90% Smooth Texture and Red Oak Hardwoods

Outside we are now into the second week of the siding  job while the drywall crew finished up on the inside of our Modern South Park Bungalow. I ended up going with a 90% smooth, hand-troweled texture on the entire house and garage. It took 165 sheets of drywall, a case of tape and 30 boxes of mud for the entire job on this 1850 s.f. house. My guys do an incredible flawless job so I’m happy once again.

Now that the drywall is done, we are going straight into laying the hardwood floors this week. These are the real deal, 2 1/4″ x 3/4″ Red Oak unfinished wood. Once the house is all done, one of the last things we’ll do is then sand and stain them. These are the best hardwood floors you could ask for, they’ll last 100 years and you can refinish them many times and always change the stain color. Laying unfinished Red Oak and then paying someone to refinish it, is a little more expensive than just laying a pre-finished engineered hardwood, but the quality is second to none. After the hardwoods go in, I’ll then trim out the house on top of them. What you see here is about half of what I bought, I am doing 1200 of the 1850 s.f., which is the whole house minus the two secondary bedrooms.

Siding and Mud

My new construction project is running very smoothly. After passing the inspection on my house wrap Monday, we were finally able to start putting the Hardi Siding up. I have really been anxious to see what the house will finally look like after all the rough work that gets buried and nobody will see. Now comes the fun part, which actually gives the house its personality. What’s inside the walls is just as good as you guys know, but this part is what I’ll look at every day.

First, I framed the windows with 1 x4″ Hardi Trim. The Hardi Lap Siding on the bottom goes up pretty fast in 12 foot lengths with a 7″ reveal, I went with the smooth version to look clean. The Hardishingle Staggered Edge style up top on the other hand, is quite labor intensive. The pieces are only 48″ wide and go up with a 6″ reveal, but really give the house some dimension and texture. I ran a 1×8″ dividing band board with a 1×2″ shelf on top to separate the styles and add even more detail. The siding comes in primer, but oddly enough the color is similar to what we will actually be using for paint. We are now on our second wall, I can see this siding project stretching out to several weeks as there is tons of detail work and not much room around the house for the scaffolding, but its looking great!

The second inspection we passed this week was on Thursday, for the drywall screw spacing. The mud crew was on standby to start taping and floating everything once the inspector signed off on the hanging  job. Once again, this is an extremely specialized crew. Different guys than the drywall hangers last week. We are putting one of the best drywall crews in San Diego on this project and after the whole house is taped and floated we’ll be doing 2 coats of a level 4 smooth hand-troweled texture.

In order to keep up my construction pace, I ordered all the pre-hung interior doors last week, bought the Red Oak unfinished hardwood flooring material this week, and am currently about ready to pull the trigger on the millworks package. It’s all about thinking 2 steps ahead to make sure you don’t run into a 3-week wait for a special order, which in my case is just about everything.

Frame and Rough Inspection: Passed

I’m rockin’ and rollin’ baby! Monday I passed the huge, monumental Frame and Rough inspection. The inspector looks at how the whole house was framed, Simpson hardware installations, shear panel nailing and then electrical, plumbing, hvac duct work, ventilation and fire sprinklers. There are so many little things that he looks for, that its easy to fail but I’ve been through this so many times we’ve got it dialed now. He was very impressed with the quality of my work and how fast we built the house, we just passed the 2-month mark from when we got our permit stamps and poured the foundation. I had the insulation company ready to come in Tuesday morning so we didn’t lose any time.

I use Tracy at OJ Insulation out of Escondido, I would pay the same money just buying the insulation at Home Depot for what it costs to have them do it. Since I went 2×6 on my exterior walls I was able to upgrade the standard R 13 wall insulation to twice-as-thick R 19, this is going to be a huge energy saver. The guys hung all exterior walls, between floors, attic, HVAC closet and bathrooms for noise reduction, in a day so I could call in the insulation inspection. The insulation job ran about $1500 bucks for materials and labor. Here in San Diego the inspector wants to verify the insulation before you can hang drywall, we passed this second inspection on Wednesday this week and I had the drywall hangers ready to come in on Thursday.

