Please Don’t Mess Up My Cabin

It doesn’t happen very often these days but I had a first … I had an extended stay in one of my projects after the client had taken possession. It was both weird, and not weird, all at the same time.

Lake Cabin view from the woods

I am talking about the BSB cabin – a project that I have extensively profiled on this website and after all this time, I don’t think there is anything about this cabin that I don’t know, other than how one particular leak is happening, but that’s not really the reason I came up here. I’ll admit it didn’t take much persuading on the part of my client to get me up here considering that it’s beautiful, the air temperature is currently about 30 to 40 degrees cooler than in Dallas, and there is another project right next door.

Beer on the Dock at Sunset

While it isn’t particularly difficult to get here, it does require a little bit of time. My door-to-door travel time is around 9 hours – only 2.5 of which is spent inside of an airplane. Despite taking the first flight out, I don’t typically roll up on site until 5:00pm … just in time for a beer (or two) on the dock while eating snacks and waiting on the sun to set. You have to cut this portion of the evening pretty tight because the mosquitos are coming for you.

Lakeside at 5:00 in the morning

Have I ever told you that I don’t sleep well when traveling? Well, I don’t. This is on top of not sleeping very much to start with on a regular day. It also seems that the sun comes up supernaturally early and at the slightest hint that the day is starting, the waterfowl on the lake decide to start their mating rituals –

Loon #1: Hey, I’m right here! Who wants to party?!? Let’s party!!
Loon #2: Hey, I’m right here! Who wants to party?!? Let’s party!!
Loon #3, #4, #5: Hey, I’m right here! Who wants to party?!? Let’s party!!

It’s very inconsiderate really because it’s 4:30 am and nobody wants to party. I guess I’ll get up and … literally, do nothing. One of the on-going items we are resolving is getting satellites installed so that we can get some connectivity to the cabin. As it is, there is no cell coverage, no internet, no anything. It’s nothing but natural beauty and nature all up in your face, looking to party. Great if you’re on vacation, the WORST if you are trying to get some work done.

It’s almost as if this place consciously tries to keep you from working.

Work area at the cabin

I pulled out all my gear, wrote some show notes for upcoming podcasts, cleaned my camera body and all three of the lenses I brought with me … and by that time it was almost 6:00am.


Work area at the cabin

So I had to kill some more time – but I’ll tell you how just a bit later.

propane tank in the side yard

One of the objectives I had on my list to accomplish while I was up here was to see about relocating the generator and the propane tank. We all thought that we were really clever when we told the contractor to put these items in the side yard, just to the left of the garage. The previous cabin had no generator and the propane tank, which we kept and reused, was in the driveway and must have been a constant obstacle to people pulling in and eventually trying to turn around. In fact, I know it was an obstacle because the previous owners built a “lovely” barricade around the tank so that guests would damage their bumpers hitting it, instead of hitting the actual propane tank.


Since I don’t have loads of experience when dealing with propane tanks, snow plows, refill trucks, etc. we talked with the contractor about moving the tank into this sideyard space and they “took care of it.” Sadly, while they did take care of it, nobody really thought about what happens when the snow that has been living happily on the roof all winter decides to slide off … and pound directly onto the tank.

So we are going to move the tank, which includes a steel structure which will protect both the propane tank AND the generator –  to keep snow from piling up and restricting air flow – make service a bit easier if it happens to take place during the winter season, and avoid all the underground utilities, conduits, drainage pipes, etc, that also happen to live along this bit of ground space.

The other partial reason for this trip is that there is a window that leaks whenever there is a rain event … and nobody can seem to figure out what the problem is just by looking at it.

Testing the gutters in the windows

This was a leak that happened prior to the owner taking possession of the house and the previous contractor “said” that they fixed it … but they didn’t, and the leak came back. I spent half of one day working on this particular leak, the bulk of which was actually trying to recreate the leak while we were there paying attention. The first step in the process was just to see if the internal drains and gutters for these windows were working … which involved me pouring a copius amount of water in the sill.

Testing the gutters in the windows

This leak is taking place in one tiny area of the 32′ long window on the lakeside elevation … which is a drag because it’s one of the least accessible windows on the project.

Testing the gutters in the windows

Gutters did their job and seemed to vacate the all the water I poured in the sills.

Testing the gutters in the windows

All I learned was that there are a lot of dead flies on the windows. I mean, a lot!

Flashing Details A908 - Dallas Architect Bob Borson

This leak is a bit maddening because we literally detailed the bejeebus out of this project … including all the flashing details. The contractor deviated from our drawings and we can’t really be sure that all the peel and stick flashing membrane was properly installed.

If you can believe it, during one of my site visits during construction, I saw that the windows had been installed WITHOUT ANY SILL FLASHING!!!! When I pointed this out to the project manager, he looked at me and without missing a beat and said:

“I thought you said we didn’t have to put that in.”

What?!? I told them that they had to take every single window out and install the flashing – because, duh. There was a period in time when the owner of the construction company offered up some “options” that would allow them to leave the windows in place but I rejected them all because windows need sill flashing. I was told that all the windows were removed, flashing installed per our drawings, and reinstalled. Problem is, now that there is a leak, I don’t believe that they did actually install the flashing properly after all and the only way we are ultimately going to solve this problem is to pull the window out and do some exploratory demolition.

This is the sort of thing that makes me crazy, and I definitely know that it is driving the homeowner crazy.

So I have to tell you that with the exception of the leak, this is an exceptionally nice cabin to stay in … like ridiculously nice, and the homeowners built it for their guests to stay in when they come to visit. That’s right, this is a party cabin and it is intended to house one or two families at a time with the homeowners staying in another cabin that is a 90-second walk through the woods next door. What this means is that when the day is done, or when it is close to done, I go to my cabin, and the homeowners go to their cabin … and it might only be 8:00 pm.

For a guy that doesn’t really sleep that much to begin with, being in a cabin with no cell coverage, no internet, no TV, no radio, etc. leaves a lot of downtime to fill. So what did I do? For starters, I took a lot of stupid pictures – like this one of the eggs I made myself for breakfast:

preparing eggs for breakfast

Relax, I’m not going to take you on a photo tour of my scrambled eggs … I just thought that the food I was about to eat, using eggs that I found in the refrigerator left behind by the last houseguest, kinda looked like the “biohazard” symbol, and I could help but wonder if some ghostly specter was trying to tell me something … like “don’t eat these eggs”.

folded sheets

So what else did I do with my 8 hours of “what the heck am I going to do” time? I cleaned the cabin. I washed sheets, folded towels, vacuumed the floors, cleaned out the refrigerator, cleaned bathrooms (didn’t do the toilets, I have my limits) and I even took out the window screens and scrubbed the sills and vacuumed out all the 30-jillion dead flies.

making the bed properly

Take a look at that job making the bed – wow. That is a museum quality product right there. If there was TV to watch or if I had enough wifi to download a book, I probably wouldn’t have done all of this work, but I have to confess that there was a part of me that doesn’t want this cabin to get screwed up. I suppose that’s what happens when you stay the week in one of your projects – you start looking very closely at everything, scrutinizing every act almost as if it’s some sort of vandalism. I knew that I needed some sleep as I was wiping down the polished chrome bathroom fixtures with clorox to rid them of some water spots, and I was thinking “what sort of monster doesn’t wipe off the faucet when they’re done?!?”

Clearly, that lack of sleep is getting to me.


Bob signature FAIA

Source: Life of an Architect