Stone Complete

The masons laid the last wall stone on March 28th 2018. The first had been laid on February 7th 2016. So it was over two years. It didn’t need to take so long but we had supplier problems and changed crews a couple times and had small crews generally. But the exterior stone is now done. Now we move to cleaning and landscaping. Spreading top soil, moving dirt, pouring the driveway. There is a splayed base that comes up the front that is going to be made of packed earth and rubble that needs to be done, but I include that in with the landscaping. So the home stretch. Of course still waiting on the pool to be finalized.

Below is a picture I took the day the last stone was applied. For those curious it was around the rectangular window to the left of the round window on the front right tower.


Then there are some pictures I took one day when we had excellent lighting.











Stone Cold Problems

The interior stone is basically done.

There is a lot of it, it ended up being something around 6,500 sq/ft of stone just on the inside. We had real trouble getting masons situated started around New Years. Our original mason, Accent Masonry, had to be fired/quit it was sorta mutual. I thought he (Josh, the owner), left in good spirits. He had agreed to a price and was working at that price, but only very very slowly, not sending the men up necessary, and even though we had an agreement we gave him an increase to try to make things better, and it really didn’t. Then we finally put it to him that we needed him to send more guys to finish and he said he would have to walk off and we sort of made it mutual, he claimed to be losing money, and we were losing time, and it wasn’t working out for either party. So I thought it was on good terms. I think the overall reason why he didn’t work out is he was never on site, just his guys, and they took a lot of breaks. He was paying them hourly but we paid him by the foot so without him there keeping them motivated and on task their pace suffered greatly.

Then we were going to hire this other guy, only this other guy didn’t really have employees in so much as he coordinated crews and acted like a middleman, which was okay, except he kept promising his crews one thing and they would show up, look at the job, and not want anything to do with it. But this guy kept telling us he could do it for us. So we told him okay, but he kept not delivering.

Meanwhile, the original mason, Josh, allegedly sent the below text to the new guy.

Mason's Fighting

We didn’t end up going with the new guy, he couldn’t in the end deliver the workers at the agreed upon price, but he was nice enough to forward this text to my builder. This is the sort of stuff we’ve had to deal with. After he left Josh gave us a price to get him to come back, then he allegedly attempts to collude with this other mason about raising prices.

Of course it’s also possible this other guy faked the text somehow as a negotiation tactic, we don’t know, we couldn’t be sure, we were tired of both of them. They seemed to us to be fighting over the job with us in the crosshairs.

So our stone work is at a dead standstill and we’re trying to find new guys. Originally we were paying $6 a sq/ft for labor, and we had found 3 masons to agree to that price before we went with Josh, then we gave him a bump to $6.5, and then he left, we had guys quote us $15, or one guy quoted me $23. I wonder if he thought I was an idiot or couldn’t do math. I’m not a lottery winner, I’m an educated successful self made man, I can do math, I can read financial statements, and I even sometimes do for fun. So this one guy quoted us $23 a square foot and says he pays his guys $7 take home pay. Like I say, I’m not an idiot, I know by talking to masons, local and out of state, and reading articles from Masonry Magazine and trade publications, I know how much a mason can lay down in a day. It supposed to be between 100 and 200 sq/ft, per guy per day (with a tender, some lower base laborer guy fetching and carrying). Even Josh’s guys who were slow, according to Josh, did 50 sq/ft a day. So if I remember my third grade multiplication correctly that means this guy is paying his workers $350 to $1400 a day. With 260 work days a year at the low end these masons are making $91,000 a year, at the high end $364,000, per guy, per year. It was all I could do not to laugh in his face, I waited until after he left. We get these ridiculous “castle prices” sometimes, yet another thing to deal with.

Finally we found a real winner in a mason named Samuel Hernandez. He had previously worked for a larger commercial outfit and recently struck out on his own. He has had his workers and arranged other crews and gotten them up to the site and cruising on the stone, stone is simply flying up, they seem to be working 4-5x faster than Josh ever did.

Most importantly the interior stone is finished, and for a long time I was worried that the rest of the house would be done but the stone would still be going on. I no longer worry about that. However our masons are going so fast we’re running into other problems in that now the stone supplier is having trouble keeping up with the window trim pieces we need to keep things rolling, and we also need to find a contractor to install our corbels that go around the cantilevered battlements.

So, here are some pictures of the completed interior stone:














And here are some pictures of the exterior stone progress.

