Monthly Archives: April 2013

Retaining Walls in the Mountains

We’re building how many?! boulder retaining walls?  Since we are building into the back of the mountain we need a strong set of retaining walls – 4 ft deep in places to secure a good hold and avoid future erosion (ie: a mud bath in our back yard).  Steve & Wayne built the wall behind the carriage house deck in just three days and did a super job! It took 3 months for Nick & his crew to finish the next 5 walls.

Retaining walls are not created equal.  We researched the area looking at various stone masons’ work and when we happened upon Nick Waycaster out of Marion, NC we knew we had found our man.  He is an artist, as well as a stone mason.  He & his crew,  Ken, Pablo & Cisco are a joy to work with. Gentle, kind, jovial, responsible and excellent at what they do.  All our neighbors have individually shared how much they love our retaining walls – not something you normally rave about in the overall business of building a house.  But here people have – there is a noticeable difference with Nick’s work.  Perfectionist that he is, he’s been known to tear out a big section of wall if it just doesn’t feel right with the flow he is trying to create.  Stone comes alive in his hands and his crew has acquired his skills as well.

How did we meet Nick you ask?

Great story……During the summer Steve &I realized we needed to start deciding on which stones we would use in our Maple Forest Cottage. We were going to use simulated stone until we learned we were near one of the stone capitals of the Nation. Wayne told us to head out to Rte 221 in Marion where there is a strip of masonry businesses all selling their wares & skills.  We chose to go on a Sunday to just peruse the area 1st.

While looking at wire cages of stones determining what we liked, a white truck pulled in the yard and from the window of the truck a young man asked if he could help us.  “Just looking today,” we both quickly replied.  He stopped the truck and came over to chat.  He ended up asking us if we’d like to see some of his work – happens he is a stone mason & we were at his grandfather’s stone yard! His cousins and other Waycaster relatives have stone yards scattered down the same road: quite a family business we obviously surmised.

Anyway, we followed him a few miles to his friend’s house that, itself, has quite a story.  Following a meandering meadow we come across a wonderful barn that looks like it came right out of the 19th century, although remarkably well-preserved ( We learned that his friend had built it just recently).  And there it was – The Wall.

We got out of our vehicles, walked past the roosters & hens in the side barn and came to gaze at the most beautiful stone wall we’d ever seen.  He went on to explain the dry stack system and the types of stones he quarries.  I’m jotting notes down in my little note pad as fast as I can. “I’m not the cheapest around, but I’m the best,” he quips. He then says, “I want to show you the wall on the other side of the barn.”  As we walk through the amazing structure he shares that he was called away during construction and asked a stone mason buddy of his to complete the 2nd part of the wall we’re about to see.  Let me tell you – he is as natural a salesman as any I’ve come across.  There before our eyes was a wall in the same design with the same type of stone, but looking totally different.  We could see the unevenness of the individual stones and it just didn’t “flow” like the other one did.  Instead of a piece of art it looked like a, well, just a stone wall.  Nick smiled and shared, “he did a good job, but it’s not my work.”  SOLD!  When retaining wall time came, we had our man.

Nick & crew prepping for one of many retaining walls

Nick & crew prepping for one of many retaining walls

First retaining wall

First retaining wall

2nd retaining wall

2nd retaining wall

3rd Retaining wall

3rd Retaining wall

Amazing amount of work

Amazing amount of work!

Mountain walls are finished!

Back yard mountain walls are finished!







Nick Waycaster and crew will be back when we are building the main house. There are two more retaining walls on each end of the walk-out basement.

And then the two fireplaces, the stone entry steps, the porch base columns…….It will be a marvel when it’s all completed. (And I’ll still be working to help pay for it all!).



The (enclosed) Breezeway or oh $%^&* we forgot the vapor barrier!

I’ll get Steve to post one day, but for now suffice it to say that he had one of those deer-in-the-headlights-middle-of-the-night-bolt-upright-in-bed moments last night. The crew prepared the slab for the breezeway, complete with gravel, lots of tied re-bar, spacers, etc.;  ready for the breezeway pour at 8am sharp.

But wait! “Oh @#$$%^ we forgot the vapor barrier!” he wails in the middle of the night.  Sleeping with the owner builder can have its moments…

“Huh?” I manage to utter out of a dead sleep. “We forgot the vapor barrier and we have a first stop pour in the morning! The inspector even missed it! – we all did!”

