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Flattop’s Finer Points ??

Flattop’s Finer Points ??

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

You often hear that building a house requires thousands of decisions and it’s true. Large and small, the house comes to life in the form of answers to questions. Once it’s complete, the sum of all the answers hopefully harmonize and create a whole that feels balanced and connected. 

When looking at the completed house, it’s easy to lose sight of all the decisions that achieved the look and feel of the place. Before we move on, I’d like to share some of the biggest stylistic decisions we made, along with the craft that went into making it real. 

Wood

Flattop was destined to be a house made mostly of wood, a lot of which is the same that grows on our property. The framing is Douglas fir. The ceilings and soffits are western red cedar. I can see both these trees from our deck. Our floor is white oak and our deck is ash and the siding is Japanese cypress. 

As you can imagine, this creates a melange of wood colors that have the potential to look chaotic. As the house was being built, we had to make a decision about the built-in benches, stereo cabinet, and floating shelves. My first thought was, “Oh no, more wood!” Would we throw another wood into the mix? 

I asked our foreman, Casey, for his opinion and he mentioned Baltic birch plywood and the look of Kerf Design, a cabinetry company in Seattle. From the moment we saw the look of Baltic birch plywood, we were hooked. It’s strong, affordable, and easy to work with. Rather than add another solid wood tone, we’d use plywood and the look of the plies themselves as our standard for the built-ins. The light color and simple design felt Scandinavian and I’m so excited about how they turned out.  Paul Lindersmith, who works with Drew, did an amazing job achieving the look we wanted.

Flattop Birch Bench
Flattop Birch Records
Flattop Birch Shelf

Steel

Regular readers know how much thought we put into the fireplaces. They are the beating heart of the house and offered an opportunity to create something beautiful, useful, and practically bulletproof. John Stoeck, our architect, created a design that exceeded what we thought was possible. It brought together the blackened steel, charred yakisugi, and stainless steel in a way that made it feel natural. To me, that’s the pinnacle of this kind of design. Once it’s complete, it feels like no other options could have worked. 

Fireplace wall and ceiling

It’s one thing to design steel into a fireplace and yet another to make it work. It requires an artisan blacksmith with experience to turn the designs into perfectly fitting panels and connections. We were fortunate to work with Jorgen Harle (Instagram), who lived on Orcas for 25 years before moving to California. Drew asked him to come up and help with our fireplace and we could not have had a better partner. His eye for design along with deep experience with steel and fireplaces created an indoor/outdoor unit that’s safe, functional, and beautiful.

Fireplace Doors
Steel Fireplace

Aesthetic

Consistency is one of the best ways to create a sense of harmony in a new home. For example, we picked a color of white called “Simply White” (Thanks Sarah!) and used it everywhere. Cabinets, walls, ceilings, doors, trims, etc. The same is true for the countertops. We picked a variety called Saratoga and used it in the kitchen, bathrooms, laundry, etc. The tile is the same everywhere. Then, we used black for window frames and hardware throughout the house. 

These decisions on color and material created a look of contrast that we wanted: white with black accents, along with mottled grays. My cousin, Goff, who is an interior designer, once said that looking out of a window with black frames achieves a beautifying effect that’s like mascara around a person’s eye. 

window over water

Character

One of the problems I have with modern home design is that it can feel stark and lifeless. Early in the process, we decided that our home would feel warm, open, lived-in. For example, Sachi has strong feelings about doors and especially closet doors. To her, they create something to be managed and moved when no door at all would suffice. Consider our pantry, which we use multiple times a day. We decided not to have a door. Instead, the pantry is open for all to see. Along with being convenient, I think it adds character to the kitchen. We live here. The same is true for our floating shelves, record collection, bookcase, laundry room, etc. It’s all out there.

As with most building projects, Flattop was a team effort and I couldn’t imagine working with better people. Drew’s team, including Casey, has high standards and attention to detail that went beyond our expectations. When confronted with one of those thousands of decisions, Casey and Drew always had a reliable opinion and we grew to trust their instincts.

I appreciate you following along with this project for so long. It means the world to me.

Find more posts about Building Flattop.

Smart Lights, Smart Home ??

Smart Lights, Smart Home ??

