Friday, June 29, 2007

The meeting of the engineers

Yesterday I was messing around on the city’s website and discovered there’s been a complaint filed about the condition of our yard. Oh dear. Well, I concede that we don’t cut the grass as often as we could, and the contractors haven’t been very meticulous about containing the debris into tidy piles. However, this program is intended for people to report abandoned and neglected properties, which is obviously not the case with our house. It seems that about a dozen houses on our street have been written up for similar problems - mostly uncut grass and weeds - and really our street is not one that is notable for nuisance properties. I imagine one of the neighbors is putting in the complaints as a gentle nudge to remind everyone to clean up their yards. Meh. It worked though - we had the yard guy over today to give a thorough buzz to all the growing things, and got the contractor clean up the scattered debris.

Our bigger issue, that I wouldn’t fault my next-door neighbor at all for complaining about, is the chimney that has sagged about 6 inches since the house got lifted. It hasn’t been properly supported, and is just suspended on the side of the house right now. The fireplace is non-functional anyway, probably since the last big hurricane blew through, so we want to just take the whole thing off, unless it’s cheaper to shore it up and fill in the gap with masonry. Evidently there will be a meeting of the engineers today to decide how to proceed. Each of the contractors and the architect have engineers on the job, so you’d think we’d have avoided the sagging chimney to begin with. I keep telling them I don’t care what they do with it, I just want it done before the whole thing falls on my neighbor’s driveway, or even worse on his car or house.

The meeting of the engineers is also going to discuss the columns supporting the center of the house. The specs from the architect’s engineer called for 8x8 wood columns and laminated wood beams running the length of the house. Mr. Nola, the contractor, and I would like to see something more substantial given the insane weight of the house and the tenacity of local termites. We’d feel better about concrete columns and steel beams - but then we’re not engineers so they ought to tell us the best materials to use. I realize wood has some properties that make it stronger than steel in some applications, so maybe it’s just psychological, but then again I really don’t want to replace a column in five years because some formosan termites have taken up residence in it.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Status update on the big lift

Those with long memories might recall that our house was elevated last November so that we could 1) repair the foundation damage from Hurricane Katrina's flood, and 2) raise the house high enough that we won't have to worry about flooding ever again. The pictures of the big lift are on Flickr, and it was pretty cool to watch. Anyway, this kind of project doesn't just get done in a day. Or a week, or a month, or a year, for that matter. Since November we've seen a few periods where there is a flurry of activity, followed by several weeks of nothing. Mostly we just nod at the contractors and write checks. My primary involvement with the process is securing the financing, which is ongoing and brutal.

We've got scores of guys working on it: our architect (mostly useless, it seems), his engineer (also mostly useless), the foundation contractor (generally good, but hard to get a hold of), his engineer (rumored to exist, I've never met him), his various subs, the general contractor (whom we love), his engineer, his various subs... you get the idea. Sometimes the engineers have to pow-wow over what specs are needed to keep the house in place. Hopefully this results in the best quality outcome as opposed to too many cooks spoiling the broth.

There have been a few hiccoughs along the way, of course. We got a stop work order from the city shortly after the house was lifted, because somehow none of the contractors involved realized we lacked a permit to raise the house. Since we'd been downtown with the plans more than a few times to get sign offs from safety and permits on the project and the funding, I'm baffled as to how nobody at the city ever pointed this particular permit out to us, either. Anyway, the stop work order came in the day before the concrete guy was scheduled to pour the new foundation, and evidently the concrete guy takes weeks to schedule. The foundation contractor's secretary wound up holding a sit-in at the safety and permits office until somebody signed off on the permit. I suspect they just wanted to get rid of her, but I really don't care.

So, the foundation got poured, and the general contractor subsequently began building the framing to go between the foundation and the raised house - basically the walls of the new ground floor, which will be our garage and workshop. This takes a while. Eventually we get word that they're ready to lower the house onto the new walls and foundation, and we were all excited about getting to that milestone. But wait! The day before the house was to be lowered, one of the engineers realizes that one wall of the foundation was POURED SEVEN INCHES OFF FROM WHERE IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN. Seven inches isn't normally a big deal, unless you've got a six-inch wide wall that is supposed to rest directly on top of it.

Houston, we have a problem.

Remarkably, the concrete guy who previously took weeks to schedule came out the next day and poured a new foundation right next to the old one. Fortunately the footings underneath had been poured wide enough to accomodate both. Unfortunately, the wall built by the general contractor has to be taken down and rebuilt. Because it's structural, they can't reuse the same panels, and a decent chunk of work has to be replaced. The foundation guy doesn't seem to know it yet, but they're paying for it. Our best guess is that whoever measured to lay our the foundation forms started from the inside of the opposite wall instead of the outside, which is an understandable mistake, but it still set us back about a month, and cost several thousand dollars in materials and labor. Feh.

So here's a picture of the house with the framed in garage, just before it was lowered into final position.