More Exterior Stone

Exterior Stone

I don’t even know how many tons of interior stone we have, but think of what all that mass does to the building. For the sun to heat it up it first needs to heat up the stone on the outside, then go through an inch of mortar, 2 inches of foam, up to 14 inches of concrete, 2 more inches of foam, another inch of mortar, and two more inches of stone. Stone is a good conductor of heat, but it also simply absorbs energy, it banks it. Its why you can put a hot pan on a granite countertop. This is why you can visit an old castle or old church in the middle of summer and it can be cool inside. I’ve been up there when its 90 degrees out and our air isn’t on yet and its quite comfortable inside. I worry our HVAC loads are going to end up totally oversized because building with so much thermal mass is so outside the norms that their models didn’t account for it. No matter how hot it has gotten outside, I’ve never gotten hot while indoors at the castle, even before we had windows and doors and insulation, except in the greenhouse, which is supposed to get hot. Of course if you actually go outside on the roof on a hot day you will bake.

Overall I think stone is the single biggest line item in our budget, and perhaps rightly so, it is a castle afterall, but it is also totally worth it.

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:


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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

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.









After they were put in place the workers added the few remaining missing copper panels, and I got some pictures.











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.



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)


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).















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:











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.








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.













13413749_1156003894462500_7228603849972783169_n (1)

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.





13151801_1131440476918842_2316557945970001554_n (1)






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.





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



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.





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

Not Much to Report

Do I have a loan? No. I have three banks working on it, I’ve paid for more appraisals. The most recent appraisal was the highest yet, putting my loan-to-value (LTV) at 44%, and yet still no finalized loan. I do have “preliminary approvals” at two banks but I’ve heard that before.

Business is doing good to the point where I’d almost be there to just self finance, and I think perhaps in another year (maybe two) I could indeed to do that, not need a bank at all, but I don’t want to wait, still, you’d think with my strong financials getting a loan would be the least of my problems.

I have however recently done two interesting things. The first is I found a coppersmith to make me a custom copper sink. I found them on eBay actually and I asked them if they could customize one of their designs. I’m really pleased with how it turned out. It is a large copper farm house style apron sink with two bowls and 5 square quatrefoils on the front. There is a slight concavity to the front face, which will allow it to blend in nicely with our countertops, which are curved along the outside wall of one of the towers. See the kitchen post. This was $1500, which if you’ve ever priced out as sink like this is a great deal, of course I bought it direct from the fabricator, not from a middleman.

My Custom Copper Sink

My Custom Copper Sink

The second thing I bought is a sconce. This is also a custom design. I saw this light fixture at Disney world hanging off Cinderella’s castle and I had to have it. Of course that one was maybe 6 feet tall, mine is half the size, but it has all the style. What I particularly liked was that it didn’t have a fake candle. I’m not a big fan of fake candle light fixtures, I like the light bulb to be enclosed in shaded glass or something (in the case of my sconce it is mica, which is technically a rock, just a sort of flexible rock crystal they can cut so thin as to make it pliable). Glass shades give you greater flexibility in bulb types as well. I also liked how the metal came up and formed a basket around the glass. Finally, and importantly. I liked the angle of it. I see a lot of “torch” sconces where the torch is held parallel to the wall, but I don’t think that is period correct and I simply also prefer the look where the torch angles away from the wall. This thing is custom made in Texas, is solid steel, 3 feet long, weighs a good deal, has a nice antique finish on it. $380, I am getting a little bit of a discount because I’m buying in bulk. We’re going to need a bunch of these sconces all around the 1st floor interior. Neat huh, and I also think it is a good deal.

This is my sconce, there are many like it but this one is mine.

This is my sconce, there are many like it but this one is mine.

My Sconce, Front View

My Sconce, Front View

My Sconce, Side View

My Sconce, Side View

The inspiration for my sconce, see on Cinderalla's Castle at Disney World.

The inspiration for my sconce, see on Cinderalla’s Castle at Disney World.

My sconce was done by Iron Gallery LLC, I shopped around and they gave me the best deal and all told I’m super impressed by the quality of the work. In addition to doing lighting they do other things like doors, and I tell you what it is really hard to find giant metal 10 ft x 4.5 ft gothic arch castle doors on the shelf at home depot, and we plan to use this same company to do both some of our other light fixtures (like the ginormous one in the great hall) but our custom doors as well. Actually one of the doors I picked was one of their stock doors, if you browse their site maybe you’ll find it, it is square but with a gothic arch window.

One of the goals I have with my blog is to reputationally reward the suppliers used on the build. For two reasons, one because people who do good work deserve credit, and one because I know how hard it is to find some of this stuff and I hope to be helpful to any future would be castle builders. So I plan to plug the vendors contractors and everyone else I use as I use them so long as they continue to perform and provide me deals and do good work and all that jazz. If I wanted to be funny I could say it is like reverse product placement, instead of them paying me, I pay them. I really need to figure out how to do it the opposite way…

So that is all, when I do have a loan, which could be by the end of this month if I’m lucky, or by Valentine’s day, or maybe not until this Summer if I’m really, really, really unlucky, I’ll post here first thing.