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.


When we renovated our house in Seattle in 2010, I learned about home automation and the idea of a “smart” home. A renovation seemed like the perfect time to consider a system that would make the house “smart” and more automated. We ended up choosing a complex and powerful home automation system called Control4. It was state of the art and I completely geeked-out on all the things you could do. It was just what I wanted at the time.

That was 2010 and my perspective has changed. For our Orcas house, we are not using Control4 or anything like it. I’m still fascinated by home automation but today I have to consider living on an island along with all the new products that have since appeared.

The Reality of Island Living

Let’s start with living on an island. Unlike Seattle, Orcas Island doesn’t have large companies and teams of technicians that can drop by to fix something that breaks. A technician would have to spend most of a day traveling and taking the ferries to fix a problem in our house. For this reason, we’re opting for the most reliable systems and products we can find.

The best example is roller shades in our great room. In the summer, the sun shines directly into the room and shades will be required. In Seattle, we had electronic shades that were automated. They would roll up and down on a schedule of our choosing and it was pretty darn sexy. We considered using a similar system on Orcas, but came around to seeing a reliable alternative that’s been proven for thousands of years: a pulley. Instead of relying on an electric motor that could fail, I will pull a cord.

Controlling It All

The system we had in Seattle was complex because you could configure it in so many ways. We could program it so that unlocking the front door would automatically turn on lights, play specific music, open the shades, and more. Again, pretty sexy. But it also seemed fragile. Being a single system, a small problem could have a ripple effect that meant our TV might stop working. A technician seemed to arrive every year to fix something or update the system software.

There were things we loved about the system. For example, the lighting was programmable, so you could set up custom scenes that work with a push of a button. “Movie Time” was a scene where the lights would dim to 15% and light a path to the kitchen. We could also say “Alexa turn on the movie time scene” and it would work without buttons or phone apps at all. Because Control4 was connected to the internet, it knew the time of day. This meant we could program the lights to slowly turn on as the sun set or turn all lights off at a specific time.

One promise of these kinds of “smart” systems is efficiency. And it’s true, they save some energy and effort. But after having it for ten years, I don’t think that’s an important consideration. Switching to LED lights is an energy saver, but the savings from dimming and scheduling seem marginal to me.

More than anything, lighting control is a very convenient and pleasing feature to have. We like low, soft lighting and electronic dimmers make it simple to get it exactly right. Once you get used to it, it’s difficult to go back.

Smart Switches

To have the control we wanted, we needed to think about the switches. Unlike standard switches or dimmers that are mechanical, these have electronic dimmers and are connected to one another. Once you have a “smart” switch in place, it becomes controllable through an app or voice command. If you have multiple, you can control them together.

Again, for the new house, we had to consider the overall costs, including maintenance and upkeep. We realized that we didn’t need control of the lights for about half of the house. Like a pulley, we can flip a simple switch in the laundry room. But, we did want to control the lights in entertainment and living spaces like the great room and outdoor room.

In considering the options, we thought a lot about modularity and systems that can be removed, built-out, and reconfigured as needed. This way, we can get started with a set of switches, and always have the option to replace them ourselves. No ferry rides, no technicians. Thankfully, this is how most home automation is done today. Instead of one big system, there are now multiple systems that can talk to one another and be replaced more easily.

For the controllable dimmers (in-wall switches), we chose Lutron, which is a well-established company known for reliability. Their “Caseta” line is for consumers like us and is modular. With a set of Caseta dimmers in the house, we can set up scenes and control the lights with buttons, an app, or with voice. If we don’t like them, we can try another one. If we love them, we can add more. The non-Caseta switches will be Lutron Maestro which are electronic dimmers, but not “smart” switches.

image of smart switch
Lutron Caseta Smart Switch

The Ceiling Lights

In our county, new construction is required to have 80% high efficiency lighting. This means using mostly LED or CFL bulbs. Most of the lights in the house will be recessed into the ceiling, or what some call “can” lights. Because there are so many, I was concerned about getting them right, in part, because I care about lighting. Maybe too much.

ceiling lights
Kitchen Ceiling

The ceiling of our kitchen looks a little busy because there are so many lights. This is by design and relates to a lesson we learned about outdoor speakers. In Seattle, we had neighbors who we didn’t want to bother with music. I asked the guy who installed our automation system about a good strategy and he said that we could get better and more private sound by having more speakers at a lower volume. The same is true with lights. We find that having more lights at a dimmer setting leads to a nicer feel.

