Featured Posts

  • Aerial Photos and First Floor Walls Finished

    Happy Thanksgiving. Two days ago the first floor walls were poured finally. So ICF is a really long construction process, really, really, long. There is a ton of residential construction going on where I live right now and I’m forever jealous of these stick frame homes I see go up in a week or two,… [more…]

    Aerial Photos and First Floor Walls Finished
  • Castle Wall Stone Options

    One of the main reasons to build a castle is because you like the way castles look, obviously. Otherwise you wouldn’t take on such an ambitious building project. One of the key components to how they look is the exterior stone cladding for your walls, and that can also be a significant budget expense. I’m… [more…]

    Castle Wall Stone Options
  • Exciting Day: First Looks at Castle Exterior

    After dreaming this place up at least a decade ago, putting it in the “what if” and “maybe someday” category, gradually moving it into the “possibly” category, then the “probably” category, and now hopefully in the “definitely” category.  After over a year of finally getting down to the nitty gritty and nailing down the interior… [more…]

    Exciting Day: First Looks at Castle Exterior
  • An Energy Efficient Castle

    We’re building with concrete, for a number of reasons. It is strong, it can survive hurricanes and tornadoes, it is thick, giving us the wall thickness we desire, but also it is incredibly energy efficient, and I wanted to build an energy efficient castle. Concrete has immense thermal mass which allows it to only slowly… [more…]

    An Energy Efficient Castle
  • My Modern Castle Design Philosophy

    I am not building a time capsule. It is not my desire to recreate a castle as it existed back in 1350. I am aiming for a more evolutionary structure. Conceptually with the idea that the castle may have been originally built many hundreds of years ago, and the bones of the structure would be… [more…]

    My Modern Castle Design Philosophy

I have a working portcullis

I guess not everyone is a castle nerd and knows what a portcullis is. A portcullis is a (usually metal) grid gate like a lattice that would be in front of the castle gate or door. Possibly behind a drawbridge but in front of the gate or door. Often the first line of defense it would be vertically raised and lowered using a counterweight system such that, in the event of an emergency (orc attack) the counterweights could be cut and the portcullis would come crashing down.

This has very little functional purpose outside of harassing solicitors who might come to the door. However, most castles had these, and I want to be authentic. Typically you’d most often see it in the open position as below:

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So I thought about just getting a short section and permanently bolting it into the wall so it’d look like there was a portcullis but there wasn’t really, this would have been cheap but not really ideal to me. I’ve tried to avoid doing lip service to authenticity like that. One of my pet peeves for instance is when people put tiny decorative crenelations on top of a building they mean to look like a castle. Crenelations need to be large enough to hide defenders, smaller ones are entirely pointless so why bother at all? Or to quote one of my favorite authors, they are about as pointless as nipples on a breastplate.

So we had planned from the get go to make it functional and it did require some finagling in the end, but it was planned for in the construction and so we had the spot where the portcullis could go.

But just because we had the spot for it does not mean we could figure out how to work it. We researched it heavily, asked garage door people if they had an option, asked steel people used to hoisting metal into the air, anyone we thought might have input we asked their advice on it. I also tried to figure out if there was a way to make a roll up portcullis as that would have been easier hid in the wall. Some of the solutions they proposed were quite expensive, but in the end we were able to use a $100 electric hoist (not a winch, a hoist, they’re different, something I learned in this process) and it works great. Smooth and quiet.
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Then we had to do the portcullis itself, and the same company that did our doors and many of our light fixtures, Iron Gallery LLC, made it for us. But they, and another supplier who had bid it, also talked about doing a track system, and a stainless steel ball bearing glides, or whatever. And that was very expensive, and I didn’t like it. Both the cost, and because I didn’t really see metal rubbing on metal as being a good idea, eventually it was going to scrape and be noisy.
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Then I had an idea, and I will pat myself on the back and say it is a good one. We decided to just use composite decking to build a track for the portcullis to slide through. Black composite decking. Probably the weirdest use for composite decking in the history of the world. Real wood may have been an option but wood eventually rots and having it buried in the wall rotting in what is ultimately an exterior installation (even if it is covered by an overhang above) was a bad idea. And then metal of course would have been noisy, but composite decking, largely plastic, and naturally slippery, won’t rot, won’t make any noise, and will look great, and was much cheaper than the fancy metal track option.
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There was a surprising amount of labor in getting it installed and the encapsulating walls put up around it, but it is done now and it opens and closes smoothly, quietly, and impressively. For safety we have a lockout on the 2nd floor with some steel bars preventing it from being lowered accidentally, which is good considering it weighs nearly 500 pounds. The bars can also be used to lock it closed as well.
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I don’t know how many people in the United States have a functional portcullis on their house, I’m willing to bet it is less than 5 people though.

