Explaining Our Project Delays

Many people have asked us about why our project has been delayed.  We’d like to explain …

Short Story (Back to June 10, 2009)

The short story is that Bryan made a mistake with the sequencing of items on our construction. His error was thinking that the bridges and stairs could be installed AFTER pouring the additional 5-1/4 inches of concrete that is required on the ground floor level.  Wrong.

In June, Bill Brown pointed out that the bridges and stairs needed to be installed prior to pouring the additional concrete.  He was patient and we put our project on ‘hold‘ until the bridges and stairs are in place.

The Long Story

We stopped our construction in June so the two bridges and stairs could be designed, engineered, approved, fabricated, painted and installed. Currently, the bridges and stairs are at the fabrication stage and we’re scheduled to install the bridges and stairs on September 17 (or so).

In addition, the posts for the railing system around the atrium needed to be designed (to meet the building code), then fabricated and installed. The posts need to be welded to the steel I-beams that support the hollow core concrete panels, and these posts will then be embedded in concrete.

Complicating matters is that concrete has a high probability of cracking around the four corners of a square/rectangular post and less probability of cracking around a circular post. Thus, we need to have our square/rectangular posts welded to circular posts, which would then be welded to the steel I-beams and embedded in concrete.

It gets more complicated …

The I-beams are carbon steel and the posts are stainless steel. We’re going to have the square/rectangular stainless steel posts welded in the shop to circular carbon steel posts. Then, the carbon steel can be welded on site to the carbon steel I-beams.

Next, the railing system has to meet the code requirements. This is non-trivial and subject to interpretation. We had to understand how Monte Sereno interprets the requirements for stairs and balconies under the International Building Code (IBC) and not the International Residential Code (IRC). Take a look at http://www.stairways.org/pdf/2006%20Stair%20IRC%20SCREEN.pdf to see the interpretation of the IRC.

But, we, in the State of California, need to comply with the IBC.

In addition, one has to understand our design requirements and the materials that we are using, including the following:

1. Our primary design principle is, ‘less is more.’ This principle is exceedingly difficult to follow. It is easier to make large bulky connections using joists, chases and molding where items can be ‘hidden.’ We are trying to make everything very thin and light looking, while having structural strength so the components are rock solid. For example, we want our bridges and stairs to be very thin but we want them to have very little sway or bounce. We want them to be solid. Rock solid.

2. Our primary building materials are concrete, glass and steel. These materials are not as malleable and forgiving as wood. And they require much, much more precision. Yeah, they cost more too.

3. For us, the materials need to tell a ‘story’. We want the materials to be unique and of interest (not from the Home Depot in Campbell). OK, we want the materials to be unique but we need them to be at a low cost, even lower than the Home Depot in Campbell.

These are difficult criteria to meet and restrictive constraints to comply with.

It is exceedingly important to meet these criteria and constraints because, when someone walks into our house, they will see the bridges, stairs and railing system from most parts of the house. Plus, they will touch the railing system so it will have yet another important dimension – how it feels. We need to consider the tactile nature of our design. In particular, the underside of the guard rail and hand rail will be where people run their fingertips, which are extremely sensitive.

So, we have been spending the last two months designing, engineering and sourcing the components. We haven’t been doing construction.

The components are coming from a number of locations. Once designed, finalizing the dimensions and ensuring everything will fit together correctly required obtaining samples and seeing, touching and feeling (physical presence). We have a number of different suppliers, all of which provide components that must come together at our site to become part of the bridges, stairs and railing systems.

For example, we have sourced the stainless steel bolts from NYC, the stainless steel posts and screws from LA, the cables and fittings from Nevada, the glass bridge decking from Texas, the wood railings from Ontario (Canada), the Madrone decking from the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the structural steel components are being fabricated in a shop in Gilroy. We’ve had to integrate the components and ensure these individual pieces will work together as a system.

Given #1 and #2 above, this has not been a simple exercise. For example, the face of the 1/2 inch bolts we are using are 7/8 inch wide. However, the 1×2 posts only have a 5/8 inch face on them. Thus, we had to go to 3/8 bolts that are 1/2 inch wide. Except this requires going from 2 bolts per post to 3 bolts since the 3/8 bolts are not as strong as 1/2 inch bolts.

Another example …

The steel stringer for the stairs is HSS 2×8 with a 3/16 wall. The bolts only come in coarse thread, which is 13 threads per inch. Using 1/2 inch bolts in the stairs will only allow 2.44 threads of purchase in the 3/16 steel stringer. Now, we need 3 1/2 bolts in each post.

Regarding #3 above, we have some very interesting materials.

We wanted stainless steel bolts with Allen key heads. This is fine, except we couldn’t get these bolts. We could, however, get ‘security’ bolts from NYC in these sizes. Security bolts have a pin in the center of them so a special tool is required for the bolts. These bolts are found in high security areas – banks and prisons. Nice story.

Since both Jo-Anne and Bryan lived in Canada, we wanted to have a part of Canada in our home in California. The top wooden guard rails and hand rails offered an excellent opportunity for us (the other railings are 3/16 stainless steel cables). Think about Canada’s national flag – the maple leaf. The railings are what everyone will touch and feel. We found some very hard, clear maple wood in Ontario, Canada to use for the railings. Another nice story.

Now, the maple rail has to be attached to the stainless steel posts. Simple, yes. We don’t want anyone to see the connection so the wood is cut to hide the stainless steel bracket on top of each post. However, your fingers are going to feel the screws that connect the post to the railing. Stainless steel screws, with Torx security heads are just the ticket. These come from L.A. Why L.A.? Because they go in telephone booths.

Everyone steals things from telephone booths so they are made out of stainless steel and have security screws, which can only be undone with special tools. OK, kinda weird but yet another story.

This has turned into a very complex project, integrating the design with engineering and then the materials. It is better to figure it out on paper before getting the materials delivered to the site and then being surprised. With concrete, glass and steel it isn’t easy to slip over to the Home Depot and get the missed items.

It has been a nightmare.

(What did we miss?)

Oh, the fall rains are coming and we need to be weather tight very soon.

No pressure, yet.

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