You have probably seen LED lighting that seems severe or piercing. It’s difficult to put your finger on why, but you can tell it’s too much of something. In recent years, LED technology has improved and they now look much more natural. You can get LEDs that are more white or warm and that’s measured on a “kelvin” scale. From what we learned, 3000 Kelvin is a good standard and one that we’re using. If you’d like to learn more about lighting terms, this is a helpful guide.

Part of the complexity in our situation is our ceiling. Some of it is sloped, some flat. Some covered in cedar, some in drywall. For this reason, we needed recessed lights that could handle all those situations, still look uniform, and work with our switches.

Many months back, we learned about a Canadian company called Lotus LED that seemed to offer everything we wanted. Their lights were solidly built and available with trims in black and white and options with gimbals, which means the lens can be pointed in different directions. The decision was made. LotusLED would be our standard.

lotus led light

The Lotus lights are interesting because they don’t have a removable bulb. Everything is built-in and they’ll last at least 50k hours and can last over 20 years. I will be just fine not thinking about that for a very long time.

On top of the system-wide decisions were the choices of fixtures for places like bathrooms, bedsides and hallways. The problem here is the sheer volume of choices. Sites like Lumens.com seem to have a never-ending selection. A lesson we learned was to pick out lights early and then wait for a sale. Often, you could sign up for their newsletter and save, too.

LED Strips

The final challenge was LED strip lighting and boy, was it a challenge. As a consumer, I find most lighting decisions to be a maze of features and terms that I don’t quite understand. This is certainly the case with what is mostly a very simple idea: LEDs on a thin strip of plastic.

LED strip

We love ambient light that reflects off of ceilings and walls. To get this effect, LED strips can be placed under cabinets and shelves or down hallways, for example. I won’t get into all the complexity, but I never imagined there could be so many possibilities. Part of the issue is that LED technology is moving so quickly that manufacturers can’t seem to communicate clearly about what’s possible and what works best for a given situation.

I was excited to find that we could use a “nano” strip in our hallway that’s hidden in the drywall via this little housing.

nano strip

Over the weekend, we got our first looks at the hallway, which is lit with these tiny LEDs. There is still some fine tuning needed, but I think it’s going to look great.

hallway with led lights

Of all the decision-making in this project, the lights were the most time consuming. The big lesson for me was learning to pick up the phone and call the number on the website. Most companies have experts ready to help and if not for these calls, I wouldn’t feel as confident as I do today.

Now, we wait. The electrical rough-in work is done and soon, all the lights will go in. Only then will we see the results of all these decisions. I, for one, anticipate the evening when we can finally experience the results of all the planning.


I Can Recommend…

Industry (HBO) – I wasn’t sure about this based on the first few episodes, but it grew on me. It’s edgy and pretty dark. Sex, drugs and young English bankers?

We Are the Champions (Netflix) – A show about the most accompished participants in fringe sports, like yo-yoing, cheese rolling, and dog dancing. Cheesy and fun. Rainn Wilson is the host.

Klaus (Netflix) – A new Christmas classic in my book. It establishes the origin story of Santa Claus in beautiful animation.

Rick Rubin Interviews Pharrell William (Broken Record – Podcast) I love the Broken Record podcast and this interview is awesome if you’re into Pharrell’s work. I was a huge fan of N.E.R.D. back in 2001 or so.

The Stepford Wives (You’re Wrong About – Podcast) A show where two entertaining journalists pick a subject from the past that has been misrepresented. This episode about the real-life Stepford Wives was fascinating.


Photo

This time of year is often foggy in the morning and I love it when the sun shines through the fog, like it did Monday morning.

The Thermal Imager for Radiant Heat

The Thermal Imager for Radiant Heat

Today at the construction site the team was putting down a subfloor over the radiant heating tubes that will warm our house. One of the risks of having tubes of water in your floor is one of them getting punctured when flooring goes down. This is especially true once the floors the tubes are hidden.