Masonry Heater

We ended up going with a masonry heater for our great hall. I didn’t know what these things were before I started this process so I had to learn about them.

Originally what I wanted was a double sided see-through fireplace. The problem was we couldn’t find one that would work with our situation of having a very tall flue. The taller your flue the more draft it has, which means wind passing over the top sucks air out faster or something. Modern wood burning appliances are tested to function within certain parameters for flue (chimney) height, there is a concern they will get too hot and cause a chimney fire if the flue is too long.

I ended up cutting the fireplace in the basement for this reason. But I wasn’t going to go without a wood burning option in my great hall, I mean, come on, it is a great hall.

So a masonry heater is not a metal fireplace box or wood stove, but as the name suggests, built entirely out of masonry. And additionally the smoke’s path goes up, then goes down, then goes back up, so they’re making it even longer, all out of masonry. There is a firebox, then above it a secondary combustion chamber, and then the snaking masonry passage for the smoke. Mine also happens to send some of the flue gasses through a pizza oven, so yay!

The point of all this though is to make the firebox super hot so it burns up all the flammable smoke. There is no creosote buildup because the creosote burns up before it collects anywhere. It gets super hot and generates an immense amount of heat on only a small amount of wood. One or two fires is enough for heat to radiate from it all day…. and there are no flue height restrictions so bingo.

So I got a double sided see through masonry heater, with an attached pizza oven, and it fits the space well because of the width required for the down then up flue channels. However, the one downside is it doesn’t have that epic large opening you might think of in a castle, something you can throw a whole pig into or something. My builder was concerned about this fact, he felt the door was too small compared to large open fireplaces. Overall this is much much larger than any fireplace, but most people just see the door and wouldn’t realize that. But I was sold on having one of these, plus pizza oven.

This won’t heat the house alone, but I’ll be able to put my 20 acres of oak and hickory to use providing a super comfortable radiant heat during the winter, and of course pizza. It will get epically hot enough though that there is no way we will be able to use it to cook pizza in the summer.

I shopped around quite a bit for this, and ended up buying it from Maine Wood Heat (it also of course required a skilled installer). They had the best option I found and I also really liked some of their door styles with their gothic arch detailing.

If you’ve never seen a masonry heater before I recommend doing a Google image search, there are some really neat ones out there.

Masonry Heater

Masonry Heater

Mine still needs to be all dressed up with stone, it is sort of naked now, but the guts are all in.

Copper Turrets

Its been 6 weeks or so since the main roof was finished and we’ve been waiting, and waiting, and waiting, on our copper. The copper supplier’s machine broke or something and we were stuck waiting for a replacement.

They’ve been getting worked on for a week or so now though and I didn’t want to post about them because thousands ($$$$$) of dollars worth of copper sitting on the ground where we’ve already had thefts….. I’m sure all you readers are honest but still. Now though the copper is installed and 70 feet in the air, so, I think we’re safe from theft. Tristate Roofing did the installation on our copper, just like our flat roofs.

So, to recap, some blocks were leveled and a custom curved heavy steel tube was brought up to the site at the exact radius of the towers. This tube was set on the blocks and light gauge steel truss work was built on top to create the conical shape. This was then sheathed with layers of plywood and covered with roofing underlayment, then, mostly, covered with copper roofing panels. Leaving a few gaps to provide an area for the crane to hold onto it. Then, this morning, the whole assemblies (20 ish feet wide, 12 feet ish tall, and weighing god knows how much) were lifted up into the sky by a crane and placed down precisely on top of the steel framed wall built to accept them.

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After they were put in place the workers added the few remaining missing copper panels, and I got some pictures.
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Meanwhile, fortuitously, our big heavy custom iron doors were delivered yesterday, so the crane was used to lift them on to the floors on which they belong, from which they can be wheeled into place. Some of these doors are 500 pounds or more, very solid, built to keep the marauders out.

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In addition to the doors being delivered yesterday, and the turrets going up today, on Thursday or Friday our greenhouse and skylight are supposed to be delivered/installed. So that is exciting as well, a very busy week.

In other news:

The plumbing rough-in is almost done.
The electrical rough-in has started.
The fire sprinkler rough-in has started.
The HVAC rough-in doesn’t even have a plan yet :(
Rainwater catchment system is complete (future post about that)
Masonry heater is complete (but not finished with veneer yet – future post)
Ceiling beams are all installed in the 1st floor family room (future post)

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The Roof, The Roof, The Roof is on mostly…

Stone has been chugging along, bits of framing here or there, chimneys, breezeway stuff. Not a whole lot of big monumental things. We have our first few windows installed, more will go in next week. Plumbing has started and we’re about to turn HVAC and fire sprinkler guys loose.

