip, Sept. 2.

Come Monday – Jimmy Buffett
Seven Year Ache – Roseanne Cash
The Bottle Let Me Down – Merle Haggard
I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight – Bob Dylan
That’s Right, You’re Not from Texas – Lyle Lovett
Screw You, We’re from Texas – Ray Wylie Hubbard
I’ll Be Your San Antone Rose – Jerry Jeff Walker
Ooh Las Vegas – Gram Parsons
Tear Stained Letter – Johnny Cash
Folsom Prison Blues – Mekons
Ring of Fire – Elvis Costello
Jackson – Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon (from the movie)
Long Tall Texan – Lyle Lovett and Randy Newman
Your Cheatin’ Heart – Hank Williams
Long Gone Lonesome Blues – Sheryl Crow
Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (with Lovin’ on Your Mind) – Loretta Lynn
A Good Year for the Roses – George Jones
Crazy – Patsy Cline

To top it off, our lunch stop that day was at the Hawksbill Diner, and fine little road side spot that is a couple of miles from the house, just before you get to Stanley proper on BUS 340 South.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Projects Galore, Great and Small

Main entry area, showing kitchen and ceiling - damaged roof beam is next to the light fixture.

Living room - with fire place and pellet stove...and the great windows!

Master bedroom, with the ceiling beams and vents for natural ventilation. They are installed in all parts of the house.

I’ve alluded to a number of projects – it’s typical to have a bunch whenever you are moving into a new house. With the Hawksbill Cabin, however, there are some unique issues to deal with.

The only disclosure from the previous owner was roof issues. If you look at the September 1 entry you’ll see that there are some sagging or depressed areas in the tarred part of the roof – the older part of the house. Turns out that there are three historic roofs still installed in the place…an original shingle roof, a second shingle roof installed over the old one, and a third roof over that, the corrugated metal one that is currently visible.

So a new roof becomes project one, and we obtained an escrow allowance to deal with it. Project two: the sagging roof section is a symptom of a beam that is damaged and needs replacing. Hypothesis is that the previous owner knew about this and planned to do something about it, just didn’t get to it. Our inspector discussed it in her report, it is something we got additional escrow to deal with.

By the way, I've included some interior photos with this post, to show the charm of the place and give an idea of the construction. There are a host of others projects to come… some more of a cosmetic nature, some interdictions related to the battle of the species, and some still undiscovered.

Here’s a partial list of all we are considering (I can hear my friend Stan Andersen laughing now!):

Get rid of old freezer in the shed.
Relocate dryer vent from under the house.
Install new gutters.
Gas line at rear eave to be secured.
Flashing to be installed where lower siding shingles (to right of rear door) are deteriorating.
Masonry on terraces: level and relay existing brick patio on upper terrace.
Repoint stone retaining walls where cracked.
Electrical: install GFCI recap/3-prong outlets.
Relocate ground wire to exterior.
Deal with drain condition at rear door? Add protection/covering to threshold?
Seal moist area on rear wall of stone portion of house.
Recaulk windows.
Replace damaged wood on front window in addition. (If wood painted, save piece so I can get color match for paint.) Repair needed on other windows?
Insulate water lines.
Remove loft in livingroom.
Replace flue top/add chimney cap.
Add new sliding louvered doors to large closet in addition hallway.
Rescreen small porch off master bedroom. Check if new screens needed in vents.
Add bolts to ramp on small side porch.
Install new exterior light fixtures? Globe to cover bear bulb in closet?
Secure kitchen counter top. Add anti-tip bracket to range.
Replace vent fan in kitchen?
Install carbon monoxide detectors and add additional smoke detectors. Replace batteries in existing smoke detectors.
Have septic field emptied (Sills Septic Service 540-743-5027).
Restain/seal cedar shingles (need recommendation for what to use). Need to nail or better affix to wall?
Apply sealer to wood frame at window in large bathroom
Replace two cracked floor tiles in large bathroom if possible
Replace AC units and electric heating units. (Short term, change filters in existing AC units.) Wall heating unit in dining area doesn’t work.
Install new ceiling fans
Examine insulation and beams under addition. Replace insulation. (Do in cold weather to avoid critters.) Replace lattice with lattice with a frame. Make sure portion of lattice can be easily removed to allow access under addition. Coat beams with some kind of waterproofing if not pressure treated? Replace skirt at rear corner that’s rotted.
Remove decorative mirrors from wall in master bedroom.
Regravel driveway.
Install damper in fireplace.
The Pool…
Reroof garage and fix electric problems.
Rebuild brick grill.
Trim trees and bamboo especially near garage.
Tear down lean-to at rear of small shed.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Battle of the Species Part 1 - Carpenter Bees

Battle of the Species – Carpenter Bees

The subject of today's blog post was a toss-up. I have a lot to report on the repairs and renovations, but will save that for another time. I’m moving ahead with a report on one of the pests that we’ve identified around the cabin – carpenter bees, or more specifically, the eastern carpenter bee – “Xylocopa virginica”.

