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:

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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.

Comments

  1. sharon wyman says:

    Wow….I have no words to says but AMAZING. Amazing that you have to go through all this mess of finding the right contractors and totally amazing how beautiful the masonry is!!! Thank you as always for sharing your journey with us. I sure feel your frustration. Your greenhouse is gorgeous!!!

  2. Bill Gast says:

    Sharon (poster above) hit the nail on the head with her all caps AMAZING. I absolutely agree. Having made several trips to England and Scotland for the sole purpose of visiting as many castles as possible, I’m SO envious of what you’re doing. Keep it up, and keep the progress posts coming.
    Sounds like Samuel Hernandez and his crews really stepped up to the plate. I hope they finish as strongly as they appear to have started, and that you’re truly pleased with their work. If they really do pull it all off, I hope you let them take all kinds of pictures when they’re finished. A photo album like that would greatly help them grow their business I would think. It’s hard enough to find good craftsman these days. Got to help them get the word out once you do.
    Did you ever find the a$$h$%^& that stole all of your equipment last summer/fall ?

    • Ishmael says:

      We caught a guy yes. He stole something with a GPS device on it and we got him. We assume he is the same guy who stole the tractor but it was never recovered.

  3. Indy says:

    Love seeing the progress, although I am sure it is frustratingly slow for you. Very much appreciate the updates. Here’s to hoping I can be doing a castle project of my own in the distant future.

  4. Evillordsmurfy says:

    Ishmael,

    I know this is a bit further down the line but What kind of solar system are you planning on going with? Off grid? In grid with the option to go off grid? Or on grid and purely supplemental? A castle being a long term goal for my wife and I, we love your approach. Solar seems intriguing and intellectually seems logical for the development of an old castle that’s been modernized (the whole self sufficiency angle) but it’s tough to incorporate or see how it could work. How are you planning on going about it?

    • Ishmael says:

      Already installed. We did grid tied solar. One of the few sloped roofs we have are off our pool garage area, we were able to fit around 3 some kw on there, jet black panels. You can’t see them from the ground, only from a helicopter or from the roof of the castle itself.

      • Evillordsmurfy says:

        That’s a nice solution. Did the solar contractor have any idea how well it would power a house that size?

  5. Evillordsmurfy says:

    Oh and my wife and I love the greenhouse. We’re thinking more along the lines of an orangery but love the idea of a greenhouse to extend gardening seasons.

  6. Paul Miller says:

    Wow… its turning out amazing Ishmael. I think I was on the website that offers manufacture of the beautiful beams you have in the great hall.
    This project is a dream build, I would likely do it a bit different design wise, but that is just personal preference.
    Kudos for your wife and yourself to pursue a dream home on a completely “other” scale!!

  7. Soundra says:

    Wow, the is side looks amazing

  8. John says:

    Thanks for these updates! It’s so exciting to watch someone dream something like this and make it a reality – even with all of the obstacles thrown your way. It’s also satisfying to hear someone sticking to their guns when it comes to contractors. There are some good ones out there but a lot of lazy ones too.

  9. Dan Brown says:

    Hello,

    I have just been surfing for unique, interesting homes. My wife and I are trying to meld our likes into something that we can agree on. So my first question is, how in the hell did you get your wife to go along with a castle for a home? But aside from that, with all the additional features that go into the building of this castle, have you planned for how much maintenance and repairs it cost? And the ability to get at these systems after enclosing them in stone? I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, but all homes have their maintenance issues. I can easily see that yours will have more than most.

    • Ishmael says:

      My wife is on board totally, if it was just her she would have never done this, but she likes it.

      We won’t really have more maintenance than other homes, we’ll have less. Our exterior is stone, which should be good for a thousand years. We have a small amount of synthetic slate roofing which lasts 50 years, the hardest areas to roof are copper which lasts hundreds of years to indefinitely, and the easy access areas are a TPO membrane that will last 30 years and is easily redone, you don’t even tear it off. It is what they use on commercial buildings.

      Inside I suppose we’re as vulnerable to broken pipes as any other house, but we don’t have pipes running behind stone, they’re being drywall, or in many cases left exposed in maintenance chases. The wood finishes I’m using are all of the easily repairable varieties, the interior stone walls will never need to be repainted of course.

      Granted we have a lot of square footage to keep clean, cleaning will be more, though we’ll be the same number of people generating filth. I was thinking a roomba on each floor might help, and we’ll probably hire cleaners. Some bathrooms we will make off limits except for guests.

      • Rhys says:

        “maintenance chase” – please tell us more. Along baseboards, or cornice, or where? Covered with anything? Very interested in how you are handling services in an ICF construction with special constraints.

  10. Ashlie says:

    Hey Ishmael,

    I haven’t been by in like 6 or so months because my comp broke, and then I just forgot about it after i fell out of the habit of checking like I was. I’m back now, and everything is looking great. You should really write a book about all this, what you learned, what was unexpected, what suppliers you used etc etc. I’d buy your book. Anyway, I’m looking forward to the next update. All the stone work looks AMAZING I’m so jealous. You’re living what I’m dreaming lol.

  11. shiva says:

    Hello Ishmael,

    I came across your blog while researching building a castle. This has been one of my dreams since childhood and even though I can’t afford it right now, it is still something I am determined to have later on in life. Your blog has been so inspirational and eye opening. I knew it would be a complicated goal to achieve but you have highlighted some things that would never have crossed my mind.

    I thank you so much for making the effort of chronicling your experiences. You’ve educated me so much on what it takes to build a castle. It’s obviously not easy but not impossible neither.

    As someone else on here already commented and suggested, I also agree that you should definitely write a book about your whole experience. It would be so helpful to others with similar dreams.

    Thank you

    Shiva

  12. Bern says:

    This is awesome dude. Please keep sharing. I can’t build a castle for myself, but I’m glad SOMEONE is building one. Very romantic and fun. I hope you’re open to opening up your home to outside visitors from time to time, it would be a fun experience to be in a modern American castle.

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