2nd Floor Views

After rain and delays our 2nd floor subfloor is finally complete. This is just about 80 days since the 1st floor subfloor was complete. To put this in perspective, up the road from where I live now about 80 days ago there was a wooded lot, and today there is a completely framed, wrapped, and roofed house on it, they’re now on siding and windows. In that time I got 1 floor of framing. The ICF contractor cannot start back until Monday so, now that it finally stopped raining and we have nice weather, we’re not making upward progress. I feel that weather has been so unkind that every day with good weather should be seized with a vengeance.

But the 2nd floor subfloor is done and today was finally sunny and I was able to get some nice pictures. The house already looks so tall and the view already seems so elevated it is hard to remember this is only the 2nd floor. There will be 2 more floors in the towers, and then you can go on the tower roofs to get even more height if you wanted a truly spectacular view.

Master Bedroom View

Southeastern view from the master bathroom

Southeastern view from the master bathroom

The view to the north off the front of the house

The view to the north off the front of the house

The great hall as seen from the central staircase. The balconies to the left and right are permanent, the great hall has a double story ceiling, 24 feet total. The three windows in the background will eventually be 14 feet tall.

The great hall as seen from the central staircase. The balconies to the left and right are permanent, the great hall has a double story ceiling, 24 feet total. The three windows in the background will eventually be 14 feet tall.

Master Bedroom View

View from 2nd floor front balcony (directly above the front door) looking down the driveway. Here is where you would stand when negotiating with the goblin horde trying to get in.

View from 2nd floor front balcony (directly above the front door) looking down the driveway. Here is where you would stand when negotiating with the goblin horde trying to get in.

Master Bedroom View

I have also had dirt delivered for my vegetable garden, a really sort of high end soil. I need to still till it down and mix it with the forest soil that is underneath, and then put in a deer proof fence. But I will be able to grow a whole bunch of veggies with this garden (5000 sq/ft for veggies, 1000 sq/ft for chickens). I’ve dreamed of having a garden this big for years. I am currently seeking to hire a fencing contractor to put in the fence for me, should anyone have a referral.

The plot for my backyard vegetable garden.

The plot for my backyard vegetable garden.

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, literally from a foundation to a fully framed home in a week or two, whereas my home is taking 8 weeks a floor.

ICF is still superior, far superior. It is essentially a double walled cooler with a large thermal mass inside, the energy efficiency of the walls is amazing. Additionally, concrete building is the safest building you can do. Who remembers major hurricanes or tornadoes where house after house is destroyed, and then you come across one that is barely damaged – that home is usually concrete. It is more expensive, but I knew that going in, I didn’t realize how much longer it would take. ICF is really slow. Perhaps we need a larger crew working on it? That would help.

But finally the 1st floor blocks were up and so two days ago they poured the concrete in them. Also on that day I happened to have a helicopter flight I won at a charity auction so I’m sure you can guess where I wanted to fly to.

It will take two weeks to set the steel and subfloor system for the 2nd floor. This is another thing that takes longer than a stick frame house. Steel just takes longer, but here it really was the only option. We have large clear spans inside. I wanted the castle to look very authentic from the outside, and the 1st floor of the inside I wanted it to have very appropriate decor and finishing details, but one area where we are definitely not traditional is the size of our rooms. The first floor is basically one big open floor plan, huge rooms, big clear spans, like any other modern house we don’t really have much in the way of walls separating areas of the first floor. An actual castle would have had relatively small rooms simply because they lacked the engineering for the big spans. But with steel I beams and engineered trusses we can do that sort of thing.




















So, I’m told around December 14th we’ll start the 2nd floor walls. Hopefully things speed up a little, I wanted to get the roof on by Valentine’s Day but unless things speed up that won’t happen. The floors should get easier as they go up, there is a little less material in each floor. At the rate things have been going they might only be starting the 3rd floor walls around Valentines day.

I want to thank Rock Creek Aviation for the helicopter ride. I will have to go up again when the castle is finished.

