Home Improvement, Fireplace Edition: Grand Finale

Today, four months to the day after starting our fireplace project, we had the final inspection. It was a different inspector, not Mr. Personality, and – amazingly – he was quite nice!

I opened the door and offered him fresh homemade cookies; he did the inspection, saw the gas shutoff and exterior vent, asked about whether we had a carbon monoxide monitor, signed off on the permit, and I sent him out the door with another cookie.



Oh, and when the inspector came in, he saw the fireplace and immediately said, “Wow, nice tile work,” a tribute to Builder Pat if I ever heard one, since the inspector has probably seen thousands of fireplaces.

Home Improvement: Fireplace Edition, Part 10

Here we are, at the two-month anniversary of the start of our fireplace project, three days into spring, and we are basically done with our little project. Pat has spent a couple days finishing up details, and one set of bookshelf doors had to go back to be refinished, but it’s essentially complete!


Thanks to Rachel for the drift wood and the lovely decorative bowl.

Sunday morning, reading the comics.

I won’t mention the fact that we have to have Mr. Personality the Bothell building inspector come examine our final product.

Home Improvement: Fireplace Edition, Part 8

Happy (belated) St. Patrick’s Day! We had a happy day – the tile got finished on our fireplace! Also finished are the final repairs to the wall, adding texture and paint.

Here’s where we were on Monday:


And here’s where Pat left it last night:

Finished tile!

It’s hard to capture the colors accurately, but you can see the pattern. Those shelves off to the left will go next to the fireplace on either side, and the two boards (you can see them better in the first picture) will become the mantle. So close! But I suspect we’ll still hit a two-month anniversary for the project on March 23.

Oh, gosh, I should mention the mantle. All along we’ve been ambivalent about what to do – never wanted anything elaborate, but what would be right? Finally, last Wednesday, Pat and I went to a place called Crosscut Hardwoods and looked at wood. A lot of wood.



After looking at every piece of wood in the place, we found a couple boards of walnut that would be perfect. They have an organic light and dark grain that echoes the light and dark tile pattern. I can’t really describe what we’re going to do – it’s a kind of naturally split skirt with a thick beam on top – but when we came up with that idea, it felt just exactly right.

Then, when we finally got home (through absurdly slow traffic, taking perhaps not the must efficient route), who should be there but the delivery guys from Bothell Furniture, dropping off our bookshelves.

They are really nice, and will look great when installed.

In unrelated news, last week Colleen and Jordan came to visit for a few days and Benji had a very fun time getting to know his aunt and uncle a little bit.



Home Improvement: Fireplace Edition, Part 7

Tile work has started! Actually, Pat started cutting time last week, an exercise in the most complicated puzzle imaginable, where you have to make the pieces to fit this precise space and shape.

I didn’t get a picture of it, but he started by laying out all the tile and figuring out how to match the patterns on each tile. Then made this curved pattern with a flexible piece of wood, traced the correct curve onto each tile, and eventually started cutting, very carefully and precisely. Each tile was then laid out again to make sure the curves matched each other.

These are some of the pieces cut and staged, waiting over the weekend.


On Monday progress leaped forward dramatically. Earlier in the day:


Later in the day:


By the end of the day:


The color of the material doesn’t really come through very well, but here are a couple shots of the curves. I’m really impressed by how perfectly matched the curves are. Also, I love limestone, with its little fossils still visible.



We are all pleased with how the tile work is turning out. Pat is happy with the design and with the tiles themselves, which he says are excellent to work with. We are happy with everything, but especially the way the design stands out but doesn’t massively dominate the room, thanks to the more neutral colors. Also, hopefully this will help it not look too dated 20 years from now.

Interesting tidbit: The limestone tiles are 5/8″ thick, twice as thick as Pat expected, and this caused us some concern as to whether the extremely tight clearance bookshelves we ordered would fit into the space – it’d be a real bummer to have them be 1/8″ too wide. But some phone calls to the shelf makers established that our shelves will fit even with the thicker tile. Also, the extra-thick limestone means more work making the face flush with the thinner porcelain tile. You can see the thickness difference on the edge around the face of the fireplace:


But Pat is equal to anything unusual; in fact, I suspect that the trickier the job, the more he likes it.

