Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Year's Camp Projects

Completed basement bedroom
It's hard to believe just how quickly the summer flew by this year. I know that I say that every year, but this one really got away from me. Just looking back at the last time I sat down and took the time to write something is a good indicator of that. Hard to believe that it was a half a year ago.

This morning Cathy left early on a business trip to NY for a couple of days. The airport limo service picked her up at 4:45AM. I'd planned to get up and see her off then head back to bed. Of course, as is often the case, my mind started wandering and I started fixating on all the things that I needed to get done. Wrapping Christmas gifts, preparing others, grocery shopping. And writing a post that I'd started months ago, this post. Alas, I thought that I'd made more progress than just the first sentence.

This was meant to be a recap of all of the things that Cathy and I got accomplished at our vacation home, our cottage, cabin or camp as it is more commonly referred to in Vermont. Lots of things happened and for the most part, we had a pretty dramatic transformation with this iteration of work activity.

Stairs are actually a ladder
As of the close of last year, we had the new foundation all buttoned up with full drainage and landscaping completed and numerous improvements to the deck and deck stairs. I'd also begun doing some of the framing of the basement partitions but had not gotten very far at all. Nor had I started any of the wiring for lights or outlets, so as you can imagine, the first bit of framing included lots of working off from extension cords to steal power from the sole outlet we'd wired to date in the basement. There were also nearly no lights down there, so portable light sources were made use of.

This year's focus was to be on the interior of the basement, finishing it off into usable living space.
The plan was to make a master bedroom so we could move away from the open, one room camp layout we previously had. Getting the bed out of the open, main floor space would free us up to make a small living room area. Also in the new basement we planned to have a combination entry room/office with some racks and hangers for outer wear but also a full desk space setup for Cathy to work at. In addition to those rooms we would also do another 3/4 bath in the area that housed the plumbing, hot water heater and expansion tank.

New loft ladder 
The final addition to the basement space would be cutting a passage between the floors to make a stairway. Really, the stairway was just a glorified ladder as we were still severely challenged for space. The intent was to re-use the ladder that I'd built for the upstairs, to get up to the loft. Never throw anything away, especially anything that works well and took a fair amount of time and thought, if not money, to produce. It turned out that although this ladder made it relatively easy to get to the loft, it took up more space than we really wanted to part with. So, I made a new, slightly narrower and slightly steeper ladder to replace the old ladder.

Late last winter I got much of the framing for the partitions completed. You can read about that here in a previous post. I went with simple 2x4 construction with pressure treated everywhere it was touching concrete. This was anchored to the concrete with lots of Tapcon concrete screws. For the wall covering I used lots of V-groove pine in the office, bedroom and bathroom. Then I used versatile and resilient, paintable exterior grade molded press-board siding panels on the outer side of the main divider wall. These were then painted a nice warm, neutral color. Wiring was done through the walls on new lines to the new breaker sub-panel that we had put in the basement. The trim was all done with simple and rustic 3/4" pine which I stained with a whitewash combination stain and sealer. The hope was to keep it as light as possible as it aged.

One side project I did along the way was to put together a small, sliding barn door. I'd had some antique barn door hardware with cast trolleys and a steel track stashed away for years, waiting for a project. I figured that this would be a good way to use it, to make a door that closed off the entryway and Cathy's office from the rest of the basement. Plus, it would be a fun excuse to build a door and use the hardware. The construction of the door was done with simple fir 2x6", a piece of vinyl lattice and some 1x6" pine bead board.

Barn door
I made simple 3/4" wide x 1" deep dado grove cuts lengthwise into the stiles of the door frame. I then cut matching 3/4" wide x 1" deep tenons into the ends of the rails of the four door rails. I also cut the same lengthwise dado grooves into the inner edges of the two outer stiles and on both edges of the inner stiles. Deeper mortise and tenon work would have been stronger but is a massive pain in the butt. It also starts to become counter productive when done my hand given the tolerance and the overlap of remaining material on each side of the mortise, namely 1/4", which isn't that much material to be structurally effective when running a 2" deep mortise cut to receive the tenon.

The bead board then was cut to fit into the main panels of door and the 1/4" thick lattice, with simple 1/4" thick shims on either side of it to take up the gap space, made up the top portion of the door. I wanted this open to promote light and air flow while still being able to keep the animals confined to the other portion of the house. It was assembled with wood glue, clamped together to dry and also screwed through the stiles into the tenon of the rails. I then stained and sealed it with the whitewash stain/sealer combo and installed the trolley hardware, which I'd painted the same burgundy color that I'd used on other hardware in the camp. It came out OK and reminds me of a horse stable for some reason. A perfect rustic feel.

LED lights and ceiling soffit
For the ceiling I wanted to use some that was lightweight, light colored, impervious to moisture and easily removable. This was the basement ceiling after all and wires would be run in there. Access to that wiring or future expansion of wiring, or possibly heating duct would be necessary. That got me thinking about exterior grade options for the ceiling. The easy choice, because it was relatively inexpensive, easy to obtain and easy to work with, was vinyl soffit. This material simply locks together with a simply joint, and can be easily cut to size with tin shears. It is lightweight and flexible as well and can be easily removed, at least the way that I installed it which was suspended by the edges with overhanging pine.

Office LED lights and doorway
This method worked really really well for short runs up to a couple of feet. My hope was that it would be rigid enough for a four foot span, which it is though it sags a bit in the middle. This is annoying but benign, at least at the moment. By that I mean, it hasn't fallen down. The sag gives the feeling of a fabric canopy in the bedroom, which has the longest span at almost four feet, somewhat resembling a canopy bed or a large circus tent. If the free floating soffit fails I will simply affix it with screws through the nail fin in the recessed lip, the way it was meant to be installed. For now, it works pretty much as I'd hoped it would.

