Live/Work Update: Kitchen Installation

Well, the last few months have been a real grind at the Live/Work project. Mostly because I’ve elected to do most of the finish work myself, things have progressed very slowly. There are only so many things you can get done on nights and weekends. (Oh, and did I mention I’m not a professional cabinet builder, concrete contractor, or electrician?!?!)

The good news is that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel! It’s been almost a year, and the last few details are wrapping up – appliances are going in, cabinets are hung, and we’re looking forward to the final inspections. Yeah!

Here are a few (long overdue) photos from the last few months. Thanks for your patience – making time to keep up with Portland Built (while running Kinesis) has been nearly impossible. With the project wrapping up, we’re looking forward to putting more time into the Portland Built site. Enjoy the show!

Concrete Countertop Fresh out of the mold
Concrete Countertop Fresh out of the mold
Concrete Countertop for the penninsula
Concrete countertop for the peninsula
Staining the veneered die wall
Staining the veneered die wall
Moving the die wall into position
Moving the die wall into position
Drawer installation
Drawer installation
Penninsula corbel
Penninsula corbel
Light switch dimmer
Light switch dimmer
Counter depth refrigerator. Used appliances are great!
Counter depth refrigerator. Used appliances are great!

Big thanks to everyone who helped with this phase of the project- especially to John Wallace, who put up with my attempts at cabinetry.

Alberta Mercantile: A New Live/Work Development in NE Portland

There’s a great new Live/Work project underway in NE Portland. Dubbed the “Alberta Mercantile,” the project began as a simple concrete box that once housed the Arthur Cole Candy Company.


Developer Brad Fowler contacted Portland Built several weeks ago, and we’ve had a great dialogue about his project. Folwer’s firm, Fowler Andrews, has been acquiring properties on the inner east side for the last 6 years or so. Brad claims he isn’t, “plowing new ground on Alberta” (his words) but I’d say the finished product is well worth a look.


One of the things I like about this development is the scale and scope. It’s a modest-sized building for the area, and they’ve done a nice job of making the retail buildings at a scale that works for the budding entrepreneur.

Here’s an excerpt from the project website:

We began to develop Alberta Mercantile at the start of the recession with one strategy in mind:  create small, efficient spaces targeted to the local entrepreneur.   Most business are cash-strapped when they’re just getting started or expanding and often can’t divert working capital for tenant improvements.

Each of the three Alberta-fronted retail units within the existing structure are designed to be “turn-key” spaces that require no improvements on behalf of the tenant.  These units feature an ADA-compliant restroom with utility sink, separate 3-phase electrical panel, and distribution of all systems including HVAC.  These units are 900 square feet, with an additional 375 square feet of mezzanine space.  Each unit features 22’ ceiling heights with glazed storefront roll-up doors that open directly on to Alberta Street.

Fowler Andrews has done something even more interesting in that they are pairing the livable areas with a highly visible retail option. I could see someone renting the retail space along with one of the adjoining residential areas. It’s a nice convergence, and the rental option (as opposed to the traditional purchase arrangement) creates a lower-cost alternative. Here are some images from the “living” portion of the project (entrance on 14th)

Live Work Detail


Fowler’s got some great talent along on this project. The architecture firm Vallaster and Corl Architects has some impressive work in their portfolio (and this project is certaily a great addition!). Bremick construction, the general contractor, really put on a nice fit and finish. Some of you may know them from their work on restoring the Ladd Carriage House (here’s a link to a great time lapse video as they moved the WHOLE HOUSE across the city)

We’ve put together an image gallery, but if you have some time, take a spin over to NE Alberta and look at this great project. It’s the kind of revitalization that fosters much-needed economic development in Portland.

Video: Designing a Better Wall for a Wet Climate

It’s a big day at Portland Built as we officially launch our new video documentary project! The goal is to help visitors better understand the technology, products, and businesses behind the site.

For our first effort we went to the Live/Work project to discuss wall assembly design, thermal bridging, and insulation.

A big thanks to Jeremy Dunham at Polara Studios for his help in producing our first segment. Share your thoughts in the comments area below.

UPDATE: For those of you with an iphone, or if you just prefer the YouTube experience, here’s another version of the video. We’ve had to cut out some sections in order to meet YouTube’s 10-minute maximum length. (click on the image to watch in HD)

Live/Work Framing Videos

Here’s two new time-lapse videos showing framing over the course of 4 days. Hard to believe you can get all of the walls up in such a short period time.

Of course, there were a fair share of challenges in Portland this week. Namely, that we had some of the coldest weather in history. Temperatures in the teens and serious wind-chill made for a tough work environment. Air lines froze; couplings froze; compressors stopped working. Rory and the framers had to jury-rig enclosures for the compressor and fittings to keep them operational. We even brought in space heaters to warm up the tools…Rory seemed to get some perverse pleasure out of the fact that I was effectively heating the outdoors with 2 electric space heaters. Don’t even ask what my power bill will be.

Our weather troubles aside, the framing went remarkably well (with the exception of one poor fella who took a hammer in the nose). Our framing contractor, Santos, runs a good crew and all of the guys worked really hard morning to evening. I think the most impressive sight was watching this one guy pick up 6 2×4’s on his shoulder…even more impressive considering he wasn’t much taller than 5 feet.