Telling, in my opinion, that the word Virginia is part of the name of this species. These two photos show some carpenter bee damage, at the pool cabana and in the old wood shed.

According to Wikipedia, carpenter bees nest by boring holes in wood dwellings and can become minor pests. They use chewed wood bits to form partitions between the cells in the nest. They have some other unique and interesting behaviors -

The male bee visits flowers only to feed himself, spending the rest of the time hovering in his territory, and investigating any movement. There are amusing stories of their attempts to mate with birds or other insects flying through their territories, or of how they will chase small pebbles tossed through their airspace, checking it out as a mating prospect. The males do not sting – are not even equipped to sting.

Females spend the majority of their time gathering nectar and pollen to provision their nests. They stay inside the nests and defend them vigorously, and have a painful sting. Also, the bees don’t like painted or treated wood.

After hatching, the new adults break through the partitions and crawl over each other to escape to the outside world. Apparently they continue to live in the tunnel, preparing to hibernate. Since previous nests are the primary nests each year, blocking or poisoning nests can often backfire on the homeowner, by encouraging the carpenter bee to bore new nests. Over time the burrowing of these new holes may weaken structures.

A second kind of related damage can occur from carpenter bee activity…woodpeckers relish the larvae and will peck away at the surface of the nests to get at them. I suspect we have primary damage (round holes) from the bees and secondary damage (crevasses and trenches) from the woodpeckers, which you can see in the wood shed above.

The web is full of solutions for dealing with them. Apparently, they are especially a pest to owners of log homes; in some places they are valued as pollinators; etc. Very interesting stuff, so we don’t want to completely get rid of them, we just want them to stay away from the dwelling. We talked to the former owner who’d done a lot of research on the bees and had a strategy for dealing with them (aggressive poisoning and steel wool), and we had a consult with a bug guy about them, who treated a couple of the infestations. There was much carnage after he came and went, as shown below (from near the cabana)…..

Also, there is an innovative product some Alexandria friends have used:
http://www.carpenterbeechamber.com/ There are a couple of fun videos on this site about the product.

Our approach is going to be complex and thorough. Typical of a management consultant, it is a four-pronged strategy, hypothesis driven, mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive:
1. Demolish known infested structures that are not part of the main dwelling and can be disposed of…we accomplished this during the 2 September visit, and I have exciting video of the action to post, soon as I figure out how to upload.
2. Treat known infestations to break the cycle of hatch/nest. Also, recently completed, per photographic record above.
3. Buy some of those bee boards and place them in current locations to attract the bees away from our good wood.
4. Finally, we are going to prop a board or two of old infested bare wood away from the house where we would prefer the bees to stay. They will build their nests in the wood I supply for them and stay away from the house. We’ll have a symbiotic relationship.
We’ll have a follow-up next spring, when bee season begins again.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Battle of the Species - Introduction

Well, the purpose of the blog is to keep a journal of just about everything we learn and experience on the adventure of owning the Hawksbill Cabin. There’ll be posts on our projects – numerous and expensive; what happens getting there or getting back; places of interest in the neighborhood; friends and relatives who visit; and generally the kinds of things you would expect with a blog like this.

On September 2, we made a trip out to the cabin to take care of some projects. I’ll begin to document that work separately…but while I was driving to the cabin this time I remembered an experience from last week I wanted to write about.

As you get used to living, or visiting, the “country,” one of the things you have to get used to is a constant sense of movement by the critters sharing the environment. Last weekend as we were closing up the cabin for our return to Alexandria I walked around the backyard path and caught sight of movement under the northwest corner of the cabin (don’t tell Mary, but that is where the master bedroom is). It was peripheral, so I turned quickly to look, but there was nothing there. I figure: snake, toad or mouse; but I can neither confirm nor deny that there was really anything there.

However, we have identified four species that we need to deal with – maybe it’s more like coming to terms with them – so this will be the first “serial” element of the blog. The four species are:

1. Carpenter bees
2. Termites
3. Poison ivy
4. Black snakes

We’ve heard about raccoons, deer, and a couple of bears that frequent our woods. Also, there is a cow pasture nearby, and we’ve seen several feral cats around. So I expect plenty of material to come from this topic!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

A few more photos

With this post, I'm uploading a few more of our early photos - the house sign, a view of the addition, and a view of the rear of the house. I expect to be posting a few times about the view of the back of the house...

New Cabin

We've just bought a cabin in Page County, Virginia - near Shenandoah National Park, just outside of Stanley, VA, and south of Luray. This blog will tell the story of our adventure with this unique property.