I’m using the same drywall crew that did my big historic project last summer The Painted Lady. There are less expensive guys I know that were chomping at the bit to do it, but this crew specializes in smooth hand troweled texture and I want the best for this house. They do all the custom spec houses and million-dollar Coronado remodels. I didn’t want the skip trowel or birdseye finish that most guys do, it costs more to go smooth because you are basically doing 2 coats of mud on the whole house and using lights at night to make sure everything is flat. The drywall hangers are old guys, one guy is 62 and another is 71 years old. I didn’t have to ask how long they’ve been hanging drywall but the texture guys wont use anybody else because the better its hung, the easier it is to get perfect smooth walls. The extra time we spent “straight edging” the walls is paying off. We took an 8-foot level and went around the whole house planing down high wall studs and shimming low ones to prep for the drywall.

The next inspection I have next week is for drywall screw spacing before we can tape and float. At the same time the inspector will sign off on the exterior moisture barrier so we can start installing the Hardi Siding on the house. I used the best product out there, Tyvek Home Wrap. My siding delivery comes on Monday so we’ll be off to the races on the exterior siding while the drywall guys continue inside. This project is running like a machine, its all production work and as long as you have the materials ordered and ready, pass inspections in a timely manner and have sub-contractors lined up, its like running a factory, I should know from my old days from the snowboard factory. Thanks for following!

MCM Window Shopping

I’m really excited about the Milgard aluminum windows I picked out for this house and have to say I’ve removed tons of aluminum windows but this is the first time I’ve ever put them In. They are a modern energy efficient version of what we took out. With my right hand man Barney, we got them all installed including the 6 foot and 8 foot patio doors in a day and a half. These are new construction windows meaning you have to break the stucco back to install them using nailing fins. Putting them in is easy but the most important part is getting new flashing behind the old felt paper and using Jiffy Seal around them for a good seal. When breaking out your old ones try not to damage the wire mesh or felt paper. There’s a lot of guys flipping houses in San Diego and throwing in retrofit or vinyl lip windows. Believe me, you don’t want to put in vinyl retrofit windows, they will not hold air and warp in less than 10 years. I know because I have them in my house!

For our Mid Century project I wanted to get the stream-lined modern minimalist look so the aluminum was a clear choice. I wanted to use a mixture of casement and awning windows on this project so the master bedroom window was a perfect candidate to replace the old huge slider with a fixed window and 2 casements on the sides. I was able to put together a custom front window also with an awning on the bottom and slider on the top as seen here. I almost went with a really cool look – triple awning on the front, but thought there might not be enough air flow on those hot San Diego summer nights with no A/C so I played it functionally safe and put sliders in the secondary bedrooms as well. Since we are re-stuccoing the whole house I also took this opportunity to break out and replace all the old crawl space vents as you can see at the bottom of the top picture.

After price shopping around at 4 places I ended up getting the best deal at Home Depot. These are special order windows and take 3-4 weeks to arrive so you want to order them as soon as possible so they don’t slow your project down. For orders over $2500 you can request special pricing from the Home Depot Bid Room. Just ask to do so at the Millworks or Contractors desk. In my case they knocked off another 14% and with no delivery charge I ended up paying about $3600 for all the windows including a 6 foot and 8 foot patio door. These windows are of course low E and dual pane. The patio doors were a little more tricky because the frames come in 4 pieces but easy for anyone to do and they installed like a dream. They shut so good it sounds like an airplane door.

I tried out a new drywall patching crew this time and am super happy with the results. They cut out everything square, patched all my Swiss cheese holes from running the mechanicals, and then skim coated the entire house with a new 90% smooth texture. They also had to redo some of the window and door returns from our install, so it was nice to have them there fixing stuff as we were putting in the windows. The inside is ready for paint now, everything is really going smooth with this house. I’m off to the recycle yard with the old aluminum windows now for a nice bonus check for helping the environment!

Revisiting White Paint

Did you know Benjamin Moore has over 140 shades of white? Nothing is more classic than a white room and with big wide trims and good architectural details and there’s so much you can do using different shades of white to add texture.  In the design world, white interior paint has also been becoming all the rage and we’ve been noticing. After all the hard work trimming out the house, its always a pleasure to start painting inside. Our floors are covered so no worries there, I went back to the well for my old favorite interior trim color Snowbound by Sherwin Williams in a semi-gloss sheen. High-gloss is just too Brady Brunch in my opinion so I always use semi-gloss for trim inside. I sprayed all the interior doors, casings, closet shelving and baseboards with 2 coats after taping the glass up and switching out my chrome hinges with dummies. I keep a bucket of crappy hinges that I don’t mind painting and find it easier to switch them out instead of taping the new ones off. This way also my new chrome hinges stay as new. As you might notice I sprayed the semi-gloss right onto the drywall next to the doors and window trim with no cause for concern, my flat wall paint color will go right over that and you wont be able to see it. Also the hardwood floor refinishing will get any over-spray from the floors upstairs.