Anyway, still to do: Texture and paint the repaired wall; finish tile work; finalize a design and make mantle; receive and install bookshelves, and, finally, track down carpet. The end is near! … Although I still deem it fairly likely that we’ll celebrate a two-month project anniversary.

Then, last of all, we get to schedule a final visit from the charismatic and delightful City of Bothell building inspector, who gets to sign off on the final product. Honestly it is hard to imagine what we’d do it he found something we should change – by then it’s done. But hopefully he’ll just take a look and leave promptly.

Home Improvement: Fireplace Edition, Part 5

The subtitle for this post should be “What you’d call good news, bad news.”

Good news: Our rough-in inspection passed! Ian was here for the inspector, who took about two minutes to review his notes, look at the work we’d done, and sign off on the changes. Huge sigh of relief! Maybe I’ll sleep tonight (last night was all wakeful shades of inspection-related misery).

Bad news: Last night, I looked into a box that was in the construction area of the house. It had been sitting there for quite a while and I’d forgotten what was in it, and some insulation ended up on top of it. An unassuming box.

Unfortunately, this box was actually about as unassuming as a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick to our timeline, because it contained all the important parts for installing the heating duct that I had completely and totally forgotten about when the heating duct guys were here. Most notably, it contains an air-tight collar that fits securely into the top of the fireplace. It also contains the blower, which should be installed behind the vent (that’s the thing that sucks air from the fireplace into our bedroom, without which all the ducting would be useless), along with a passel of electrical controls that hook up to the fireplace and allow us to control the air flow and heat from our bedroom. All those things need to be installed for the heating ducts to actually work.

The other thing is, there are specific guidelines about the duct work that the installers didn’t know about, and I don’t know how much of their work will be able to stand versus how much will have to come out and be redone. And, best of all, I get to be 100% responsible for the screw-up, since I’m the only one who knew about the box and its contents. On the bright side, the permit did not cover HVAC and electrical, thank goodness, so even if we have to redo everything, we at least don’t need another inspection.

I’ve said it all along, to try to reassure myself: Don’t worry, this isn’t life or death, anything that goes wrong will just be more time and money to fix. And, sure enough, that’s exactly what’s happening. If we don’t have to redo all the venting, a nontrivial amount of it will need to be redone, and of course, we pay for the first duct work and then again for the second work to fix the first stuff, since it was my error.

Just when I start thinking I see the light at the end of the tunnel, it turns out I was seeing fluorescing fungus, and there’s just more tunnel after all.

Home Improvement: Fireplace Edition, Part 4

Let’s just jump right in where we left off. I’m not mentioning much else in life because it’s going pretty normally otherwise, and this is what’s (literally) keeping me up nights.

Without further ado: Bright and early this Monday morning, the heating duct guy called and told me that in another hour, his guys would arrive to install our heating duct.


This only took them about two hours — they said it was a trivial job, even with having to replace some copper water pipes (going to our master bathroom) with… PEC? Some kind of flexible plastic tubing. They took off, and I immediately called to schedule the inspection for the next day.

Tuesday I called to confirm when the inspector would come, but, very oddly, the number kept coming back as invalid. This was strange because I’d successfully called that number the previous day. So, before Benji school, Benji and I went in person to the City of Bothell to check. There we learned the inspector would come some time between 11:00 and 3:00, no telling when (this alone just about gave me an ulcer, because Benji had speech therapy until 11:00, and we wouldn’t be able to get home until 11:20 or so). We also learned that the entire phone system for that City of Bothell building was down. There’s a bunch of construction around there, and some contractor had accidentally cut their line. Ha!

