An opportunity to dazzle customers with a a little extra display of craftsmanship can be what sets a standard installation apart from an exceptional one. Scott Cohen of The Green Scene has been doing that for years.
In his spare time he does training sessions and speaking engagements, acts as a certified expert witness with the California Contractors State License Board, has hosted programs on HGTV, and authored nine books about landscaping including "Scott Cohen's Outdoor Kitchen Design Workbook," "The Big Book of BBQ Plans," and "The Candid Contractor: Lessons Learned From The Construction Defect Expert Witness Files of Scott Cohen".
One of those opportunities surfaced during a backyard build in Newbury Park, California that encompassed an outdoor living area with a kitchen, fireplace, pergola, Cantera stone planters and columns, paver pathways, faux wood deck and a pond.
The customer is a vegan chef and wine aficionado that planned to use the outdoor kitchen to teach healthy cooking. To add some real zest to the instruction area, Cohen designed and built an attention-grabbing countertop and table, complete with a wine motif and glowing accents.
First the U-shaped counter was constructed out of cinderblock leaving cutouts for the 42-inch grill, wine refrigerator, cabinets and open storage. The cells of the cinderblocks were filled with concrete. At the end of one side of the counter, a wine barrel was installed to serve as the base of a table.
To build the countertops, the crew fashioned molds onsite out of Styrofoam and then set large pieces of glass with fiber optic cables attached to them within the mold using small portions of concrete. After they cured, a cement-rich concrete in a very dry blend was backfilled into the molds. Next, a large concrete vibrator was used to consolidate the concrete.
"The vibration is key as it removes air and voids, providing a very dense and strong finished surface," reports Cohen.
For the colored accents spread throughout the top, bits of crushed wine bottles are hand seeded into the surface of the concrete and tamped down flush with a steel trowel.
The same process was used for the round tabletop except in addition to the glass accents; wine bottles Cohen melted in his home ceramic studio were embedded, also with attached fiber-optic cables, in a concentric pattern. After curing the countertops and tabletop for a week or two, the crew grinded, honed and polished their surfaces using granite-finishing tools.
A total of 350 fiber-optic cables were used for the radiant display. They are connected to an illuminator that houses one bright bulb and a color wheel. For extra eye appeal, the counter also has lighting underneath. The results capped off this extensive project vivdly.
Keep Weep Screeds Clear
By Scott Cohen, The Green Scene
Over the years, many of the mistakes I've seen that result in the most severe consequences can be remedied by very simple fixes. Indeed, the simplest and best "fix" is to avoid making these mistakes in the first place. One example I've observed time and again has involved weep screeds.
The Scenario: This one begins with a simple explanation of what weep screeds are and why they're used. When you have a home built on a concrete slab and the framing is bolted to that slab, the builder will put up some type of a waterproof material, usually tarpaper. On top of that, he or she will install a metal lath (wire mesh) over which stucco will be applied in three coats to achieve a thickness of seven-eighths of an inch.
We know that stucco is not waterproof. Water penetrates the stucco, hits the waterproof membrane (that is, the tarpaper) and then flows by gravity down to the bottom of the wall. At the bottom is a metal guide, the weep screed, which acts as both a guide for stucco application and, because it's perforated, allows moisture to escape rather than accumulate at the base of the wall. As a rule, weep screeds need two inches of clearance above a solid surface and four inches above soil -- distances that reduce insect damage and water penetration.
In one scenario I inspected, a swimming pool had been installed two inches above the level called out in the design. Thus, the decking was two inches higher and as a result covered the weep screed.
No one discovered this problem until three years later when the homeowners were selling the house and an inspection revealed toxic mold in the wall along the side of the house where the pool deck came into contact with the house. Because the weep screed had been covered, water had accumulated and caused a severe mold problem. Remediation involved hiring a mold-removal company to come and pretty much tear down an entire side of the house -- at a cost of about $150,000.
The entire article is available in THE CANDID CONTRACTOR: Lessons Learned From The Construction Defect Expert Witness Files of Scott Cohen. All of his books are available on Amazon or The Green Scene's website.