For the wall color I tried something new, it’s Cloud White by Benjamin Moore. I didn’t want to use the typical “flipper beige” and wanted to lean modern a bit without creating a full blown white box. I’ll run this color through the whole house to unify these big spaces and provide more flow. The first few pics downstairs you can see the color on the walls already, I’ve layered the space by stacking 3 whites together; Pure White in the ceiling tray, Cloud White on the walls and Snowbound on the trims. I thought that with the huge room size anything too pure white might look like a hospital so with the soft, cream hue that this wall color offers, it will go good with the hardwood floors and be very easy to live with. Cloud White seems to have a chameleon affect, in different rooms and at random times of the day, it picks up color around it, even sometimes almost looking a little pale yellow when the sun is coming in the front room. Since I used good PVA drywall primer I can get away with one coat on the wall paint. I’m rolling the walls carefully with a very small 1/4″ nap roller cover because I have a high-end smooth drywall texture. After all this work getting this hand-troweled luxury finish, the last thing I want to do is use a big nap and add stipple from the paint roller. The walls are looking amazing, probably the nicest finish I’ve ever done, I’m never going back to spray orange peel texture again. The staircase is almost all stripped down to the original wood now as well. Once I get done painting upstairs I’m ripping this paper off the floors and its on! That’s all I got for ya.

Paint on the Lady

The painters I hired for The Lady turned out to be a little in over their heads. Throughout the week I found myself initially letting some poor prep slide, then finally by the end of the week I was actually showing them how I wanted things done and had my hourly helper doing their work. Since we had agreed on a contract price and not hourly, I told them it just wasn’t working out and I wanted to break up. The straw that broke the camels back is when I had my guy re-sand a whole wall because they didn’t prep it good enough and then before we could even put some primer on it, they sprayed color right over the raw wood. I feel much better now after letting them go, me and my guy will probably just finish it off ourselves. The paint job is real important on this house and as you know its all in the prep, but even though I had not planned nor budgeted for the caliber of work we’ve done in the past, it still needed to be better than what I was getting.  This is the first sub contractor who hasn’t worked out so I’ve been really lucky getting back here to San Diego and having to build a new team and at least the error is on something I can fix. I am super excited with my colors, the first one we put up after primer is the dark green on the big eaves. Victorian color schemes are known for dark eaves and trim and lighter body colors. The pictures are large format again so make sure and click on them if you want to zoom in: )

The second color we sprayed was on the gable shingles. This accent color will also be carried down to a few other spots later. Notice the ornamental rosette discs I found online to replace what must have been there originally. When we pulled the siding off last month I noticed these circle marks and figured out what had been there years ago. These little details are going to pop after all the colors are up. I’ve got one more period detail big surprise with the front porch handrail, the house is looking really good now but only half way to the impact I’ve got planned!

The drywall crew is doing a great job and should be finished in a few more days. The hand troweled smooth texture is coming out perfect so that’s my good news for the week. Here are a few pics before the texturing went on, the huge tray ceilings are really dramatic. I also went with the new style “mini-bullnose” for the corners, its smaller than your typical rounded corner but very sharp and clean and usually reserved for high end custom homes. My plan is to keep pushing on the exterior so we can get all the colors up before coming back inside to do window trim, interior paint and flooring. We had a good home sale a few blocks over, its another historic 2 story rehab, 500 square feet smaller and only a 2 bedroom went pending after only 5 days on the market for $425k. We’ll have to see what it closes for but I’m sure they didn’t take too much less with that short market time.

Drywall and Exterior Prep

After having 6-7 drywall contractors bid the Painted Lady I finally pulled the trigger. With the lack of new housing starts in this town a lot of the high volume big specialty crews are not around anymore. Of course there are drywall “companies” here but they all charge more than I want to pay. Any handyman can hang your drywall so it can be tricky to get a good price yet also get a good job, its one of the most important things to get right in order to have a nice finished product.  We always say you can only get 2 out of 3;  fast, good and cheap. It might get done fast and be cheap but it wont be good. It might be good and cheap but it wont be fast. Lastly, it might get done fast and good but it certainly wont be cheap!