Anyway, to make a long story short (I know; too late!), the inspector arrived about 1:30. He had all the charm and personality of a dead cactus. He looked and gave me two findings:
1. Do a gas pressure test on the new gas line installation.
2. Build a box to support the stud that we cut through to vent the fireplace. Oh, and leave space so the inspector can see clearances around the vent!

Number two is apparently a legit concern; you can’t have studs cut and just hanging there. Jim came this morning and fixed that…hopefully. I’m sure Jim’s work is good, but I’m skeptical of the inspector’s willingness to accept the somewhat, shall we say, creative workaround Jim implemented. All the bathroom plumbing hasn’t made this easier. Jim’s fix involved significantly widening the hole in the drywall, but oh well, it’ll give the drywall guy something to do.



Anyway, finding number one is apparently a load of baloney, at least according to the folks at Kirkland Fireplace. I’m going to summarize the outcome of about a dozen phone calls in the next bit here. First, I called to set up the pressure test, and they said they could send a guy in Thursday, but no sooner. I was bummed, but we scheduled it.

But then there was a great deal of discussion about the fact that only about two feet of flexible hose was installed — no new line at all, just hooking up to a nearby existing line, a really simple connection. The Kirkland Fireplace guys were adamant: Code states that less than 5 feet of new line doesn’t require a pressure test. They even called the inspector and left him messages about it, but never heard back. I also called and left the inspector a message, again with no response. I imagine those inspectors are wrote busy keeping the public safe and all.

Finally, after much back and forth, the Kirkland Fireplace guys spoke with the inspector (they, too, agreed that they’d met rocks with more charm). They cited the code that said the 5-foot rule; the inspector said he adhered to some other code, but if the Kirkland Fireplace guys could show him the citation in his code, and supplied a letter to that effect, he’d accept that, no pressure test required. I’m supposed to receive this letter tomorrow.

The plan is that once I get this letter, I’ll schedule the next inspection for Friday morning. Assuming it passes (ah, yes, those three words do gloss over an awful lot, huh?), the drywall will hopefully happen before Monday, and then Monday-ish the tile work starts. Frankly, that part I’m really not so fussed about; I’m eager to finish the drywall, so we can take down the plastic wall dividing our living room and keeping us from the laundry room.

Now, one last story. Today, by pure miserable coincidence, our furnace stopped heating. It couldn’t be related to the fireplace installation, because that was on January 26, and the furnace worked between now and then. With Gary’s assistance, I replaced the filters; we also tripped the breaker and tried flipping the shutoff on the furnace, all to no avail. Cue making another phone call this one to C.M. Heating, where they scrambled around and squeezed us into their schedule today!

Meanwhile, the gears in my brain were turning, and I thought: We have a fireplace that’s all hooked up and ready to go. It can even send warm air upstairs. Why not run that for a while, and see if we can warm it up in here? So I fired it up (pun intended) and it definitely turned on; I set the blower, which should channel heat upstairs, and although it smelled a bit, everything seemed good.


… Until smoke alarms upstairs started going off. During Benji’s nap. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall watching myself, wildly dashing upstairs, frantically searching for something safe to stand on so I could reach the alarms (retaining enough sanity to reject my office swivel chair, at least), then ripping the alarms off the ceiling regardless of breaking the connection (they’re wired into the house as well as having a battery), and tearing the battery out. When I had finally, a short epoch later, disabled all the alarms going off upstairs, I breathed a huge sigh of relief, opened the windows to air out all the smoke, and went back downstairs… Just in time for the downstairs alarm to go off. Fortunately, this one had an easy button to silence it, but by then Benji was wide awake and already telling crib stories about the alarm going off.

Needless to say, I turned the fireplace off and left the house cold inside. The fireplace smoke is normal, and I remember now the installer told me to expect smoke for the first few hours of operation. Too bad the intervening 10 days erased that little datum.

In any case, Benji and I got to spend the afternoon with great-grandparents, and when we got home, the furnace guy had already arrived and was replacing the broken igniter, so the afternoon wasn’t a total disaster.

Poppop and Benji