I assure him everything will be fine as I give him a pat on his head & roll over – ah, the bliss of not being in charge…. By 6am he’s UP and calling the guys and getting ready to untie some re-bar, lift the rest with the aid of the excavator’s bucket all before the crew (Wayne, Jeronimo & Jeraldo) arrive.  Gravel is being transferred, movement is everywhere and here comes the cement truck. Early, of all days! (Wayne called to postpone, but it was a heavy delivery day and we’d miss our place if we didn’t take delivery 1st thing).  But teamwork & hard work and a patient driver won out. We made the pour!

And then we were short by 1 1/4 yards.  OMG – time for me to go to work!

So, be prepared for the unexpected – it will inevitably happen – and more than once!  Not such a big deal in the long run, but when you’re dealing with the “critical path” factor (organizing sub-contractors in the correct order at the correct times) it can become quite the headache.

Oh, all was complete, finished, lovely when I returned home later from work. Steve was standing by the screened porch area talking & laughing with the chimney masons about building our Rumford fireplaces. Next?!

Pouring the Breezeway

Pouring the Breezeway

Lifting the re-bar to squeeze in the vapor barrier

Lifting the re-bar to squeeze in the vapor barrier

Oh no, shorted on the porch base...

Oh no, shorted on the porch base…














Road Trip!

Blogging can be so much fun – However, I’m learning that I need to keep up with the pace of all that’s happening or I get behind way too quickly.

The fun part is I received a response from a couple who built the original version of the Maple Forest Cottage within driving distance of us. AND they’ve invited us over to meet them and their beloved home!!  How exciting for us!  We’ve watched the PBS Hometime video, Managing Home Construction (featuring the Maple Forest Cottage), a kazillion times, allowing us a virtual walk-thru of our home, but now we get to walk-thru the real thing – a Maple Forest Cottage model!

This husband and wife team did a lot of the work themselves so we’ll be able to compare notes and learn from them.  What fun to share our experiences together.

This morning Steve’s wants to get the breezeway prepped for the framing before it rains. Jeronimo & Jeraldo are heading over to finish up the porch form boards.  Then, Road Trip!

Later that day….

What a gorgeous ride it was through the Smokey Mountains. So much more magnificent than the flat lands of Florida…….Upon finding their address, we enter the long, curving driveway situated amongst a beautifully tranquil wooded area – leaflets green from Spring’s warmth.  “There it is!!” I excitedly say to Steve.

“Where?!” “Where?!” Poor guy is driving and isn’t able to see through the trees to the impending site.  “Look, right there in the trees!”

“OMG. There it is!” he anxiously replies.

As we drive up to the garage we are both delirious with excitement. You can’t imagine the feeling of actually being in front of a real Maple Forest Cottage after years of just seeing it on paper & DVD, no matter how many times. And here it was, our Maple Forest Cottage in the flesh.

They’ve down a fantastic job on the outside, the inside must be just as incredible.

And it was.

We knock on the front door and are greeted by our smiling hosts and their miniature dog. And there it is:  the open stairway, the hallway leading to the dining room with that gorgeous window; ah! and the curved bench seat that Steve can’t wait to get his hands on.  To the left, OMG, the sitz bank in the kitchen.  Oh, all those windows we love!  The Kitchen and that huge island! The arched ceilings, the living room and stone fireplace!!  Both our jaws are dropped open* in the surrealness of it all. We are inside a true-to-life Maple Forest Cottage and feel like little kids seeing all their wrapped presents under the tree first thing on Christmas morning………

Those of you who love the Maple Forest Cottage know the lay out of the original house so I won’t bother lingering on with descriptions of each room as we visited them  Let it suffice to say, that experiencing this home in person makes it even more like a homecoming than any 2D representation can even try to accomplish.  We could feel the Soul of the cottage.  So welcoming, just like Michaela Muhaday’s new book Welcoming Home describes.  This woman, this architect, has nailed it – that sense of comfort and safety from such a hurried world.  This home envelops you with loving arms and serenity softly flows right through you. (Well, in addition to all our excitement of the moment, that is.)          ;- )

We sit and chat with our new found friends over glasses of wine in the ever-so-cozy living room.  We’re then invited for dinner!  I help in the kitchen – what a thrill – just looking at the great room from the perspective of cooking, and then sit down in one of the two overstuffed chairs opposite the large island and chat with the chef as we wait for dinner to cook. Again, cozy & full of warmth, instead of the usual bar-stools-at-the-counter routine. Back in the living room, Steve & the man of the house, another owner-builder, continue happily with their shop talk discussing the in-and-outs of building the Maple Forest Cottage.