The team was adding lines to the floor as they covered it, so that the finished floor installers will have a guide for avoiding the tubes. It’s simple enough, as long as the guide are in the right place.

This is where us got I interesting. They were using a gadget that does thermal imaging and clearly shows where the tubes are under the floor. This one is the Flir E6.

A friend has one of these on his boat so he can tell what parts of his engine are getting hot (or too hot).

Before Drywall -Did We Get It Right?

Before Drywall -Did We Get It Right?

The race is on. A couple of weeks ago, Drew, our contractor, set a date for our house to be insulated. We’re using spray foam insulation, which creates a hardened shell in the spaces in the walls. It also locks into place years of decisions and the work of electricians and plumbers. Untold miles of wires and pipes will be encased forevermore, hopefully. Soon after, drywall will finish the job.

The race is on because once the insulation process starts, changes become more difficult and expensive. Everyone’s goal is for the entire house to be ready and that includes us. It’s worrisome to think that so much is becoming more permanent. Did we get it right? 

I suppose most projects reach the stage where all the decisions are made and the trigger must be pulled. This post is an example. Just before you received this message, Sachi and I both pored through it, looking for errors and ways to improve it. Once I hit “send” and it landed in your inbox, there was no going back. What’s done is done. 

Publishing Big Enough was similar. Once the book had been written, edited, designed, and reviewed multiple times, we had to make the final decision to get it printed. When the ink dried on those pages, it was truly final. Did we get it right?

It’s that moment, when the final decision is made, that progress happens and it’s essential to getting things done. In business terms, you have to ship the product and it sometimes takes gumption to do it. Self-doubt can make you rethink the idea or delay the decision for another week or month. I’ve seen untold hours of my time wasted because I wasn’t confident enough to ship it. It’s a constant battle.

Thankfully, with the house and the book, we had the help of professionals who specialize in getting it right. They have systems and processes that help ensure the final product is high quality. While mistakes are inevitable, we trust the pros, who have been through it before and are used to getting products out the door.

Today, with the work of carpenters, electricians and plumbers about to get shipped, we’re doing what we can to document what’s inside the walls. As some of you suggested for this stage, we took photos and videos of every wall in the house. I think of this as a kind of X-ray vision that only applies once the drywall is up. The photos and videos allow us to know what lurks behind each wall so we can avoid driving a nail into a water pipe or diagnose a problem more efficiently in the future.

The process of taking the photos was a great reminder of all the work that has gone into the house that no one will ever see. An example is “blocking”. There is a high likelihood that you’ve needed to place a screw into a wall to hang art or install a shelf. To make it more secure, you hoped to find a stud in the wall. Or, you’ve used anchors in drywall. With a bit of forethought, this process can be easier and more secure.

For example, we plan to have two towel bars in our bathroom. Casey, the foreman on the project and all-around great guy, asked about the height of the bars and installed these blocks in the walls. Now we don’t have to find studs. This was true across the entire house; we blocked for everything we could imagine. No stud finders needed.

Speaking of drywall, I noticed that the plumbers put these metal “nail plates” on the studs whenever a water line passes through it. I initially thought they were for strengthening the wood, but their role is to prevent a drywall nail (or a nail from us in the future) from piercing the line and causing a huge problem inside the wall.

When the drywall is installed, a canvas will also be lost forever. Drew is a very visual person and when he needs to explain something, he draws it on whatever he can find. Often, it’s a nearby stud. The walls of the house are adorned with little drawings and notes that record a decision made or mind changed. Maybe someday they’ll be seen again, but hopefully not by us.

Today we’re about 14 months into the project, starting with the demolition of the Yurt, and the house is very close to taking a great leap toward becoming livable. Over the next month or so, the roof, all doors and windows, drywall, soffits and siding will all become a reality. While these elements are more visible than what’s inside the walls, we’ll still be asking: did we get it right?

A version of this post also appeared in my Ready for Rain newsletter.

Rolling Out the Roof

Rolling Out the Roof

You’ve probably seen metal roofs on houses. They usually have “standing seams” like this:

The roof on our house will be no different. In fact, it’s one of our only options because the slope of the roof is so flat. For us, it’s exactly what we need. A metal roof can last over 50 years, especially when it is installed with the panels extending the entire length of the roof. This is where we have a challenge. To have panels with no breaks in them, they will be 60 feet long on a large part of the house.

