Sunday, March 8, 2009

Building a House of Railway Sleepers - Part 7

The House is Ready - first stage completed

After almost a year since the last post on the construction of the Railwail Sleepers Lakehouse, it's time for an update on the construction status.

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The heat is on

After we finished the bedroom and the kitchen in order to spend summer vacations there, we continued building steadily, in April we put an ecological wood furnace in the bedroom so we'de be prepared for the colder autumn temperatures.

Putting the wood furnace in place was pretty straightforward, as the mounting kit came with all the needed hardware (outer duct, inner duct, isolation so the roof won't overheat, everything...). The only extra we needed was to add a silicone cord where the outer tube meet the metal sheet over the roof, so water won't slide in there into the room.

It's also highly recommendable to put metal sheets in the places where the furnace is close to the walls and the floor, as you don't want the entire wooden work of art to catch fire and go down just like Jesse James in the famous song.
We used spare marble from the kitchen table for the floor so it would look nicer, the sheet metal on the walls is hardly noticeable so I left it as plain metal.

And it started raining for 40 days

Then we had to run and put the tiles on the roof before the first rain, so that the roof boards wouldn't get wet and take the sexy shape of an Noah's Ark. Actually it starter raining before we could do that, so we had to go earlier and cover the whole house with plastic (this is way faster than tiling). So any of you need to cover a house in plastic, as a work of art, installation or any other massive use of plastic let me know, I happen to have 1000 sq. ft in clearance.

For the roof we selected light gray asphalt shingles form Owens-Corning, as they are light, not expensive and are guaranteed for 20 years, so they seemed a pretty good deal. The tiling took about 3 weeks, with the living room roof (18 ft tall at the center) proving to be the most difficult, it is highly recommended that you lie 2 or 3 ladders horizontally or vertically on the roof slopes for support and mobility and tie them well to something solid on the floor so they will stay on place when you are on them (unless you are a huge fun of extreme sledding on wood tracks).

Safety Tip: Tie the ladders with a wide tie down (the long ones with ratchets to tow or tie cargo in trucks work well) as the smalls stones in the asphalt shingles will erode a regular rope pretty quickly (yep extreme sleds again). If you don't have those available use two ropes at every point, and a rabbit paw in your back pocket.

After the roofing was ready we were ready to lay down the long missed floorboards in the living room, never mind we did not have all the walls, I was already sick of getting mud into the bedroom every time. So the flooring was done and the it was painted with polyurethane so that the water coming through the absent walls wouldn't turn the floor into Noah's Ark.

The "ferry" operation

By this winter had passed and spring was starting... Wait! Let's pause here: I should note that the road down the house gets very – VERY – bad with the winter rain (slippery thick mud, great for pottery but not for vehicles), and with 3 feet deep water cracks wandering through the road at each of the five sharp turns.

So we had to unload all the aforementioned boards, shingles and nails, etc (this etc includes, kids, clothing, food and water among other) by the neighbor's perfect concrete road and ramp into handy Don Hernan's boat and move all the construction materials for the house by row boat into our dock, and then unload them. Pause for air, stretch our backs, and haul them up into the house.

Yep, you can probably picture now that when spring started we were happier than cats and birds and flowers, and our backs were grateful as well. We could drive our construction stuff right down to the house again, after repairing the road with the classic oil gobbling yellow excavator for a whole day.

So spring started... we were happier that cat's and birds... and we didn't mind not having walls, so did share the house with some cats and birds. We started putting some patio furniture on the living room and we finally had a house with no dirt floors.
This felt pretty civilized at that time.

We also fitted a hydro pack to the water pump that gets water from the lake, so now we also have water just by opening the kitchen sink faucet, intead of going down to the dock, plugging the pump on and bleeding it two or three times to get water.

Another huge leap for mankind, as Domingo demonstrates on the image on the left.

We then started fitting on some windows on the living room and ran out of sleepers to finish the living room walls. So we had to buy a few more (12 by now), and while we found them we started building the septic tank, as we realized it would be a house until the bathroom was ready.

Closing down the house

But sleepers were getting scarse, harder to find and more expensive (demand, supply, price... you know), so after finding and using eight of them, I decided to close the remaining walls with 18 mm thick plywood painted oak, in order to be able to leave things in the living room. Things like actual living room furniture and a stereo.
I really feel "installed" in a new home once I can play some music, never mind the hundred boxes... or the missing walls.

Besides, I was getting sick to have to lock all the kitchen stuff in the bedroom (the only fully closed room that allowed us to store stuff) every time we went there. Every major change happens when somebody gets sick of something, it's called a Revolution. The French invented them about two centuries ago when they got sick of being exploited by their kings.

After our closing the house revolution things really changed, we could rest in the living room for smalls periods of time, when we weren't writing down what else was missing, or getting up to do something else. But as the bathroom and plumbing were being finished the living room became more of a resting and reading place.

Rushing the closing of some walls also helped us realize we didn't wan't that many walls, and we switched some of the back walls for windoiws (I'm told architects and constructors look pretty ugly when you do this, but I don't have any of them to worry about), on other places added glass bricks and turned into windows two small walls towards the lake, the only two that interrupted our full 180 degree beautiful view we enjoy. And the result is great.

So another tip would be prototyping, removing plywood boards is far easier (gross understatement) than removing sleepers attached with timberlocks. If you're not sure about something try it out some easy way first. We did the same with a triangular window that gives light in the back or the roof, I wasn't sure how it was going to work, so we covered with bubble film first, I seemed to work, so we turned it into an actual window afterwards.

The last bits

The bathroom was done fully insulated for sound, as it's next to the living room and kitchen we didn't want unwelcome noises escaping from there. The insulation was pretty good, the bathroom is both silent and warm. We covered the outer walls in hardwood with oak stain, and have yet to find a suitable light colored wood or ceramic for the inside (2 of the walls are dark sleepers).

The rest of the work has being adding the new electrical circuits which are done in exposed 1/2 inch copper tube over the surface in the inside and with electrical PVC tubing on the outside.

We just spent the summer vacations in the house with bathroom and a fridge and what a huge difference they make. We have also installed a ceiling fan in the kitchen for a fresh breeze effect and to blow away uninvited flies.

We also finished a small garden all over the front with grass and plants and fitted sprinklers. The green view all over makes a big difference. Last week we added an electric oven to the list of amenities, for frozen foods and bread baking.

We are still happy as cats and birds. Stage one of our lake house is finished and since the building stopped we have been only enjoying it immensely, adding small bits for finishing on the inside.

One of these days we'll start with a retaining wall on the back (before the rain starts) and then we will build the front wooden deck. But there's time now.

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