First Floor Walls Going Up

They have been working on the first floor walls, so far the first floor seems to be going much faster than the basement. The big key will be how fast the steel goes in after the walls are poured.

Its starting to get really fun to visit the building site, to be standing in rooms that have only been in my head or on paper for literally years. I am a bit of a liar though I guess. I always said I could visualize things, I could put myself in the space, and I think to a large degree that holds true, I am very good at visualizing things, everything is turning out well with rooms so there is that. But… actually being there I can still be awed and surprised and impressed, so I guess I was not quite visualizing the truth.

For instance, this ginormous window, on paper it fits the space and it makes sense and all that, but I never really appreciated how big it was until I was there on site looking through it. Kids are here for scale, but this window is essentially 12×7…feet. This goes into our “morning room” aka breakfast nook attached to the kitchen. I was worried that the kitchen would be too dark… not anymore. This window is matched by a window almost as big adjacent to it on the corner (just off the left side of the photo). The corner they form is where our breakfast table will be (ya, its that kind of house, a dinner table and a breakfast table). So… natural light, check.

The walls continue to go up, I think they have about a week left until they’re ready to pour the concrete. Theoretically, maybe we’d be having 2nd floor walls going up around Thanksgiving, and 3rd floor walls around New Years. Maybe we could have a roof by Valentines Day. 11666258_1019977351398489_4193075074899766269_n





1st floor subfloor completed

We have a floor. We still do NOT have the hollowcore concrete slabs installed for the pool deck, so that portion of the 1st floor is not done. But the rest of the first floor subfloor is done, and the 1st floor walls are now being started as I type this. Here are two pictures.



As slow as everything is going I worry that the subfloor will fail from weather exposure, but we’re using Advantec subfloors and I’m told they can stand to months and months of weather.

I also made a photosphere, which you can view below, or here (bigger). This is pretty cool, makes it seem like you’re there. I took this while sitting on a 10 ft sadder on the 1st floor, so my camera position was about where the joists for the 2nd floor would start. The actual view from 2nd floor windows will be 6-8 higher than where I was.

Basement Concrete Slab Pour

In two separate pours I now have a thick basement concrete slab. Something to walk on, soon it will have something above it too and it’ll feel a bit like a house perhaps.

It is cool though, to go from dirt floor to concrete floor, psychologically it is a big step.

Things still progress slower than I would like, I get really jealous when I see a stick framed house go up in a week with all the framing (decently big houses too). I originally thought we’d have a roof on by now, and instead we don’t even have a first floor. The first floor should be started, started, next week though. it’ll take over a month to finish it. I think it’ll be December before the 2nd floor is started, and I would consider myself lucky at that point.

I’m also very anxiously awaiting the backfill of the foundation, as a gardener I have an intense interest in how the land ends up.








First Structural Steel Installed

Over last weekend the first structural steel (heavy duty, beams and posts) was installed… finally. I felt like we’ve been spinning our tires since early July. Some things have been happening, we had underslab plumbing and electrical work put in, the holes drilled for our geothermal HVAC system, but actual upward construction was in a holding pattern while some engineering kinks were worked out.

Finally, though things are starting to happen again – but now… now I don’t know when I’ll get to move in, it has been 6 months since we got our loan and we’re still on basement walls. It needs to start moving faster. I wanted the roof to be on by Christmas and I just don’t see that happening now (and that matters, because Winter).

Now though we have this steel stretching into the sky and you can see the height of the…2nd floor. Yes, some of these upright steel posts are supposed to go higher, to the roof, but it wasn’t advisable to have them installed sticking up like that quite yet so they will be put up in sections. This height is only to the 2nd floor floor (or just above it), we’ve got 2 more floors to go. I wanted them to install the final height of the steel, so I could get an appreciation for the final height of the building, but I understand the reasons not to (it just isn’t safe, they get in the way of the concrete boom truck, etc.)

Today, they are pouring the basement slab finally, it will be done in sections, the final section being done on Friday. Next week we should start getting the first floor floor on, then we can backfill the foundation and start putting up the first floor walls.