The question becomes: how? How do you deliver and install metal panels that are 60 feet long?

I recently participated in this process and it’s fascinating. The metal is delivered in large heavy spools and then formed and cut on-site in a process called “roll forming”. It’s like a giant mechanical tape dispenser. Photos and more below…

One of three spools of metal roofing
The forming machine
60 foot piece of formed steel roof
Stacks of Ten Panels (Over 60 panels)

Watch the machine (and people) at work:

Now we just have to get the panels from the ground to on top of the roof. I’ll get to that a little later.

What is a Rain Screen for a House?

What is a Rain Screen for a House?

Today our house is sporting an exterior look that reminds me of dazzle camouflage, which was used in WW1 (and to a smaller extend in WWII) to it difficult to estimate the range of other ships.

We’re not hoping to fool the enemy, but mother nature. The stripes on our house are there to hold the siding away from the house in what is called a “rain screen”. Here’s the big idea:

Moisture is the enemy when it comes to house exteriors. If it gets trapped and can’t evaporate, it can start to rot wood and other materials. Houses usually have a couple of layers that serve as moisture barriers, like home wrapping (the black material above) and siding.

From what I’ve heard, it’s nearly impossible to prevent moisture from getting behind siding. Usually, it’s not a problem, but some siding does best when water can evaporate or drain quickly. That’s why a rain screen is used. It holds the siding about half an inch off the home wrap so that moisture can easily drain.

The stripes in the photo above are wooden boards that have been put in place to hold the wooden siding we’ll use. You can see that the walls alternate in terms of pattern. This is because the orientation of the siding will also alternate from vertical to horizontal.

It took me a while to realize why the middle section has diagonal stripes. This section will have vertical siding that could be applied on horizontal boards. Because the goal is drainage, the underlying boards must be diagonal to help with drainage.

The siding we’ll use is called Yaki Sugi and is cypress that has been charred on one side. This sort of rain screen was recommended by the manufacturer because the cypress does best when it can dry quickly.

The Search for Smart House Siding

The Search for Smart House Siding

For our house project, we are constantly looking for materials and products that we call “smart”. Today, smart often means something electronic, like a doorbell or light switch. In this case, smart means something different to us. We want our house to be made from sustainable materials that last multiple decades, are resistant to rot, and require very low maintenance. The dream is to identify beautiful products that last. To us, that’s smart.

From the beginning, we liked the idea of the house having a dark exterior, maybe even black. The idea of a dark, modern home, set in the pacific northwest woods seemed perfect. It’s easy enough to paint a house black, but we started to look into other options.

If you picture a Japanese village in your mind, you’re likely to imagine buildings with a dark brown or black appearance, with a lot of character. This appearance, comes, in part, from an ancient Japanese method of charring wood to make it more resilient. The final product is called “yakisugi” or “shou sugi ban”. The Japanese found that charring the wood gave a unique character that made it last longer. Today, people all over the world are using the same method for their homes.

Charring the wood does a few things.

  • It dries the wood and removes the carbohydrates that attract bugs, making it more bug resistant
  • It creates a fire-resistant barrier
  • It strengthens the boards
  • It reduces maintenance because it never needs to be painted. Over time, the wood remains strong even as appearance ages and takes on a patina as the underlying wood shows through.
  • It creates a look that’s both rustic and contemporary

We looked at composite siding like Hardie but felt it looked conventional and required painting. We started to ask around and found a company in Oregon called Nakamoto Forestry that specializes in yakisugi siding for a price comparable to Hardie. In talking to them, it became clear we’d found the product and source we needed.

A couple of weeks ago, the siding arrived on site. It was packaged in what could be described as a Japanese level of care, with each set of boards wrapped in wax paper, all stacked perfectly. The delivery person said it was the best packing they had ever seen.

One of Two Pallets

The process we chose was “gendai”, which means that after the wood is charred, it is brushed once. The wood itself is Japanese cypress or “sugi”, which Nakamoto claims is the only species that should be used. We chose the shiplap style board. Once the siding arrived we got our first look and it matched our expectations. It was black, with the character of charred wood.

