The man who would be butcher

I mentioned earlier that we failed a building inspection on the framing of our new house because the plumber, or one of his minions, had cut into a piece of material that he shouldn’t have. I finally did what I knew I had to do, and went back to the lumber supplier to find out what a structural engineer says needs to be done to fix the problem. In preparation for that, I looked more carefully and found that the problem was even worse than I thought.

First, for those who may not know, most houses today use engineered supports for the floor called I-joists, as opposed to what is called dimensional lumber (which is wood cut from a single piece of tree into long pieces like 2-by-4’s or 2-by-10’s). An I-joist is made from two long pieces of wood, about the size of a 2-by-four, at the top and bottom of a piece of oriented strand board that might be nine inches or so wide. This results in a joist that is very strong and light, and can be almost any length you need. Ours are 11 inches deep and 32 feet long. The top and bottom pieces of wood are call flanges. The OSB is called the web. It’s called an I-joist because of you look down the length of it, the cross section looks like a capital “I”, with the flanges making the cross pieces at the top and bottom and the web making the body of the “I”. Unfortunately, the font on this blog is a sans serif, so you can’t see the flanges. Here’s a photo of a couple of I-joists.


I-joist manufacturers have strict rules about where and how much can be cut in the web for things like plumbing, heating and air conditioning ducts and electrical wiring. The rule for how much can be cut from the flange is easy: none. Absolutely none. Everything I have read about I-joists says the same thing. Everyone I have talked to says the same thing. Everyone says that everyone should know this. But the plumber or one of his minions did not know, or did not care. In any event, they caused so much damage that the fix may be expensive. We have four butchered joists. One, fortunately, rests directly on top of a parallel wall, so it may be OK. The other three are not OK.

Here is a sample.


Note that the plumber or one of his minions has cut not only into the flange but into the web as well. Sheet metal was tacked all around the pipe. I had to tear it away to see what had been done to the joist.

Here’s the worst case.


It’s hard to see here, but to the right of the pipe as it passes through the floor, the plumber or one of his minions has cut away about 13 inches of the flange. The flange was cut to about the halfway point over the web. The lower flange in the bottom right corner of the photo has also been notched. The 13-inch gap is partially hidden by a piece of sheet metal that has been nailed to the floor. You can see light coming though the edge of the metal. This joist is now trash.

It may be that the solution will be to put a new joist on either side of the butchered joists. It would be extremely difficult to thread a 32-foot joist up into the space beside the butchered joists. Since there are some supporting walls and beams for the joists to rest on, it may be acceptable to use shorter joists as long as the ends are supported. I hope so.

As you may suspect, I am not happy about this. I think I said before that building a house is a process of solving a series of problems. Where will we build? How big? What floor plan? How do we get the front door to fit onto the front porch? (We move the front porch about six inches off center to the right.) How do we make the stairwell into the basement wide enough? (We take a few inches out of the kitchen.) How do we get the door from the kitchen into the garage to open so it doesn’t cover the light switches? (We swap the existing door with another door that swings the right way.) How do we make bedroom windows big enough to meet the exit requirements of the code? (We swap them for the windows in the basement.) It seems that there is always a problem to solve even under the most favorable conditions. We certainly don’t need for one of the contractors to create new, complicated problems because they or their minions don’t know a simple rule that everyone else seems to know.

I keep talking about minions. I met the plumber coming up the mountain as I was walking the dogs Tuesday morning. He stopped and I told him that we have a problem. When I said that some of the joists had been cut to install plumbing, he asked who cut them. If he did not do it, it must have been one of his minions. I can’t believe that a total stranger wandered onto the building site and decided, just for the heck of it, to do a little plumbing work. Or butcher work, as the case may be.

Anyway, it’s just the latest problem. The framer is confident and ready, once we know what’s required.

And now, on to some other things.

First, an update on Leah’s condition. She will have her staples removed on Wednesday (the day this posts, two weeks after her surgery). There are 33; I just counted. She has been improving, but still has pain and some nausea. She isn’t eating as much as she needs to. I hope the doctor or his nurse says that Leah can eat meat. Leah wants fried chicken. I’m looking forward to when she feels good enough to go back to our weekly huevos rancheros. That is traditionally on a Wednesday, but her appointment is for 2:15, so I guess we’ll miss it then.

And this is why I need a four-wheel-drive truck.


In order to meet another of the building inspector’s issues, the plumber has to test the drain and supply lines. He needed water to fill the drain lines, and since there is none on site, I had to haul about 50 gallons up in a tank in the back of my truck. The water needs to be higher than the point where the plumber puts the water into the drain system, and the only way to do that was to put it up on the slope behind the house. That’s a 65-gallon tank to the right of my truck. I filled the tank in the bed at our current house and drained it into the tank on the ground. So, obviously, in order to get the water in the truck to go into the tank on the ground, I had to be higher than the tank on the ground. That mean driving the truck up a fairly steep, muddy bank. A two-wheel-drive truck would not have done it.