First Concrete Walls Poured

Up until now we’ve been forming the walls, but now, now they are starting to be poured. That makes them permanent I suppose.

The ICF forms, while up to the final height for the basement, are still being tinkered with, having embeds and other things put in for holding up the floor system. But that will be done soon and they will start to pour those. Yesterday though they started pouring the back pool patio walls. Our entire pool patio, to put it on the same level as the 1st floor, essentially is raised, with our garage underneath it. Here the construction is more like a parking garage, we’re doing plain poured walls (no sense using more expensive insulated ICF walls when you don’t plan to heat or cool the space), and the garage roof/patio floor will be hollowcore concrete planks (precast concrete planks hoisted up by a crane) directly supported by the walls.

In a few days the forms will be pulled down and we’ll be left with large monolithic concrete walls, and they really are large, because they go all the way down to the footings, which are about two feet below the grade of the eventual slab that will make the floor of the garage.

Once all the walls are poured, gravel is placed on top of all the dirt, then the plumbers and electricians do any slab rough-ins they need done, the slab is poured, the 1st floor truss system and patio hollowcore planks are put on, the foundation is backfilled all around, and we start on the 1st floor.









Thar be walls! ICF castle walls going up.

Over the last two weeks the walls have started creeping up toward the sky.

We chose an ICF wall system for the main part of the house. There are lots of options for an energy efficient wall, superinsulated double stick (traditional framing) walls. Structural insulated panels, or SIPs, but I’ve always wanted ICFs, which are insulated concrete forms, because they’re superefficient and still super strong.
We’ve all seem videos of disasters, where home after home is destroyed, but one thing that consistently happens is homes built out of concrete tend to make it. So I’ve always wanted a concrete home, and really, for a castle, I think it fits more the spirit of the building. Real castles had multifoot thick walls filled with rubble, my walls will not be that thick (though the thickest walls will approach 20 inches when the cladding is added), but they will at least be strong.
So an ICF, or insulated concrete form, is just about the most efficient way to do a concrete wall. Normally when building a concrete wall you put up wood or metal forms, pour your concrete between them, then when the concrete dries you take the forms down and voila, a wall. ICFs are forms that you never take down, and they’re made of insulating foam, so essentially you’re building a double walled cooler, foam on the outside of the wall, and foam on the inside of the wall, a complete thermal envelope.
The concrete of course also adds mass, mass sinks heat. Think about how a rock feels in the sun, in the morning, even if the sun is shining strong, that rock will be cold, it will take all day to warm it up, and then, after the sun sets, it will still feel warm for awhile. Or, to say it another way, rock changes temperature slowly. Concrete is the same way. So as the sun and hot outdoor air hits my walls in the summer the stone on the outside will heat up, then the outer foam will heat up (very very slowly, being foam and a poor conductor of heat), then there is the concrete core which will be able to absorb a tremendous about of heat, then the foam on the inside. By the time the concrete warms up enough to transfer heat to the interior of the building the sun will be going down, and the building will start to cool. And of course it works the same way in the winter.
You can also think of it like a freezer, did you know freezers work better when full? The more stuff, the more mass, you have in your freezer the less it needs to work to keep stuff frozen because it has all that frozen mass reducing temperature swings. Mass you add to your house works the same way, concrete adds a lot of mass. Originally we were going to do concrete floors all the way up too for various reasons, including the mass they would add, but that was sacrificed on the altar of the budget. We do however have the concrete exterior wall and a large fully interior concrete feature wall.
Other wall systems can provide great R value, but they don’t have the strength or mass of concrete in an ICF wall system. So it was an easy choice for us.
The ICFs go on like Legos, they get stacked on each other like bricks, they interlock, reinforcing steel rebar goes inside of them where necessary, and then before pouring concrete in the middle you need to brace them so the concrete doesn’t bulge out the sides. After the concrete dries you leave them in the place and work on the next floor up. Of course there is a bit of a break there, once the walls are up, in most cases you do the floor of the level above before you start doing those walls. So in our case it is steel beams and trusses that will go on attaching to the walls to hold up the next floor, and then they’ll start on the next floor of ICFs, and on and on until we have our 3 story (4 with the basement) main area, and our 4 story (5 with the basement) towers.