For now, the siding is patiently waiting in the garage as the exterior is being prepared. In a matter of weeks, it will be applied and we’ll get to see it in action. I think the sugiyaki is going to be beautiful and smart for a long time into the future.

Here’s my amateur 3d model of how we expect it to look:

To see more posts about the house project, check out the house category.

Powering a Smart Home with Batteries

Powering a Smart Home with Batteries

We live on Orcas Island in Washington State, which is serviced by ferries and has about 3,000 year round residents. For most of the time it’s been developed, the power infrastructure has been fragile. It’s a densely wooded place and trees often fall on overhead power lines during winter storms. Our neighbors tell stories about power going out over a dozen times in the winter and sometimes staying off for a week or two. For this reason, many houses have built-in generators that run on propane. As soon as the power goes out, the generator kicks on and powers essential things like the refrigerators, water pumps, and lights.

When we started planning our house on Orcas Island, people often asked about our plans for a generator assuming we’d need one. For a while, we had the same assumption. Before starting the construction project, we lived on the island for about 18 months and saw that power outages were becoming more rare. Power lines were moving underground and the power company (a co-op) was fixing problems quickly. The power still went out a few times a year, but for hours and not days.

We also started looking into alternatives to propane generators. Along with using fossil fuel, they are expensive and painful to maintain. We wanted to build a house with smarter, more sustainable options that had the potential to save us money over the long term.

From the beginning of the project, we planned to use solar panels on our roof. Right now, we’re working with an electrician to be sure the house has the proper “rough-in” for making solar installation easy when we can afford it. One of the traditional problems of solar energy is storage. For many years, the energy from solar panels was either used at the moment or sold back to the grid. There wasn’t a good way to store the energy produced during the day and use it once the sun goes down, or during power outages.

In these discussions with the electricians, we took a closer look at batteries designed to store energy that can be used by the home. Like the solar panels, we wanted to be sure the house is being built with the right connections in place for the future. Once the drywall goes up, these things become more difficult.

Tesla, the same company that creates vehicles, created a product called the Powerwall that earned a lot of attention because it made home-based energy storage an option. Today, multiple companies offer similar products. They’re essentially a battery pack that is connected to your house, the grid, the internet, and often, solar panels. The batteries remain at least 80% full and when your house loses power from the grid, batteries keep appliances running instead of a generator. The batteries are expandable, but don’t necessarily power a full house or offer more than a day of energy in a blackout.

Learning about these products changed how we thought about backups for our house. Instead of a generator, we plan to have a battery in our garage that is programmed to bridge us through short-term power outages. Once we install solar panels, the goal is to keep it charged with sunlight. This way, sun during the day can charge batteries that work overnight or during outages.

The battery storage companies we’ve looked at so far are:

If you have any experience with these products, I’d love to talk to you.

The House Project: Flattop on Orcas Island

The House Project: Flattop on Orcas Island

In the spring of 2017, Sachi and I became consumed with an idea. On a camping trip to Orcas Island, which is off the NW coast of Washington State, we started to ask serious questions about the future. While drinking wine from a box by a campfire, we first started to consider getting property and someday moving to the island. 

By June, we were back on Orcas Island looking at vacant land with a realtor and Sachi asked if we could see a house. We figured we couldn’t afford a house, but what the heck? What we saw that day was a nice piece of west facing property with a water view. On the property was an odd, fifteen-sided house that was built by a family in the 80s. It was shabby, but livable and we soon made an offer.  

This yurt-shaped house became ours in September and was the only house we toured on the entire island. It all happened so quickly. We never dreamed we’d have a house on the island in such short order. It was available, in part, because no one looking for a vacation home would choose that one. 

At first we spent weekends, then weeks on the island. Thanks to a good internet connection, work was the same as in Seattle. Before long, we found ourselves dreading the trip back to the city and decided to make the big move. In early 2019, we committed to leaving Seattle and starting over on Orcas Island. The house we’d owned since 2003 hit the market that spring.

We moved to the island as permanent residents and started planning the biggest project of our lives: designing and building a new home for us and headquarters for Common Craft. Working with an on-island contractor and architect friend, the new house started to come to life on paper and then in three dimensions. 