The one bright spot in the weather has been the decided lack of precipitation. While it’s been cold, at least the dry weather has made for a reasonable work site. Once things thaw, we’ll be back to the mud pit. Forecasts call for freezing rain and snow this weekend.

Here’s a preview of the job site:Muddy Job Site

Live/Work Update: Concrete Slab

Some people find concrete work mundane. After today, I’m convinced concrete contractors are totally underrated.

Think about it: Somehow, workers manage to wrestle this extremely heavy goop into a form, shove it around pipes and rebar, smooth it down, level it off…all with minimal power-assisted technology. Sure, the truck and pump get the stuff to the site, but it’s sheer muscle, experience, and know-how that transforms the wet blob into a smooth, seamless surface.

Today was a big day for the Portland Live/Work Project: We brought in two truckloads of concrete for the slab; when that truck arrives, there’s really no going back.

Our biggest concern during the pour was the network of PEX tubing tied to the rebar. A web search the night before told me that it wasn’t impossible for a concrete worker to slice the PEX, creating a totally $#!&!-ed situation. Fortunately, all went as planned and the system retained pressure the entire day (you actually “charge” the radiant system with 100psi of compressed air to ensure that there are no leaks).

One of the coolest pieces of equipment was this mechanized trowel (I’m sure there’s a name for it…I called it the “Whirlybird”). This photo tells its story well:

Power TrowelEven with the help of power tools, much of the process requires an expert touch and experienced hand. Still more impressive was how quickly the crew went from pumping concrete to walking across the surface. In about two hours the crew went from pouring concrete to to walking on the surface. Here’s a few more shots and a timeline from the day’s effort.

10:00 AM: Concrete truck arrives and the pumping begins.

Pumping Concrete at Live/Work

10:07 AM: Kip begins hand-troweling at the corner. Other workers spread the concrete and apply trowels as well. We’re relieved that there are few sharp tools that might pierce the PEX.

Troweling Concrete

10:20 AM: The crew begins screeding and troweling in earnest. Large portions of the slab begin to take shape.

Concrete Screeding

11:30 AM: The pour is complete and worker put the final touches with the float and hand trowels.

Final Concrete Floating

12:00PM: Workers move out onto the slab and begin smoothing the concrete with a series of trowels.

Hand Troweling the Slab

12:10 AM: Kip and the crew walk on the slab, using both power and hand trowels. This process continues for at least another hour.

Power Trowel and Hand Work

Live/Work Update: Radiant Heat

Portland winters are relatively mild, but you still need a reliable heat source. Over the next few weeks, we’ll continue to blog on the development of our very cool (or warm) radiant heating system.

For the Live/Work project we’re installing radiant hydronic heating – it’s a great way to provide comfort at a reasonable cost. The idea is quite simple – PEX “circuits” snake through the core of the slab and under the floor; hot water from a boiler (or water heater) is then pumped through the system. The end result is an evenly heated room with absolutely zero ducting. By choosing radiant heat, we’ve eliminated about a million issues associated with traditional HVAC (like: where to locate the big furnace; duct cleaning, the difficulty of insulating wall cavities with ducting; noise; dust; etc., etc.)

The guts of the system – Pex tubing –  has a lot of advantages: It’s relatively cheap, durable, and can be installed by semi-skilled laborers. In about a day, we were able to place all of the tubing for the first-floor slab.

Pex tubing first floor

Someday we hope to augment the system with solar hot water heating or PV-powered direct-fire water heaters. Until then, we’ll be using natural gas to run the system. It was a tough debate between gas and electicity, but in the end, the cost differential was just too high. Natural gas was cheaper and the utility was willing to run the lines at almost no expense to us.

Live/Work Update: Slab Insulation

Over the last few days the concrete crew has been hard at work putting in place our under-slab insulation. The pink board (also known as extruded polystyrene or EPS) serves several important purposes. First, it’s a barrier between the slab and the ground, minimizing heat loss. Since we’re using a radiant hydronic heating system, it’s critical that we insulate to prevent heating the earth.

In addition to serving as an insulator, the pink board also acts as a water vapor and moisture barrier. In Portland, water is a BIG deal, so it’s critical we do everything possible to limit the amount of moisture entering the structure.

Foam and Rebar

Our strategy for insulating the slab involved 2 layers of foam, staggered so that the seams don’t overlap. Our theory here is that by overlapping the panels (and using a sheet of plastic underneath) we’ll dramatically reduce the path for moisture to enter the slab. Our total R-value for the insulation is around R15 (a layer of 2″ foam and a layer of 1″ foam).

In the photo above, you can also see the slab rebar, as well as the rough-ins for our plumbing. We passed our plumbing inspection (yeah!) and are setting up to pour on November 25th (weather permitting). Take a look at the gallery to see more photos from the recent concrete pour and plumbing rough in.

Also, for a more detailed post on why wee weent with 3″ of insultation, check out this post.

Live/Work Groundbreaking!

As many long-time readers know, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time getting the Live/Work project off the ground. This small-scale infill development represents one of the many solutions for more affordable housing, smaller footprint, and economic sustainability (for more on the project, feel free to read the background over at my Live/Work blog). Continue reading Live/Work Groundbreaking!