Footings being poured

For the last 10 days or so they’ve been continuing to work on footings, including pouring the first concrete of construction. That is sorta a big deal, before it all was digging, it wasn’t permanent, now there is concrete up there, and the footings all told I think are going to take something around 30 full truckloads of concrete.

Right after the footings are done, the same company, Landmark Concrete, will be putting up poured concrete walls for us around the pool area. Then the separate ICF (insulated concrete forms) will come in and start pouring the walls for the house.






First Concrete Being Poured

First Concrete Being Poured











How We Found Our Land and Why We Picked Chattanooga

I was asked this question in a comment, but it is a good question, and so I thought I would answer it as a post.

My wife and I have always liked mountains, mountain geography and castles just seem to go hand in hand. We however have always preferred the Appalachians over the Rockies, we like the green.

We’re also both flexible in that we could live and work anywhere, so we started out trying to find where we wanted to live. It is a big decision, a decision many people don’t get to make. Deciding where to plant your family flag, think of all the little things that changes. My children’s first girlfriend/boyfriend will be from Chattanooga, odds are higher their eventual spouses will be, odds are my grandchildren will be raised in the area. One day my funeral will be held here. My wife’s family is largely moving down as well, so our decision on Chattanooga has affected their lives as well, and I’m constantly lobbying to try to get one of my brothers to move here too.

It really was a big decision, but Chattanooga was not always our goal.

We knew we wanted the Appalachians, and Tennessee was high on our list, because my wife had taken family trips there and enjoyed it. I had never been, except to drive through at night on the way to Florida. But we essentially looked all up and down the mountains, upstate New York and Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Northern Georgia, and we even considered Austin Texas for a time, even though it didn’t have the same terrain.

For a long time Knoxville was very high on the list, as well as Asheville North Carolina, but before too long we narrowed down on Tennessee because it had the cheapest land and lowest cost of living. We tended to gravitate toward medium size cities, we didn’t want too big, but we wanted big enough to have everything we needed. So once we chose Tennessee we looked at Bristol and the tricity area in the NE, Knoxville, Sevierville, and Gatlinburg, then Chattanooga. I sorta of worked my way down from top to bottom, we spent a lot of time looking at the Bristol area, it would be cooler up there, but ultimately I never really found good land I liked. There are some areas of Bristol with private property surrounded entirely by national park, and that was attractive, but it was pretty far out of town.

We looked in the greater Knoxville area for a long time, including strongly considering an island on Douglas Lake, which wouldn’t be a mountain lot, but come on , an island! The problem was Knoxville itself had amenities, schools, and things we would want, but the city was quite a drive from the mountains. The Sevierville or Gatlinburg or Pidgeon Forge areas east of Knoxville have absolutely beautiful views, and I looked heavily at some of those areas, even having realtors go out and look for me, but ultimately the traffic of actually getting into Knoxville was going to be a major annoyance.

When Knoxville wasn’t looking too hot I started looking further south to Chattanooga. I knew nothing about Chattanooga, absolutely nothing. I knew there was a country song about it in the 90s, and that is about it. So I started looking at it, I started looking at pictures, and wow, the mountains were pretty close to town. So that was a good thing, I checked the availability of good schools, and one of the best private high schools in the entire country is located in Chattanooga. So that all checked out. There were hospitals for my wife to work at and there was no reason why I couldn’t move my business there.

But would it have land for me? I looked, and looked, and looked. I’m really big into gardening and wanted a large lot, finding a large mountain view lot was nearly impossible. They were small lots, big houses, not a lot of yard. There were some larger lots available on Elder Mountain, but they have a very restrictive Home Owners Association, still, I wasn’t building a pink trailer, I was building something architecturally beautiful. So I tried, and I was told I could get exceptions, but I needed to pay full asking price for this land, which was listed at over a million dollars. I think it was overpriced, it did have an amazing gorge view, but was only 5 acres or so and rocky and there was another house up there for sale at the time, 17,000 sq/ft in the 2-3 million range, this house had even a better lot a better view, doing some simple math, unless you believed this incredibly luxury home was worth a very small amount per square foot, that land really wasn’t worth that much.

