Work on the house is progressing nicely. On 23 July the bulldozer guys cleared the building site, plus additional space for delivery trucks to turn around. Later we had the driveway graded to smooth out some rough spots. We were going to add some more gravel but were told that the road bed is still in good shape overall.
We decided early on to have a pier and beam foundation for our house. This means more work and expense initially, but a lot less hassle later on whenever there is plumbing management to do. An auger was rented 31 July for drilling the big holes for the piers (the house site, unlike much of the surrounding land with its soft sandy soil, has red clay). Because our well is not yet dug (drought has kept the local well guys very busy), Greg had to haul water to the building site in buckets and trash cans in the back of the pick-up so the workers could make the cement. At the building site, he dumped the water into a large, like-new stock tank that he bought off Craig’s List.
An unforeseen complication arising from keeping water in this tank is that it attracted the cattle of the guy who currently leases the land. Of course the cattle would rather drink this nice fresh water than the scummy, muddy stuff that is in their dirt tanks right now, so some of them got into the habit of coming to the building site for a drink. The cows are harmless enough, but the big black bull is another matter. He took an instant dislike to the large yellow truck (a former Hertz rental) belonging to Carl, our builder, and made menacing motions at it with his horns. He also developed an early prejudice against the cement mixer, and took a swipe at it. (Fortunately, cement mixers are pretty tough.) The pile of three-quarter-to-dust lime, from which the cement was made, was something the bull actually liked. By pawing at the pile, and rubbing his head against it, he is able to coat himself with a fine layer of white dust. He quickly added “dust bath” to his daily routine, and even now, when the stock tank is empty and overturned, he returns to the remains of the lime pile to delightedly powder himself.
When Greg signed the papers on our builder’s risk insurance, the representative declared that he was now covered against any imaginable building mishap: fire, lightning strike, theft, vandalism, so-called “acts of God,” et cetera. Greg asked the representative, “How about bulls?” “No,” she replied. “Bulls require a separate policy.” This does not seem fair. Is not a two-thousand-pound bull an act of God?
For our beams, instead of the standard pair of side-by-side two-by-twelves, Carl used one regular two-by-twelve plus one LVL of the same dimensions. The LVL is laminated and very strong. This combination was used all around the house and down the middle, giving us an unusually stout foundation. (The joists are standard two-by-twelves.) Our decking, too, is stouter than standard.
So the foundation is now complete, and early next week, framing should begin.
Greg has gone out periodically to work on the house or to bring water or lumber. Anna went along one day; she hauled water for the digging and used a hoe to get clay off the auger bit.
Then two weeks ago Carl hired Daniel as a sort of carpenter’s helper. When there is enough work at the home site to justify an extra pair of hands, Daniel works; when there’s not, he stays home. He is enjoying working for wages.
The weather, to no one’s surprise, is hot. Carl has a couple of canopies and a fan at the building site, and we also set up our pop-up camper, which has AC and a little fridge.
Last week the girls and I drove to a Habitat for Humanity store in San Antonio with Tina, Carl’s wife. This is like a big thrift store for building supplies. Apparently builders donate stuff, new and used, to HFH, more than can be used for HFH houses. The surplus is then sold to the public, and the proceeds go to HFH. We did not buy anything that day, but I got a good idea of what sort of stuff is available (which is a lot: cabinets, vanities, interior and exterior doors, windows, sinks, tubs, laminate flooring, ceramic tile, rugs, furniture, et cetera). Greg and I will probably go together at a later time.
Greg and I also visited Discovery Architectural Antiques in Gonzales, a terrific source for reclaimed building materials, and ended up buying doors, solid wood and very beautiful.
The day before yesterday, we went back to Discovery and bought a terrific old ceramic double sink with a dish drainer on each side—about sixty inches in total length. I have never seen anything like it before, though I suppose the design was common enough once upon a time. This sink dates from the forties or so. It will look spectacular centered under my kitchen window, and its design is ideal for washing dishes and processing garden produce.
The new sink is similar to a discarded one we found on the farm, only that one has one bowl and one dish drainer. Its surface is badly yellowed with rust. I asked the workers at Architectural Discoveries what they used to clean porcelain sinks and tubs. This is a very eco-friendly business, and it turned out that, like me, they favored baking soda and lemon rinds. However, they also used one additional natural cleaner that I had not tried: pumice. Pumice will clean rust stains off porcelain, one youthful worker declared to me, without scratching the surface.
In the past, I have listened with deep suspicion to accounts of people using pumice on toilet bowls to remove rust stains and mineral deposits. How is it possible, I silently wondered, for something as abrasive as pumice to not scratch porcelain?
Now I had a reason to put the method to the test. When we got home, I took a pumice stone out of the bathroom and rubbed it ever so gently on an inconspicuous portion of our salvaged sink.
The young worker was right: it works great, and it doesn’t scratch. The sink is scratched anyway, but not from the pumice. Greg helped me set up the salvaged sink on some sawhorses under the carport, and I went to work. In spite of my early success, I rubbed tentatively at first, until Emilie, tired of watching my timid efforts, went and got a pumice stone of her own and demonstrated what a vigorous rubbing could accomplish. After that, we both scrubbed with abandon. We got almost the entire sink free of stain, and Greg made good progress scraping old petrified caulk off the edge with a razor blade.
This salvaged sink will be restored to usefulness in the laundry room of the future Midkiff home. A third sink, found at the home site, will be used in a location yet to be determined, perhaps a barn.
Yesterday morning, Greg and I walked through the back of the house with Carl to determine the exact placement of walls and windows. Our house plan is something I drew on a sheet of graph paper after studying other plans and determining what sort of design would suit the needs of our family. As I have no formal training in drafting or architecture, my plan is not exactly a thing of exquisite precision; I didn’t account for wall widths, and most of the measurements are in even numbers because each square on the graph paper counts for two square feet. I didn’t even use a straight edge. But because the plan is simple, and because most of the rooms are quite large, and because I knew I wasn’t accounting for wall widths and would have to later, the plan is workable for us and for Carl.
So yesterday was the day to determine exactly where all the walls and windows and doors should be. We shrank a few rooms to allow space in others that needed it more, and now we are good to go. That was the most complicated wall to figure out; the other three should be comparatively easy.