For lighting I used a host of different things. In the bedroom I put a pair of switched wall mount lights above the corners of the headboard. The bathroom got a wall mount triple bulb light fixture. In the hall and office, where we wanted good work light, I used near self contained LED lights that screw into a standard E26 light socket, covering the socket with it's own simple shell. They provide excellent light, are relatively cheap and very easy to replace if necessary. The porcelain E26 socket is also very very inexpensive and easy to wire. 

Completed basement bedroom
The bedroom was the first thing to be completed, though just about the final thing to be implemented. That was for a number of reasons. First and foremost, we wanted to have a bathroom easily accessible from the bedroom so as not to have to go up and down a ladder in the middle of the night. The bedroom was also standalone and was fairly simple to complete. Frame it, wire it, put the pine up, install the ceiling, paint the concrete wall, which I did with a nice warm burnt orange, install the floor and then trim it out. I know, that sounds easy and a pro could hammer it out in no time. For me though, that little sentence represented a couple of weeks of effort, anyhow. Still, the project moved forward pretty quickly. 

For the flooring, I banked on the space being relatively dry and went with locking composite floating flooring over tongue and groove interlocking, floating basement subfloor panels. This allowed for air space between the concrete and the subfloor via plastic egg crate material. A layer of foam went between the subfloor and the floating floor creating a moisture barrier which I hoped would keep the composite flooring from absorbing too much moisture. 

Worst case, I figured that at $.79/square foot my investment was low. So far, so good and man, did we get some humidity this past summer. The work that I did last year on the basement, to seal it and properly drain it did wonders. We ran a dehumidifier through the summer which was constantly pulling moisture out and we kept the large windows in the front and side of the walkout basement closed when it was hot or humid, but by and large it wasn't too bad.

In hindsight, I found a flooring option that I much prefer. I used that flooring solution in other parts of the basement including the hallway and the bathroom. It is simple interlocking, puzzle style closed cell foam flooring. We found some online that is printed to look like wood grain or cork. We went with the cork and it is awesome. It provides cushion as well as insulation and is waterproof and easy to work with. It's also fairly inexpensive.

Next completion was the entryway and office. I wanted to get that area done as quickly as possible so that Cathy had a legitimate place to work, instead of having to work at the kitchen table or on the futon. This area required painting, which I did in a pale Earth tone yellow and some simple wiring to bring power across the wall from the panel. I did it with PVC conduit and hardware flat mounted to the concrete wall. It also got the LED lighting I spoke of, wired on a switch and the vinyl soffit for the ceiling. 

Rack near the furnace
The entryway area, which in reality is the same space, got a custom built coat rack and shelf as well as a six foot long Closet Maid vinyl coated wire shoe rack, which is missing from the image. This freed up some much needed storage space. One thing that is sorely missing from the camp is storage space. There was literally none when we bought it. I've been working to add more and more where possible and we now have an actual albeit small closet in the upstairs bathroom where the original hot water heater, water pump and expansion tank were located. I'll talk more about that later though when I discuss the partial re-do of the upstairs bathroom that I also completed over the course of the summer.

The bathroom came out awesome. I can't express enough just how wonderful it is to have a full, working bathroom right next to the bedroom. Don't get me wrong, there were challenges. The shower needed to be raised up onto a platform in order to get the drain set. We had a p-trap installed in the floor when the concrete went in but still needed to raise it. Space was tight, which is 100% consistent with every part of this small home build. We are trying too make the most with the least, which is really challenging and actually really fun as well. 

The plumbing all runs through a small chase area behind the shower then feeds and drains the sink along the wall. We used PEX everywhere possible. I didn't do it, we had a professional do it, the same person who did the water heater and expansion tank. Our friend Tom who does incredibly good work at very, very reasonable prices and is unbelievably nice. Both he and his wife Sylvie and just genuinely great folks. While they were here I also had them plumb in the drops for a combo washer/dryer unit which we will be getting shortly.

We certainly had budget it mind when we were doing the build, same as always. We also looked at size given the constraints that we had. This place isn't big and we are trying to pack a literal ton of stuff into it. The footprint of the camp is 18x22 or 396 square feet. The initial camp would qualify as a tiny house, commonly referred to as <400 square feet. We doubled that and are now firmly in the small house framework. In all honesty, I think that we could scale that back. There is no way we needed two bathrooms but that is just the way the plan played out. In order to have lower level living we had to have a bath on each level. When we build the next one, possibly our permanent residence, we will do sleeping on the main level with one common bathroom. Who knows though, I keep flip flopping on ideas. I really like building small stuff though. Speaking of which, I took a few weeks off at the end of the summer and built a tiny post and beam bunkhouse. It was a ton of fun. I'll put a post together about that one soon.

Also redid the driveway with a few loads of gravel
The project has been incredible. Countless little projects that all, eventually, combine to form a bigger project, which itself is part of a yet bigger project. I struggle with the macro and really, need to focus on the micro. One day at a time, so to speak. I have an idea of what's on tap tomorrow or next week but am firmly planted in today; the here and now. The reality is simple though, we love this place and we love the spaces that we carve out. This is us, for good or bad. We designed it, we made it. And it is pretty awesome. Having an actual bedroom and a bathroom right next to it is a treat in and of itself. The colors, the textures, the materials. We chose them and their implementation. When we look up, or down, or around, we did that. I know, little things and one can certainly do with much less but the transformation from when we initially bought the camp, a one room place with no foundation. We basically bought it for the land, power, water and septic. 

In retrospect, we probably should have just built new from scratch but where is the fun in that? It's been a ton of work and a long, long process that still isn't complete, but I've learned so much. The next one is going to be ton's easier.