In searching for drywall sub contractors I relied on referrals primarily. In our business we always break costs down to price per square foot on anything in order to budget for things. In Texas everyone used a labor price per sheet which was around 11.00. Here in San Diego all the contractors are using price per square foot and quoting .45 to .65 cents for labor which includes hanging, tape an float and texture. Out of all the rehabbers and other investors I spoke to nobody knew how much they were paying but just agreeing on one price.  Things they take into consideration are the ceiling height and any other details that might slow them down. Our house has 11 foot ceilings with trays downstairs and coves upstairs so it adds a lot of time to the job. While a lot of bids came in at .59 cents I ended up getting it finally from a highly recommended guy for .40 cents. Another thing that’s driving my price up is because I am going with a smooth finish texture to replicate the old plaster found in these homes originally. A quick light orange peel spray job would have been way cheaper but I couldn’t do that to this house. At 10,000 s.f. of drywall I’m paying $4k for labor. I’m pretty happy, the hanging crew is done now after 2.5 days with 5 guys and we have the inspection on Monday for screw spacing then Tuesday we can start taping.

On the outside of the house I stayed busy with recreating some more of the missing details that make this house so cool while the painters started prepping. The biggest thing was that the sunburst under the front gable was broken so we had to scale a 32 foot ladder and take it down to copy it. I made a sweet new one and got it back up there in place, its weird to think that the last person who touched this was over 100 years ago and nobody will touch what we did for probably another hundred years. I’m putting in a little extra effort to make sure the front of this house and all its historical little ornaments are intact. We installed the TM Cobb Victorian front door with stained glass window and rebuilt the original transom as well. I also hand made some cool brackets for under the front porch. Since the original ones were missing I used the mini gable facia for inspiration and came up with a heart-Celtic-clover design, they came out cool and are now in place. Its neat when the sun hits the front of this house all these details create shadows on the siding. I also made some fake scalloped shingles for the top of the mini gable that were missing. I cut them out of 1/4 plywood and even put grooves in them to make them look real, another small detail that will pay off. We are getting color on the outside this week, stay tuned to see some Lady paint.

Just Say No To Hoppers!

It’s finally starting to look like a house again. As I’ve said before its always fun to see it with drywall so you can get a feel for the new spaces you’ve created and how they flow together, the new master suite I built is definately going to sell this house. I’m very particular on the drywall job for these big projects, I use a new construction crew that specialize in this trade and do it all day long, every day. Of course every tom, dick and harry out there can hang drywall and tape and float it (including me) but this important step really dictates how your final finish out will appear. My guys use all the latest tools like roto zips to cut out the boxes and mud bazookas and taping machines to float it out. There’s literally no sanding when the mud is applied correctly. Tons of other rehabbers here locally are going “handyman” style and having painters hang their drywall, tape and float it and use a hopper to spray the texture. The texture on your rehab is a very important detail, some buyers probably wont notice bad texture but the 20% who are in the know will recognize the quality. Plus, after all that work to get to this point who would want a chunky uneven surface on your walls that looks like old drywall thats been retextured and patched?  Hoppers are o.k. for small jobs but for a big house it will be hard to get even coverage and mix it consistently one bucket at a time. A professional crew will bring in a truck with a spray rig, one mixture and they spray the whole house evenly without stopping.

Once again, that’s what these guys do for a living. Once the texture truck pulls up 3 guys start running around masking off all the windows and can lights while the sprayer starts at the back of the house and works his way forward. The whole house takes about 2 hours to complete. For a professional drywall job like this we pay $10.00 per sheet for labor. That includes the hanging crew, tape and floating as well as the texture. I supplied the drywall itself, this house ate up 270  4×8 sheets. Of course we don’t use 8 footers so as to minimize the joints but thats how the labor is calculated, what actually went in was 180 12 footers. Per building code we use 5/8 on the ceiling and 1/2 on the walls. If you hire someone to do the drywall in your big rehab and he shows up with a texture hopper, run!

Raining Hard, SA Housing Market Slowing

 

I had my framing inspection Monday and he passed me on the room addition but failed the new front porch because I had trimmed it out already and he couldn’t see how it was framed…oops. He said he would pass it with a letter from an engineer so I had to pay 300 bucks to have my engineer crawl in the attic to verify my framing was done correctly and draw up a certificate on it. I went straight into hanging all the insulation and called in for the insulation inspection Tuesday. The same inspector showed up the following day and passed me on that. Meanwhile I had all the drywall delivered. It turned out to be 150 sheets for the room addition, kitchen and existing bath. Man, prices on drywall have come down; I only paid 6.50 per sheet for 12 footers. My drywall crew hung it in a day and went straight into tape and float over the weekend. It’s coming out really nice as it’s always a cool stage to get to when you can see it all sealed up and smelling new. My drywall crew charges 10 bucks/sheet to hang, tape and float and texture. Since the existing bedrooms were not demo’ed I am retexturing the whole house so it will match. These guys are real pro; they do mostly new construction so the seams come out great. For texturing they don’t mix in a hopper, a truck with a mixing machine actually shows up and they spray the whole house with one batch so it turns out consistent. Drywall finishes and textures can make it or break it when it comes down to your final product so it’s important to get pros to do this part. In the past I’ve done small rooms myself but now that we are on a larger level I always sub this out. I also got all the wood floor patching done which included all new wood in the kitchen and I also ran it into the addition. I even put the wood floors into the master bath, which will be new for me this time and should be a real dramatic touch. With all the rain lately (6 inches in 1 night) I feel lucky that at least I’m making progress inside the house. After being in a record drought all summer now we get hammered with flooding, crazy weather here in Texas.