I found this lot down in the valley on top of a foothill. The plus is it was the peak of that foothill, the downside is the total elevation wasn’t much, and the site prep making a flat enough area to build the castle would be super expensive, and all told the neighborhood wasn’t so great.

Finally I found the lot I eventually bought. After we had narrowed in on Chattanooga I started using the Hamilton County Online GIS Map, which is like Google maps but showing high resolution aerial photography (from planes not satellites), property lines, ownership information, and terrain/elevation. So I was looking and next to Elder Mountain is the Raccoon Mountain Pump Station, which is the world’s biggest battery and is all owned by TVA (State electric authority). On the far side of Raccoon Mountain is this ridge that comes down off it and then goes back up, this ridge is the only private property located up high on Raccoon Mountain, many locals did not even know it existed up there. At the very end of this road someone had bought and combined 4 5 acre lots to make a single 20 acre parcel, and it including the peak of this ridge. What is more though, it wasn’t very steep, the high point came to a gradual height, a gentle slope, very buildable. It was all forested as well, the owner lived in Florida, and there was no building on it, and no HOA that I could find.

I used Google Earth then to park my camera over this spot and try to guess what the view might be like and it was amazing. I could see Lookout Mountain, the City, Moccasin Bend and the River, and, according to Google earth, when it is built and I’m up on the tallest tower I might have a view of the gorge to the south, which is interesting, in that I would have a view of the Tennessee River to both the North and South.

I sent the owner a letter, made her an offer, she said no, we negotiated, she said yes, my offer was contingent on boots on the ground, so 3 years ago in April we took a trip down. Chattanooga definitely impressed us, the newer family friendly riverfront and downtown, and beautiful mountains framing the city. We drove by the schools we liked, we met with a CEO of one of the hospitals for my wife’s future employment, and of course we checked out the land, and it was better than I could have imagined. Nothing but huge oaks and hickories, hardwood forest (the best kind) all over. Gorgeous views, and very private… and yet… 10-15 minutes later we could be downtown, and it is just about the prettiest drive you’ll find. Our lot was still in the city limits in fact, 20 acres of forest with deer and turkeys bordering state land and it was in the city limits. Truthfully, I’d rather it weren’t, I’d rather it be under the county and not the city, but oh well.

In the meantime we had done more work and research on Chattanooga, finding out it had the fastest Internet in the Western Hemisphere, learning it had been consistently voted one of the best cities to live by various magazines, everything kept coming up golden. So we made the final decision, and bought the property 3 years ago in July. I wanted to get the land for less, but I feel like I got a steal. I have like a quarter mile of brow view frontage, in a mountain area that is equivalent to lake frontage. It is very very impressive in person, especially now that the land clearing is done. It was so forested before you couldn’t see anything when standing on the highpoint, but I (and Google Earth) had the vision to know the view was there, and it is the highpoint, the ground slopes away from the house on every side, which is good for a whole host of things. You can’t see another house from my property, not without binoculars looking across the valley to Lookout Mountain, where they measure brow view frontage in feet and the homes are crammed in like sardines.

I have enough land to garden as much as I want, to allow my children to explore the forest and build forts, and to raise a small amount of animals. I have more land than I need honestly, my lowest 5 acres has what I call the best undeveloped view of Chattanooga, and I’d sell it for the right price. It is down the front side of the slope facing the city and Moccasin bend. If someone built on it I wouldn’t even see their house, so I’m happy selling it one day. Most of the land bordering my property is state owned and will never be developed, other has such challenging geology it is highly unlikely to be developed.

My overall impression is I really lucked out with the land. The pictures I can post here really don’t do it justice, when the view fills your entire frame of vision, it is really something.