I know it sounds like a rationalization, but when you need a four-wheel-drive, you need it, even if it’s only a time or two a year.

Home at last

It has been a long and dreary week for Leah at the hospital.

The view from the fourth floor.

The view from the fourth floor.

She finally made it home on Thursday.

This surgery was very similar to one she had five years ago to address a partial bowel obstruction, which was itself a result of colon cancer surgery in 1999. The surgeon said he touched literally every inch of her intestines to pick apart adhesions. He also took out a few inches of her small intestine that had a constriction. We all — Leah, me and the surgeon — hope this is the last time anyone ever needs to inspect Leah’s intestines that closely.

Despite the similarity to the last surgery, this one was much worse. Before the surgery, the surgeon said Leah might have to stay in the hospital a day, or maybe two. As it was, she was in the hospital eight days including the day of surgery and the day she was discharged. She spent almost the entire time sleeping, waking only to ask for pain medication or something for nausea.

To add insult to injury, she also couldn’t urinate without a catheter. As late as Wednesday the nurses were instructing her on how to use one after she went home. And then later Wednesday she was able to urinate without the catheter. The nurse told me that the nursing staff broke into applause when they heard.

She is clearly improving, but she still has a way to go. She has little or no appetite and still has bouts of nausea. Thursday night she had a little ice cream. Later in the night she became nauseated and lost anything that was still in her stomach. Friday night she had an Ensure and a single scrambled egg for supper. So far, so good.

Thank you to everyone who has commented or thought about Leah.


Pre-op — updated Sunday morning

Unless you’re a very early or late blog reader, Leah is probably in surgery as you read this. She is supposed to report to the hospital by 5:45 am Thursday for surgery to correct a bowel constriction.

This is the latest in a long history of digestive tract problems. Back around 1999 a doctor found colon cancer during a laparoscopy for an unrelated problem. She had surgery immediately. She was on chemo and radiation treatments when we started dating. Leah was a real trooper. Even with relatively mild side effects, she was not particularly hungry a lot of time. Nevertheless, we ate out every Saturday. She never complained about anything.

There has been no trace of the cancer since then, but within a few years of the surgery she started having fairly severe symptoms of a partial intestinal blockage. In 2011 she had surgery to correct the problem. Her surgeon said he pulled out most of her intestines, did a reading, and then removed a lot of scar tissue and adhesions. Based on the surgeon’s description, I pictured Leah on the operating table with a pile of intestines lying next to her.

She was fine for a while, and then about two years ago she started having symptoms again. On multiple occasions she had abdominal pain and vomiting that were severe enough to warrant a trip by ambulance to the emergency room. The usual outcome was that after she vomited up everything in her digestive tract, she began to feel better, aside from aching muscles from the vomiting. Scans done at the ER showed nothing. Her surgeon said he couldn’t do anything unless a scan showed something. A little over a week ago she ended up in the emergency room again, and this time a scan showed a constriction in the small intestine. So her surgeon said it’s time to open her up again.

At this point (Wednesday evening), we both expect the surgery to be routine. We’re hoping she gets out by Friday afternoon, although there’s a possibility she’ll end up staying until Saturday. Leah is especially keen on getting out because she isn’t completely confident in my cat-care capabilities. It was strange to both of us that the pre-operative instructions allow her to eat essentially anything except red meat until within eight hours of reporting to the hospital. We expected a clear liquid diet for at least the day before, but that isn’t required. She can even have coffee (without creamer) the day of the surgery.

The only potential problem is that her blood pressure was high on Tuesday when she did her pre-op checkin, and Wednesday night when we checked it at home. It’s unusual since her blood pressure is normally low. If it’s too high, they won’t do the surgery.

Leah wants me to get a photo of the surgeon after he comes out (in his bloody scrubs?). That may be hard, given the current state of privacy concerns in medical facilities today.

I’ll update with anything new.


Update 2 pm:

We overslept. Leah set her alarm (she thought) but it was 5:15 when she woke up and then woke me up. We were suppose to be there at 5:45. We were only a few minutes late to the hospital about 10 miles away. She went in to surgery around 7:30 and was in her room by noon. The surgeon said it was a tedious process. She had many adhesions, so the process was much like the previous surgery. But she’s out now. Still asleep.


