March 24, 2006

Waiting for the Inspector

This is the end of the fourth week ... and we are scheduled for the first inspection this afternoon. Consequently, nothing much has been happening today ... just waiting for the inspector to appear (some time between 2 and 4). Like all tests, one wants to do well. But it is really Joe that needs to do well since he's responsible for the construction and doing the construction to code.

Building codes and the inspection process are an interesting phenomena. They are certainly a pain in the butt ... we needed drawings for the city and the fee was in excess of $2,000.  Initially, they didn't like the fact that the rear wall wasn't as strong as they thought it should be, so the structural engineer had to do some more designing and we had to re-submit the plans.  It is a hassle and it feels like someone is looking over your shoulder at each step.  And I can't remember how many times someone has said that "We have to do it this way ... the code requires it."

Probably the biggest pain has been the Title 24 revisions that require at least 50% of the wattage in a kitchen to be "high efficiency" ... read fluorescent. Since fluorescent lights are about three times as efficient as incandescent it means that almost all the light in the kitchen has to be fluorescent. Good for the environment ... undoubtedly. (And despite my reputation as an "empty quarter" guy who has no respect for the environment, I do think this is a good idea ... in principle.)  The problem is that we are pioneers in this process. No one -- designer, builder, electrician -- has had much experience with doing an entire kitchen in fluorescent light. Consequently, we were pretty much on our own in deciding how many fixtures to have, what size, and where they should go. Chris, one half of the design team, specified lots of lights -- 17 in fact!  These were divided between task lights over counters around the perimeter and area lights in the center.  There are also incandescent pendant lights over the island We thought it was too much light, but couldn't figure out a sensible reduction without running the risk of dark spots and / or insufficient light. In the end, we took the electrician's advice and put half of the area lights on one switch and half on another. At least we can control some of the light that way.  We will also have some control through the type of trim kits we use. Currently we have a polished one and it throws out the most light. We can go to different trims that adsorb more light. However, what controlled our decision was the proposition that if we over lit the kitchen we could turn off lights, but if we under lit it we were screwed. Hence, we went with lots of lights. (We also heard that as one ages one needs more light ... so we have more light!)

The other thing about being a pioneer is that there are very few choices in fixtures. At least the quality of the light is better -- much warmer than old fluorescent light, doesn't flicker, and doesn't hum ... though since we haven't lived with fluorescent lights yet, the latter two claims remain to be substantiated. Unfortunately, fixtures appear to be size specific -- one can't use an 18 watt bulb in and 23 watt fixture and vice versa. We were able to get 5 inch cans which reduces the impact on the ceiling, but trim choices are limited.  In a few years they will undoubtedly have the bugs worked out and there will be catalogues full of choices, but that won't do us much good.

Back to codes.  As far as it goes, there is something reassuring about having professionals think about how construction should be done rather than leaving it to every builder and homeowner.  Lots of what Mohinder (the previous owner) did when he remodeled the kitchen 30 years ago didn't meet code -- particularly the wiring. We lived with it and the house didn't burn down -- still I sleep better at night knowing that the construction meets good building practices and standards.  I just wish that it didn't cost so much and didn't constrain our choices (lightening in particular) so much.

Here is the way the back door and the back window look after Kirk painted them to match the rest of the house ... early finish!  I was amazed that I could find a can of the paint we used on the windows. (When Kirk took in an oil based paint the store declared a hazardous waste emergency and made him take it out to the parking lot!)

The inspector was just here ... passed with flying colors!!  Just a few questions from the inspector and Joe had just the right answers. So, on to the next stage which is to put in the insulation and to sheetrock the walls. At that point it becomes a real room ... and since it goes from old, dark wood to white walls the room should appear very BIG.