The local San Antonio real estate market continues to slow. So far this year we’ve had only 13,185 homes sold compared to the same period last year of 14,724 and 17,981 for 2007. Last year was the big slow down here when a lot of Realtors went starving. Things picked up a little this summer mainly due to the $8000 first time buyer tax credit so it will be interesting to see what happens to the real estate market if they let it expire. There’s a bill in Congress to raise the credit to $15,000 and open it to non-owner occupied buyers which would be great for investors and definitely clean up some inventory, but I’m not sure how we could pay for it. Foreclosures at the courthouse steps here in SA are also still rising, I ran across a Realtor friends’ house while reviewing the auction list for this month. Ouch, now that’s hitting close to home. Our strategy for this market is as always be extra careful on location, buy extremely right and offer a high quality renovation and unique product for the price level. Even with the slower market there are a lot of people continuing to move here to San Antonio and we only need one buyer.

Post-Mud Walkthrough

All the tape and float is now complete and the whole house got textured today with a light orange peel. This crew did a great job and the house looks incredible. The texture guy was checking out my cactus in the front yard so I had to keep an eye on him. We ordered 13 pre-hung interior doors at roughly $68.00 ea. this week so they will get delivered Tuesday and I can start hanging them. I chose a raised 2-panel hollow core with oil rubbed bronze hardware, which we will use throughout the house. A nice young couple has been by several times looking at the house and found me through a friend who lives on the next block. They are extremely interested and love the area however I think we might be priced a bit out of their range. It’s amazing how hot this area is and what little good inventory comes up. Most of the houses in Mahncke Park are 2/1’s with tiny closets and not fully updated so our 3/2 with luxurious master suite will be a very unique offering and timely to coincide with the surging popularity of the area. Here is a quick walkthrough video from today.

Anthony Bourdain ain’t got nothin’ on me

Last week we passed the mechanical, framing and insulation inspections and finally got the drywall hung Friday. Eating cactus is a big thing here in San Antonio with the Mexicans. First the sheetrock delivery driver spotted my cactus in the yard and wanted to take some with him to eat, of course I obliged. Then when the hangers showed up Friday and also got excited about it I had to give it a try. Evidently you are supposed to boil it first and then chop it up and use it with eggs in burritos or carne asada on the grill. Eating it raw off the plant in my backyard was quite an experience; I’d have to say it tastes like room temperature cucumber. The workers I find are quite resourceful. My roofer on another house found a wild berry plant in the alley and harvested them saying he was going to make salsa. I tried those too and they were hot as hell. I’ve seen these berries for years on plants but always assumed they were poisonous. I want to know who the first guy was to try eating these backyard plants and find out they were ok. The tape and float crew came in over the weekend and got started as you can see. They didn’t find anything appetizing growing in the yard. By mid week we should have it all the way to texture inside and then I can take over with the paint sprayer. My stomach was feeling a little off today; don’t think I’ll be eating any plants out of the backyard again anytime soon.

Screens

Some Tape and Float Action

We passed our electrical rough-in inspection on Tuesday.  My helper Nacho and I started right away hanging the drywall and we finished the tape and float on Friday. You can really start to see how the new kitchen is going to look and it’s exciting. All the “old house smells” are now gone as the walls are all sealed up. Additionally, I put in a new back door on the kitchen and a new subfloor in the bath. My A/C guy is coming Tuesday to start running all the ductwork and install the furnace in the attic for new central air conditioning.  I originally planned to place the compressor on the side of the house so I had the electrician run the power there, but after pulling the permit we were advised that since we are in a historic neighborhood we couldn’t have the equipment visable from the street so I decided to put it in the backyard. Another neighbor stopped by today to tell me how happy she was to see someone finally doing something with this old house.