Soon, the yurt-shaped house was gone and we moved to a guest house over a neighbor’s garage for a planned eighteen-month stay.  

Today, we are deep into the project and it’s taking everything we have to make it happen. The structure is built and we’re in the “rough-in” phase where plumbing and electrical is installed. Soon we’ll have insulation and drywall. 

Every day is a mix of our normal work and house projects. Sometimes it’s researching lights, others it’s painting or doing odd jobs that limit costs. Along with construction, I’m learning a lot about new products and ideas that focus on efficiency and sustainability. This will be our forever house and our goal is to get it right. 

I often say that happiness lives in anticipation and that anticipation is what gets us through. This project adds significant stress to our lives and can sometimes be exhausting. But it’s also satisfying to learn about the process and see the house come to life. The day we can move in can’t come soon enough. 

Spring 2020

You can find all house-related posts in the house category.

Your Questions About The House Project, Answered ⬇️

Your Questions About The House Project, Answered ⬇️

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.


Your Questions Answered

Over the past two years, my wife, Sachi, and I decided to change our lives in fundamental ways. After 20 years in Seattle, we sold our house and moved to a yurt-shaped house on Orcas Island in Washington State.

Since then, we’ve been adjusting to island life and planning a new home on the property. Today, that home is becoming a reality and represents the biggest project of our lives. We’re putting everything we have (and then some) into making this dream a reality. The house project is the central subject of my newsletter.

What sort of house is it?

It’s a single story modern house (3 br, 3 bath) with a shed roof. The house faces west and is positioned to maximize the view over the water. I created the 3D models below to represent how it will look.

Back of the House, Facing the Water
Back of the House, Facing the Water
Front of the House
Front of the House

Where is the house?

The house is on the west side of Orcas Island, which is part of the San Juan Islands in Washington State. The islands are in an inland sea called the Salish Sea, about halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, BC. It’s about as far NW you can get in the continental U.S.

west side of Orcas Island

Why Orcas Island? 

Orcas has a combination of natural beauty, useful amenities and a strong sense of community. It’s 55 square miles and has a few thousand people. We visited many times over the years and always dreamed of living on the island.

We also stumbled onto a property that was a steal and had a view that we never thought we could afford. It was the first and only house we visited on the island.

Just Before "The Yurt" was Demolished
Just Before “The Yurt” was Demolished

Do you have jobs? How do you work on the island?

Yes. We own a small company called Common Craft. We produce animated educational videos that are used by educators to teach technology and related topics. The business is an online subscription service that gives us the freedom to work from almost anywhere. It helps, of course, that Orcas has fiber optic internet connections. 

How can you do this? 

We were fortunate to buy a home in Seattle in 2003, just as the city started to grow. We remodeled it significantly in 2010 and eventually sold it as we moved to the island.

Are you building the house yourselves?

No. We are working with an architect we’ve known for years and a builder on the island. We plan to work on the house in the future, when our limited skills can be more productive. 

Where are you living during the construction?

We originally planned to live in a fifth-wheel trailer on the property during construction. A kind neighbor heard about our plans and offered a guest house over their garage. We will probably live in the guest house for over a year.

When do you expect to move into the new house?

We hope to be in the house a year from now, in the fall of 2020. I plan to keep writing about the process until it’s done.

Where is the project today?

We have finished the excavation and are pouring the concrete foundation. Soon, the framing will begin and the house will start to take real shape.

pouring the concrete foundation

Why are you writing the newsletter?

The Ready for Rain newsletter started with a goal of publishing a new story every week in 2019. This is the 41st issue and I’m sure we’ll make it to #52 (and much more). At heart, I love writing and creating media. The newsletter is how I practice and having an audience keeps me motivated and engaged. I share videos, animated gifs and lots of photos.

Lastly… I want this experience to be interactive. I want to hear your ideas and feedback. I want to answer your questions. It makes my day to know that you’re reading and thinking. All you have to do is hit reply on any newsletter to say hello.

Thanks in advance for sharing!

Photo of us at the site by Anastasia Fuller
Photo of us at the site by Anastasia Fuller