The biggest recent development has been the completion of the majority of the roof. Why only the majority of the roof? Well, because we’re using different roofing systems. The majority of the roof is flat and uses what is called a TPO membrane. I want to thank Chris Fetty of TriState Roofing for getting that done for us. First they had to put down multiple layers of foam boards for insulation, then glue down the reflective white (and man that thing is bright, I think I need snow goggles on when I go up there – but that just shows how much heat it is reflecting), and of course flash all the penetrations. I had them use grey membrane for the sides of the parapet walls, it is the same material, just a darker color, and not as reflective. From a distance it may look like stone. Of course the tops of the crenelations will get stone, but then the inside of those walls up here I’m fine with leaving the more artificial (but water tight) finish. I wanted to use the white on the roof for the energy efficiency benefits, but the parapet walls aren’t insulated conditioned space so I’m fine with them absorbing a little more heat from the sunlight with the grey finish – and it makes it much easier on the eyes to look out over the battlements too. I’m not kidding, it is bright up there.

We will also apply spray foam to the underside of the roof deck, so when you combine that foam, the foam on top of the roof deck, and the reflective white membrane, I think we’ll have a very efficient roof assembly.

All we need now is the copper for the front conical turret caps, and then to crane those up and into place.

We also had some metal ship ladders built by JC Electric Gates installed for accessing the roof of the rear towers (the 5th or 6th floor if you count the basement or not), the view from up there is epic.

We do not yet have the skylight installed, but it is covered up for safety (and covered with plastic to keep the rain out).

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Its a wrap…

Still no roof, but we’re so close I can taste it. We have our roof decking, just not our membrane, things are starting to get flashed. We’re close, and oh so close to windows too, windows!

But the final silhouette of the castle is basically there, and it is a sight. The only thing missing are the conical turrets for the front towers, which are on site, just on the ground, we are building them on the ground and will hoist them up with a crane. It is safer that way.

So we’ve gotten finally almost completely wrapped with Tyvek, it is now a bright white beacon on the hill, and the masons are making good progress on the stone (though there is so very much to do). No finished pool yet, or greenhouse, or skylight. No doors installed yet, though soon on those as well. We did just get a massive driveway gate, it is just the metal framework now but once I put wood on it it’ll look like the gate from Jurassic Park.

So, here is how things look now:

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And since we’ve got decking on those flat-roofed fourth floor towers, I can provide what would be the fifth floor views, if there was a fifth floor.

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Crenelations

We have crenelations, yes, we do, we have crenelations, how bout you?

Since the resolution of the light gauge steel problems things have started moving pretty fast. The crenelations have gone up in a few days. Next will be the front tower 4th floor framing, then, or concurrently, chimney chases and rear tower framing, and we should be about ready for our roof membrane.

People the world over recognize crenelations as one of the quintessential characteristics of a castle, and it is a personal pet peeve of mine when people try to mimic them without the proper scale. These were meant to hide defenders, so unless your castle is being defended by the lollipop guild you need them to be pretty big, mine are. They are a functional part of a castle, not decorative.

The tooth part is called a merlon, the gap is called a crenel, and whole thing is a crenelated battlement, you could also possibly say a crenelated parapet wall. Additionally it is cantilevered, which means it projects beyond its lower supporting wall. This cantilever was done to provide space for little gaps at the base of the wall, called machicolations, that provided an avenue for dropping rocks or oil down on ladder climbing attackers (while not having to expose yourself over the top of the wall). We will not be having the machicolations, but we will be adding corbels to complete the cantilevered look.

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Aerial Views

The ICF contractor had a drone shoot their final pour, and I have photos.

We’re still waiting, and have been waiting around the full month of May, for this light gauge steel resolution. I think we finally, finally, got there today. This is the same steel that should have been installed in March. We’re still searching for an HVAC installer who can do multizoned ductless minisplit systems and geothermal heat pumps. If anyone knows anyone.

We’ve had some thefts up at the construction site recently, pretty major thefts, a tractor and a cement mixer and some smaller tools. I’m told the police may have some leads but I also want to help so I’m offering a $1000 dollar reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible. If you know who did it, and maybe you don’t like them so much, now is your chance to get a thousand bucks richer and teach them a lesson. If you’re worried it gets back to you I’ll happily keep you anonymous. If you know anyone who recently came home with a bright red new Mahindra tractor (Max 26XL) or an old grey cement mixer, some shovels and wheelbarrows and the like, get rewarded for doing the right thing. Of course, I’d appreciate any and all help in getting the word out on this as well for those who are local. Someone will know something. If you see someone trying to offload these things, please, don’t buy them, but if you can, see if you can snap the serial number or other pictures and send them to me. The thief may have also been stealing just to get new equipment for themselves.