We get to eat at the sitz bank facing the kitchen looking into the living room & it’s stone fireplace!! Simple pleasures for we who are embarking on this Maple Forest Cottage journey. (OMG we’re actually sharing a meal on the sitz bank! ) We wink at each other in delight as we share our excitement & gratitude many times over.

Not wanting to over-stay our welcome we bid our hosts adieu amongst hugs and let’s-keep-in-touch—-really!

They are as excited to be able to relive the building process of their dream home as we are to begin it. And we hope to forward the favor someday to a new couple with MFC stars in their eyes, too.


* I didn’t realize until later that Steve was not only in total amazement of the beauty of this home, but also in total amazement of the enormity of the task he was about to encounter….  My owner-builder, the Love of my life.  God bless him.



Framing the Walk-out Basement or Daylight Basement or Terrace Level or…

The framing is starting! Now this is cool – we are actually getting to see how the basement layout “feels”.  Since the original MFC (Maple Forest Cottage) had a traditional basement, we tweaked Michaela Mahady’s plans to better suit our situation. Thinking in terms of a quadrant with the bathroom in the middle, we have the media room in the top left, the mechanical room in the top right,  the office(s) in the bottom left, and the gym in the bottom right.  I’ll scan the plan and add it here later.  Both the office and gym have french doors going out to the future patio with large windows on either side of the doors.  Since that is facing East (and our wonderful view) we’re going to take advantage of all that sunshine!

Steve & crew framed this portion of the house and did a super job. I already have 2 changes I’d like to see.  Being creative doesn’t always come in the right time line….  We just hired our framer , Steth, for the rest of the cottage.  So much detail in this house – we needed an accomplished professional!  He has plenty of experience, has built a house with a cat slide roof and asked all of the right questions. And his bid was reasonable.  You’re on!  He will start in about a week – around the 6th of May.  Everything now is preparing for that exciting part of our journey.


The Big Pour

It’s the 2nd week in April, warm & sunny (finally) & we’re now ready to pour the foundation floor!  Each step is so exciting as our Maple Forest Cottage starts to take shape in the 3D world; from a wishful dream some 15 years ago to reality.  If you want it bad enough, you can make it happen! Believe me, I never would have guessed my life events would lead me to this wonderful experience of making my dream come true.

Watching the Pour was fun.  The Cement trucks arrived around 10 am along with the floor crew.  They used what’s called an aerial pump – they can place concrete to specific areas of the slab via an articulated boom and hose assembly up to 120 feet from the concrete truck. We have our home-made dirt road down to the front basement level, but not enough room for the big boys so this worked out great.

First they poured the media room in the back left, patted & raked the cement with comealongs to clear out any bubbles, then pulled it roughly level. Trowels & an 8′ 2×4, used as a straight edge, were used to screed the cement further.  After screeding, the concrete was bull floated with a device that resembles a huge floor squeegee – making the concrete floor continuously even. They followed this process from media room, to office, back to the mechanical room and finished in the gym. Here they also filled the ash bin up to the cut-out in the superior wall.  It will be sooo nice to be able to just dump our ashes from the wood fireplaces above and remove in the basement. No dust!  Upstairs anyways.

After the cement set, they brought out the troweling machine to finish the floor.  It reminds me of a lateral oscillating fan with the blades spinning across the cement surface. Occasionally the operator would sprinkle a light mist of water on any resistant areas.  Reminds me of my mother sprinkling the wrinkled laundry before ironing, but that’s dating myself…. Now the floor is really smooth!  And done – except for me scribing in the date for memory’s sake: April 10, 2013.

Sorry for the blue photos – camera was on wrong setting.


It’s all about the prep….

Fri., 05Apr2013:  The Maple Forest Cottage has gone vertical.  Now we have to prepare for a good, sound foundation slab.  Steve is bound & determined to have a dry & warm basement level so he is taking extra precautions to make it so. We both want a house with “strong bones” and sometimes that means extra work, but it will well be worth it down the road!

Two layers of concrete block are placed in a trough for the new footings supporting the front of the basement or terrace level – what they sometimes call a walk-out basement here in the mountains.  This is where we will stick-build the frame for the walls, windows & doors.

