Archive for October, 2009 —

Timing and tax assessments

I just got my property tax assessment card in the mail, and wow, what fortunate timing: my house was valued at zero dollars, and will remain so for a couple of years. It turns out King County does its annual reassessments based on the value of your house/land as of July 31st. July 31st also happened to fall in the two week window where the old house was gone and the new house framing hadn’t been erected yet. If I had deconstructed a week or two later, or even a week or two earlier, my tax bill would have been quite a bit higher.

So, the lesson of this blog post is: if you’re building a new house, find out when your taxing authority resets property values and try to plan around it if you can.

Also, I’ve added some pictures of the ongoing HVAC, plumbing, and electrical rough-in to the photo gallery section.

Plumbing and HVAC rough-ins complete

The plumbing and HVAC rough-in work is now essentially complete and electrical work has begun. Details of the plumbing and HVAC equipment are available at this previous post, but essentially, the piping, the ducting, and the gas furnace are now all installed. Lots of other stuff, like the heat pump and the fixtures come later.

The crew at Anderson Nesler has done a great job on the HVAC, building an intricate but efficient maze of ducting, and cramming the furnace into a tight crawlspace so as to minimize impact on livable area.

Choosing a deck surface

So far, none of my house-building research has yielded more negative information than deck construction. Everyone seems to hate their deck. People who have wood decks complain about having to stain them every year or two, and people who have composite decks complain about the material not being maintenance-free at all.

I’ve researched no fewer than 10 brands of composite decks and also looked into ipe and cedar, and there just doesn’t seem to be a clear winning option. It’s all about tradeoffs. The one thing I’ve decided I definitely don’t want, however, is a faded (“silvered”) deck. Some people like the weathered look. I don’t. Therefore, ipe is unfortunately eliminated. It’s a shame too because ipe is generally regarded as the most durable wood one can buy. Unfortunately, however, ipe is so dense that it doesn’t take stains or protectants very well, so it is recommended you just leave it alone and let it fade to its natural patina. No thanks. I’ve heard of people using a product called Penofin to keep Ipe brown, but treatment must be frequent and results seem to vary.

Cedar is the other wood to consider, and while I think it would provide the best looking deck out of any of the options, it would require the greatest amount of maintenance, and I’m not sure I want to sign up for that.

From there, we get into the composites. Trex is the best known name in composite decking, but it’s also the company that receives the most negative reviews and has been successfully sued for misrepresenting the quality of its product (actually, they settled out of court, but whatever). After Trex, there are a slew of companies selling their own variation of a composite deck, each one made with slightly different materials and esthetics in mind.

This is allegedly what a Trex deck looks like. In reality, it is significantly less impressive.

I found it next to impossible to find objective, scientific studies comparing deck materials, but it turns out Consumer Reports did a reasonable study on the subject recently. By the way, if you’re building a house, buying an online subscription to Consumer Reports should be one of your first expenditures. The study took many different brands and exposed them to sun, wind, and rain over the course of several years. The results varied wildly, with some decks holding up admirably and others literally disintegrating to pieces. The material which came out on top is called Symmatrix by Dow Chemical. To my surprise, however, I found out the product has been discontinued, despite its great rating. Unbelievable… and a bit suspicious, to be honest. Why would a seemingly great product be abandoned by its producer? If anyone knows, please post in the comments.

The only other brand that scored nearly as well in all of the areas important to me was something called Timbertech. It’s especially good at mildew resistance, and that’s key. Unfortunately, Kevin at Build brought me a sample of it today (along with some Trex), and it has a fake grain texture to it that seems a bit chintzy. I may look at some more samples, but this particular one didn’t look great.

Here is the concerning part though: do a Google search for Timbertech, Trex, or any other brand of composite decking and you’ll see loads and loads of very detailed complaints. The ratio of haters to lovers seems troublingly high. It’s enough to make you want to ditch the idea of planks altogether and go with concrete pavers or something.

I’m not sure where I’ll end up yet, but I’d say so far, I’m favoring Trex, then Timbertech, and then cedar. Would love some first-hand opinions from anyone who has their own deck, so if you have one (a deck or an opinion), please feel free to post your thoughts below.

Incidentally, the best article and discussion I found on the subject was from Fine Homebuilding Magazine.

Making pocket doors a little less shitty

In order to save space, we’re using some pocket doors around the house, most notably for bathrooms. Pocket doors are great in that they never swing into anyone or anything, but they’re a bit shitty in that they’re tougher to operate than standard hinged doors. Pulling the door out from its sheathing when it’s fully open requires some sort of mechanical pull and locking the door requires using one of the pathetic excuses for locks that comes with most pocket door installations.

The hardware I speak of is downright garish in most instances. Here are some choice samples:

The “Hurt Locker”. A cheaply made, tiny knob, that is really only meant to be used in emergencies. And by emergencies, I really have no idea what I mean… hiding from your little sister maybe.

The “Coyote Ugly”. Made by Kwikset so you know it’s got bite, but also tacky looking with those visible screws.

The “Modern Problem”. Linnea seems to be a favorite among contemporary architects, but it still lacks a reasonable sized user interface.

The “Italian Job”. I actually like these “privacy snibs” from Valli & Valli but have been told they are like Ferraris, and not in the good way.

After many days of searching, I think I found the one pocket door lock that may ideally fit the bill:

Behold the Halliday Baillie HB 690 Privacy Lock:

Now that is a bathroom door lock that says “feel free to pull your pants down in here”.

It looks sharp, it’s got a nice up and down slider interface that exudes security, and it has a built in hinge with which to pull it from its sheathing. Really, really sharp. Gotta hand it to the New Zealanders. I will be checking prices and feasibility with Build tomorrow, but barring any bad news, I think the Halliday Baillies are the winners.