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high desert. small house.

Days 366-368: Kitchen Stuff and Stairs

Thursday, 7/14
We have now been at it for one year.  Very few evenings off and no weekends entirely away from the property.  Thoughts about the house nearly 100% of the time.  House, house house.  Happy one-year-long house project.

For the past few days, I have been working in Sketchup to figure out the most cost effective, code-compliant, block structure for our entrance stairs and landing.  We don’t want to go with wood because it’s a lot of work to set the footers and it degrades rapidly under southern exposure.  We like the enduring nature and flexibility of dry-stacked concrete blocks.

Here is the result of my eye-straining labor –

The first 'step' is all one color because it is a platform I designed separately and have copy pasted with the start of each model iteration. The main "rise" chunks are blocks that are 8" wide x 16" long x 4" high. The objective was to have something that, once topped with a cement cap, would not exceed the code max of 7 3/4" rise per step. You can see the stairs become flush above the 3rd step and this is only because Brian clarified what he wanted halfway through and I didn't want to restart the whole thing.

The base ‘step’ is all one color because it is a platform I designed separately and have copy/pasted with the start of each model iteration. The main “rise” chunks (shown as red blocks) are blocks that are 8″ wide x 16″ long x 4″ high. The objective was to have something that, once topped with a 2″ cement cap, would not exceed the code max of 7 3/4″ rise per step. You can see the stairs lose their nosing above the 3rd step and this is only because Brian clarified what he wanted halfway through and I didn’t want to restart the whole thing.  We have two sizes of caps to choose from – 12″ square and 18″ square.  We went with 18″ square whenever possible because it creates larger zones of overlap; but whenever the length of a step was not evenly divisible by 18, we had to find a combination of 18″ and 12″ pieces.

With the first model complete, we decided to try and simplify the vertical landing zone in order to reduce the number of total puzzle pieces (and hopefully) the price but also increase stability. This is what we came up with.

With the first model complete, we decided to try and simplify the vertical landing pillar in order to reduce the number of total puzzle pieces (and hopefully the price) and also increase stability. I was improving my color system as I went along so no, these red blocks are not the same size as the red blocks in the first model.  These are 8x8x16.  Because the objective here was not to create code compliant stairs, I used taller blocks that could get us to the required height faster.

The next step in this iteration was adding the stairs. With each layer of stairs (consisting of a 4" tall block and 2" cap), I built toward the main pillar I had already designed. As I went along, I had to break apart my pillar in some places in order to fit the blocks correctly. You can see toward the back top where I used multiple caps to hit a particular height.

The next step in this iteration was adding the stairs. With each layer of stairs (consisting of a 4″ tall block and 2″ cap), I built in the direction of the main pillar I had already designed. As I went along, I had to break apart my pillar in some places in order to fit the blocks correctly. You can see near the back-top region I had to use multiple caps to hit a particular height.  The small, dark shapes represent gaps.  This was the design we had decided on as of Wednesday evening.

Brian went to the hardware store on Thursday morning and found a greater supply of blocks than had previously been available. He also took the ruler to verify what the counter person had stated - that the blocks were 'true to size', not secretly smaller than stated. It turns out that most (but not all) of the blocks are short by 3/8" but the caps were accurate. So....back to the drawing board. This time, however, because we knew each step was secretly 3/8" short of what the measurements said, we knew we could build with bigger blocks (6" tall versus 4" tall) and we would still be within code. 6+2 = 8 and then minus the 3/8" adjustment puts the height of the stair at 7.625".

[Click to enlarge]  Brian went to the hardware store on Thursday morning and found a greater supply of blocks than had previously been available. He also took the ruler to verify what the counter person had stated – that the blocks were ‘true to size’, not secretly smaller than stated. It turns out that most (but not all) of the blocks are short by 3/8″ but the caps were accurate. So….back to the drawing board. This time, however, because we knew each step was secretly 3/8″ short of what the measurements said, we knew we could build with bigger blocks (6″ tall versus 4″ tall) and we would still be within code. 6+2 = 8 and then minus the 3/8″ adjustment puts the height of the stair at 7.625″.  This meant that we would need one less stair and could purchase fewer blocks.

In this final iteration, I’ve labeled the dimensions so you can see what the final product will look like.  The brown base layer is how deep the blocks will be buried.  The total height, stated as 2′ 8.125″ is actually 31″ after you subtract 3/8″ for every row of orange blocks.  The landing is 36″x36″, the legal minimum and the height is the code max for stairs without a railing.  Phew! Each step is 12 inches deep and has a rise of 7.625″.  The total cost of blocks is just over $200 plus $10 for delivery.