Update Sunday:

Leah is still recovering. The surgeon had her NG tube (the one that goes through the nose down into the stomach) removed Saturday, which was a relief, but she still can only sip water, not drink. All of her fluids and most of her medication are going through her IV, so she won’t get dehydrated. Unfortunately, that doesn’t do anything for the dryness in her mouth. She has an incision about a foot long from a few inches above her navel downward, right through all the abdominal muscles. That made any movement very painful, especially if she tried to roll over in bed. The pain from that is lessening, but still there. She is supposed to be up and moving around now. Her overall condition is improved. She wanted to come home Saturday. I missed the surgeon’s visit this morning, so I don’t know what he said, if anything, about when that can actually happen. I don’t think it will be until a few days into this coming week.

Painting starts

I had a surprise Monday when I went up to the house to answer some questions about the framing inspection. Painting had started.

painting starts

I was surprised because it had been 21 F in the morning and had barely reached above freezing by late afternoon. I thought it was too cold to paint, but apparently not.

The body of the house is being painted a color called Hunt Club (not hunter green as I had thought earlier). The trim will be a light beige, which may not be far from the color of the unpainted trim you can see on the soffit. We both think we will like it. We picked out the colors using a Sherwin Williams application that lets you apply colors to an image of a house, so this is the first time we have seen the actual color. The vinyl windows are white and shouldn’t be painted. Leah found that odd since the trim will be beige but the windows will be white. The garage doors will also be white.

I didn’t do much to this image (taken with my iPhone) to try to keep the colors as true as possible. We both think we like the color. It was hard to tell for sure from the computer images we looked at.

We plan to use artificial stone on the bare concrete foundation. The pile of construction debris is still there. I’ll cull the useable leftovers and maybe some burnable pieces and then, one day, haul the rest off to the landfill.

The painters said they will be back Tuesday morning after it warms up above freezing. It’s supposed to be in the mid 20’s for a low Monday night, but it’s supposed to reach into the 50’s by afternoon

The questions I was going to answer were from a couple of carpenters working for the framer. The answers were fairly easy this time, and the guys should be back Tuesday morning to work on the issues the building inspector noted.

The plumber still has to install a few additional nail guards to protect drain and supply lines.

The next step is insulation, which I plan to start soon. The electrician also has a little work to do inside the walls. Once all of that is done and the inspector passes anything that will be hidden inside the walls, I’ll get a drywall contractor started.

Rusty Girl

It’s been two weeks ago today, Sunday, two days after Christmas, that we took Rusty girl to emergency vet.

Rusty and Dusty arrived with their mother after being dumped up here just after we moved in.

Dusty, Rusty and Chloe, 10 years ago

Dusty, Rusty and Chloe, 10 years ago

Chloe actually had three kittens. The third kitten was part Siamese. He was probably a Seal or chocolate point if you’re familiar with the breed. He looked all Siamese except that the tip of his tail was white. He was so different from Rusty and Dusty. They were partially feral but he wasn’t. He was so friendly and they were so shy. I am a “cat” person and wanted to keep all but we were able to find him a home. We went through years and years of animals being dumped and finding homes for them. It was mostly dogs rather than cats but we did have some cats.

Last summer Rusty had a persistent cough so we took her to the vet. She had not been to the vets in ten years, when they first showed up. She got her first and last set of shots then. I felt like when we took her last summer the vet just threw it off as allergies. He could have done a blood test, but he didn’t.

rusty lying

Rusty was such a sweet, shy, timid girl who wouldn’t hurt a fly. She and Dusty wanted to come in but were afraid. I felt sorry for them having to be outdoor cats. I fed them daily and watched over them for ten years.

rusty and dusty

Two weeks ago today Rusty, who I knew wasn’t well, had come around to the front porch and jumped on the railing that morning. I told Mark I didn’t see how she had the strength to jump that high and far. Something about her told me it was time to take her to the vet.

After the summer event at the vets I decided to go to another veterinarian. She diagnosed Rusty with Feline HIV. I couldn’t believe it. Where we live most of the cats are mine and the others are so far away I couldn’t figure out how she could have been infected. The likely culprits, Smokey and Sylvester, both tested negative. We have to test Chloe and Dusty next, but I doubt that they are infected.

The poor, little thing had a temperature about 10 degrees below normal and her breathing was labored. The vet said there was no hope for her, so of course I agreed to put her to sleep. I know she was in pain. So I did. I guess she’s in “kitty heaven” now. We buried her in the yard close to the cat house where she stayed so much.

Rusty on her house

Rusty on her house

I feel so sorry for Dusty now being alone, so I’m constantly going to see him and comforting him, trying to get him to come in. I hope by the time we move he will be coming in and giving Sylvester and Smokey hell for all the crap they did to the both of them for the past seven or eight years!

Smokey, not chasing Rusty and Dusty for a change

Smokey, not chasing Rusty and Dusty for a change

She was precious. I miss her.


Rusty and her mom

Rusty and her mom

One of her protected perches

One of her protected perches

Rusty, finding shade in the early days

Rusty, finding shade in the early days