That out of the way, here are the pictures.

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4th Floor Views

The 3rd floor is finally done, well, mostly.

1st floor took 80 days, the 2nd floor 52 days. I thought the third floor would continue that trend and be done even faster, it was smaller, all told than prior floors. February 20th was when we finished with the 2nd floor, the third floor wasn’t done until this week, 72 days or so, and the truth is it isn’t quite done.

I thought we were going to have a delay with the ICF walls, and we did, a little, but then they showed up and knocked out their portion pretty quick. We were doing good, but then came the light gauge steel, again. Despite having the plans for over a year the LGS supplier hadn’t yet done the engineering necessary to design the trusses. So we waited, and we waited, and this level is complicated because we’ve got these cantilevered battlements (a cantilever is when you suspend a building out beyond its foundation, a battlement is a crenelated wall), and finally we get our steel, and it’s wrong, or insufficient. So we have these trusses in some spots about 2 feet long, cantilevering out 18 inches, tied back into nothing structural in the house and secured to the wall with like 4 screws. And this is to hold 400 pounds a linear foot plus wind loads. There is another spot where the original structural engineers I’ve paid large sums to put a truss in the wrong place, blocking a stair, so that needs to be changed as well. It’s frustrating because these are costs that shouldn’t exist, and waiting that shouldn’t happen. We waited so long for this complicated engineering and it isn’t even right.

In the meantime, work has progressed on the site, just not work in our “critical path” to getting dried in and ultimately completed. We have a handful of interior walls now. The decorative wood trusses are up. Windows have been ordered. The south wall finally has exterior framing. More exterior patios have been framed, stone is starting to appear on the outside, the pool garage has a roof. The pool is maybe half done. Stairs have been built or poured.

The ICF crew is back now, working on the 4th floor walls. These are so small they won’t take very long, but then we may have a delay again because of this steel issue because some of the other 4th floor walls are steel framed. I think June sometime is when we might expect to be dried in.

Here are the views from the 4th floor.

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Here you can see the start of the cantilevered battlement, the steel framed south wall (which includes a 6′ diameter round rose window that is going to be stained glass), and some of the stone work.

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And finally, here are two shots of the 4th floor walls going up. Only the corner towers get a 4th floor.

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3rd Floor Wall Pour

The third floor was poured last Friday. We’ll see how soon the steel gets out here to finish it up, we had a two weekish ICF break in early march and they still cranked this out pretty quick.

Pictures below are taken right before the pour, some nice dawn shots. These are taken at a “sitting on the roof” sort of height.

The main rectangular section of the castle tops out at 3 floors. It still has a 60 inch battlement that will be built cantilevered out 18 inches from the wall, with corbels underneath (machicolations they’re called). So the walls, overall, get 60 inches higher than this, then they stop.

Except the towers of course. The larger, rear, towers get one whole additional story (12ish more feet), and then the same battlement on top, so call it 17 more feet. The front towers get another story as well and then a conical turret style roof (copper, yay!).

In all cases where we cantilever a battlement we’re framing it, and not making it out of concrete, because of weight. Cantilevering a stone clad framed wall is hard enough without adding in concrete. So the barbican crenelations you see below are the only actual concrete crenelations we’re making. The rest are all framed with stone cladding.

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First Crenelations

The first crenelations have been formed. I like them. They’re accurate.

One of my pet peeves is inaccurate crenelations, they are not just a decorative afterthought. People who want to build a “castle” add them, but they don’t see the point, so they make them short and decorative.

Crenelations have two parts, merlons (teeth) and crenels (gaps). The merlons need to be tall enough to hide a man, otherwise they’re pointless. So when you see supposed castles add these 1 or 2 foot tall crenelations just laugh, they might as well not add anything. The whole point was to give cover for defenders to hide behind, allowing them to peek out, shoot, and duck back under cover.

Granted, I don’t expect goblin hordes to attack my castle, but understanding the original use for these architectural features allows me to maintain appropriate accuracy, the last thing I want is for it to end up looking like a play castle.

Did you know in medieval England you needed a “license to crenelate”? The king didn’t want strongholds all over his lands, which could aid future potential revolts. So you needed permission to fortify your property.

Crenelations, properly sized, are one of the key features everyone tends to recognize as defining a castle, vs a mere home with stone walls.

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In unrelated news, third floor walls are being poured tomorrow. We’re estimating a roof in 6-8 weeks.