This has been an item of urgency for the past few days because it is attached to another project that we have to get out of the way before the inspector retires.  The other project is the platform for the mini-split on the north side of the house.  We plan to put the condenser part of the mini-split up on a platform, against the back of the house and need to have all that completed so the HVAC contractor can vacuum and connect the lines.  Since we don’t want to pay for multiple block deliveries, we had to get the stair design completed and blocks ordered for both projects.  Oh yeah, and the stairs and landing have to be in place for the final inspection.

We ordered all the blocks and they’re scheduled for delivery early afternoon Friday.

House progress – Brian cut some holes in the back of a cabinet, finished the bathroom sink and caulked around all the round objects – HRV units, bathroom vent and mini-split conduit.  When I arrived, we worked together to attach some 2×4 scraps onto the cabinets as attachment points for the countertop.  Then, we moved the 3 separate pieces around until we were satisfied with their alignment.  We finished the evening by attaching each of the cabinets to the wall.

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Access holes to the plumbing wall

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Caulk around the HRV

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Running water in the bathroom!

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Who said the bike can’t transport a kitchen sink?

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Ignore the big piece of plywood scrap that is under the house. The other pieces, directed perpendicular to the house, indicate the location of the landing / stairs. The two small pieces sitting at a right angle indicate the start of the stairs. You may have to use your imagination a little bit.

Friday, 7/15
What a busy morning!  We had the roaster running for FOUR HOURS.  Imagine a red man (preferably with a mustache), following you around and shaking a pair of maracas near your ears.  He’s also whistling at you, but without producing any tone, so it’s just high powered air movement.  Oh yeah, and because there’s an exhaust system removing our roaster exhaust, you can add that the man is standing near a door, opening it repeatedly, pumping the cooled air-conditioned air outside.  Come on man, were you raised in a barn!

That’s what it’s like in the tiny coffee shack when the roaster’s running.

Brian got started at the house way late due to the red mustached man.  Thankfully, he made it in time for the cement block delivery.  He had a productive day prior to my arrival – he decided on the location of the sink, used the template to outline the shape with masking tape on the counter-top, cut the opening and rough fit the sink.

I arrived around this time and started unloading the pallet of cement blocks. Strangely enough, despite carrying the blocks in my hands, my inner thighs felt like they were working the hardest (and were the sorest the next day).  This is likely due to the bracing and stabilizing I had to do when squatting to put the stones down.  Or maybe my arms contain super-human strength and my legs are weak.

Brian applied the silicone around the perimeter of the sink, I pressed it into place and he went underneath to attach it.  Next, he crawled into the cabinets to attach the counter-top at each of the 2×4 scraps we had previously installed.

I unloaded the pallet except for the bottom layer, which will be the first layer of the stairs.  Feeling triumphant, I started to feel that this was all going to be super easy and straight-forward.  I started to lay the first layer of blocks….and then remembered I needed to bury each of them ~1.75 inches down.  Turns out, this is incredibly difficult.  I dug out enough earth (i.e. rock bits) for one block, got the majority of the block set to the correct height (~25″ lower than the threshold) and then we stopped for the night.

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Masking tape boundary lines for sink

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The sink dry-fit in place!

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Brian attaching the countertop to the 2×4 scraps – tis a difficult area to work in.

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The blocks remaining on the pallet are the first blocks to go down; thus, I’m not going to move them off the pallet onto the ground just to pick them up again and put them in the work space. I’m fetching an errant frisbee for Sydney in the background while Trooper vigilantly guards the cement blocks.

Saturday, 7/16
Busy day at work and then we hit the ground running at the house.  I worked on the stairs and Brian made progress with trying to level the counter-top.  There is a warped section on the side closest to the center of the house and he wanted to fix it prior to us installing the supportive L-braces under the section of counter-top that hangs in space (over the garbage can).

I managed to lay the first two rows of concrete blocks and then tested out a 2″ cap (18″x18″) – it looked awesome.  As part of the counter-top project, we hauled in 20-25 blocks (8″x6″x16″) and stacked them on the counter on a scrap piece of plywood.  This gave Brian the weigh-down forces he needed in order to flatten the counter-top and make strong attachments.  Also during this time, he made 2-3 trips to the hardware store for more 2.5″ steel corner braces and screws.  Ace had the strongest corner braces.

We finished the evening by removing all those weigh-down blocks and restacking them outside.

I was in the mood for a change of pace so after I closed up the shack, I walked the dogs to the property. We took a 10 minute break at the park so the dogs could enjoy the grass.

I was in the mood for a change of pace so after I closed up the shack, I walked the dogs to the property. We took a 10 minute break at the park so the dogs could enjoy the grass.

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