The dirt floor has been tamped and any roughed in plumbing &/or electrical pipes are installed.

Now Steve, Jeronimo & Jeraldo go to work preparing the sub-floor by laying down yellow plastic sheathing, a radon/vapor barrier. They then tape it together.

Next layer is the blue insulation board which is also taped together.

Then they place a horizontal line in red tape around the whole basement perimeter at the finished height where the cement slab will be poured.

Now they lay down the wire mesh and tie all the joints together & place 2″ Styrofoam blocks underneath as spacers.

The tubing for the radiant heat is laid in a continuous fashion throughout the floor.  All the while they are constantly measuring with the laser level that all sections are even &level.
Phew!  Not much fun, but a necessary step for Steve’s perfect terrace level living.

Sorry for the very blue tinge to the photos – camera was on wrong setting….

It’s the First Day of Spring – Superior Walls

March 21 ’13:  We are going vertical!  We are starting on the main house!

The basement has been excavated – OMG we can now see where our home is going to rest!  We spent last week getting ready for the arrival of the Superior Walls for the basement. These are custom residential precast concrete foundation systems that are already insulated. They sit on compressed gravel “footers” instead of poured concrete.  Super efficient idea and quick.  Our basement walls were up & sealed in less than 10 hrs. – and that’s with a lunch break!

Compressing the Gravel

Compressing the Gravel

Seeing the Crane from down the st.

Seeing the Crane from down the st.

Here's a panel being lifted with the crane

Here’s a panel being lifted with the crane

First panel in!

First panel in!

The only panels that weren't a perfect fit!

The only panels that weren’t a perfect fit!

Ta Da!  All three walls up!

Ta Da! All three walls up!









A Little Catching up….

It is now April 1st – and much has happened these past 6 months!

September – December ’12: We built & finished our Carriage House portion of the Maple Forest Cottage.  This was not in the original house plans, but quickly became our Plan B in August.

We closed on both our FL houses on the same day in November, 1 hour apart.  It made for a very busy packing week, since we had rented them both out furnished.  Brian & Debbie (our mountain neighbors) came down to help us pack!  Talk about Southern hospitality! (And they’re from Maine). We were packing up to the very last minute – only 5 mins late to closing and then off with the packed  Ryder truck & U-Haul trailer for the 15+ hour ride to Black Mountain, NC.

Good-bye Ocean and island life…..

Since the lease on our rental was up on Dec. 21st, we moved into the Carriage House by the skin of our teeth with a temporary C.O. on Dec 20th and left the next day for a road trip up to see the kids & grand kids in the Maine area.  Suffice it to say December was one immensely busy month!  Daily trips to Lowe’s & Home Depot, sometime 2 & three trips depending on what came up, or rather, what ran out during the day!  Do yourselves a favor and get a credit card for each store. And keep a running list of needed supplies.  It’s a great way to keep track of those many “little” expenses and helps when you return things when you’ve inevitably lost your receipt! We squeezed every bit of space we could into the 2nd floor apartment in the Carriage House I call “Sunshine” and are living in 685 SF quite comfortably – for temporary living, that is.

I’ll add pages later of this 1st part of the building process.  Just want to get up-to-date on building the main house. Life becomes very narrowly focused & consumed by building your dream house – remember to take of your health, your time, your friendships, family, work and each other.

January – March ’13: We took a more leisurely pace in finishing up the Carriage House during the Winter.  We were exhausted and were finally living on our piece of the mountain, our lot, in our apartment.   Phew!  It’s amazing how long it takes to finish the little things at the end of a project like this.  Don’t fool yourselves into thinking all can be completed in a flash – there are still hundreds of decisions to make and trips to the hardware store.  We weren’t going to start the main house until everything was done in the Carriage House, but……somehow that just hasn’t happened.  ; – )

Weather delays have postponed being able to start the main house. (this has been an unusually rainy & cold March in Western North Carolina this year – a hard thing for us way-southern Floridians to handle this first year back on the mainland.)  Also, we had over 130 dump truck loads of earth to move before we could even think of construction. We didn’t want to pay the exorbitant fee to move it to an official dump site, so we solicited friends, neighbors, subcontractors to help us find homes for our dirt.  It worked, but still cost a few thousands of dollars to transfer.  People in the mountains don’t necessarily want fill – unlike flatland property owners.  Words to the wise:  Mountain home building is a whole ‘nother ball game.  Save your dollars for unexpected expenses!