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True Tales from the Dungeon, Part 2

12-12-2016 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 88


When this journey/adventure/ordeal started in June, I never imagined in a million years that we'd still be here in the Dungeon  in mid-December. To this point, it's been this roller coaster of highs, lows and emotions, fueled by nearly non-stop demands being made by virtually everyone involved in the process of building our new home. All of this craziness, while desperately trying to stay relevant to the audio world. Our builder insisted that, with good weather and everything else falling into place, we could be in our new home in three-to-four months, either late October or early November. Of course, a mountain of paperwork slowed any activity until July, and most of that paperwork was handled in a very low-tech, inefficient person-to-person manner.

A typical day for me in early July: I drive 68 miles to work, arriving at 10 am, only to get the first of about a dozen daily calls from my contractor: there's a permitting issue that can only be resolved by my presence at the county offices, which are 50 miles away. I leave work with a flurry of only half-accepted apologies to the pertinent individuals, and drive 50 miles there, only to find that there are missing signatures on the needed paperwork. I then call the contractor to arrange to get the missing signatures; he's involved in another job he's running concurrently to mine. I agree to meet him halfway between where we both are (about 35 miles away) in the parking lot of a Home Depot.

Of course, it's the hottest day of the year, and there's no shade to be found anywhere. Mack, my contractor, is an hour late getting there, and my car's AC unit is on the fritz. I then drive back to the county offices, where I'm told that there are two additional permits I need as a prerequisite to the one permit I thought I was there for. I stumble around the massive government complex from building to building; two hours later—and with my wallet $2500 lighter—I finally get back to the location of the original permit I came for in the first place. At this point, I'm told that there's a potential environmental concern with our property, and the only person who can help me resolve it (Mr. Long) is out of the office for at least an hour.

When Mr. Long does return, he promptly tells me his concern is that the ravine running through our property is, in fact, the basin of an active stream. If that's the case, we'll have to first get the Georgia equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency involved; if they can't resolve it, it'll have to go to the EPA, which will probably take at least a couple of months for them to respond and make a ruling. If it is determined to be an active stream, building on the lot we just acquired will become an impossibility. Just freaking great, and my heart immediately sinks, not only at the thought of the potential delays—but also at the fact that we just spent all this money on this lot that is possibly about to be deemed “unbuildable”. Mr. Long asks me into his office; at this point, he pulls up a multitude of maps and geologic surveys on his computer and manages to hone in on our location. To my very great surprise, he proclaims that the ravine is actually just a “drainage feature"—essentially, a dry river bed, and agrees to sign off on the project. He then sends me to the cashier.

An additional $800 later, I'm on my way to the building site (30 minutes away) with all the permits and permissions in tow; and the destructors begin the site prep for the foundation. I then leave and drive 30 miles back to my job and proceed to work from 5:30 to 10:30 pm, then hop in my car for the 68 mile drive home, arriving at about 11:45 pm. And this all happened on only one day. Though this was, without a doubt, probably the very worst day, I can't begin to tell you how many days like this I've endured throughout this process over the last five months where everyone needed everything to happen right now. Every step of the way had a mountain of obstacles to be overcome; it's a serious wonder that Bambi and I haven't developed serious drinking problems or started shooting heroin along the way.

But it appears we are finally approaching the endgame: the structure is complete, with all windows and doors in place, and drywalled and painted inside and out. All utility connections were completed this last week. All tile work on the bathrooms has been done, with only the slate that surrounds the fireplace yet to be completed. All the custom cabinets have been ready for installation for about a week now, and are waiting on the bamboo flooring to be installed hopefully this week. The electricians will return also this week to install all lighting and fixtures; quartz countertops will follow the cabinets, with appliances probably being installed the following week. There's still some landscaping and exterior work to be done, but in an ideal world, we could be in by Christmas.

My glorious new listening room, however, is the “sticky wicket” in the entire scenario; for cost and acoustical considerations, we decided to carpet the downstairs area. The carpet vendor is running about a month behind on all orders, and there's been an unprecedented flurry of building activity in the area following the national housing collapse that happened a few years back. Which means I probably won't get carpet until mid-January. Of course, this also means that nothing will happen in the new listening room until that gets resolved: no stereo setup until at least then. The physical move to the new place, along with setup of the main living area will take a significant chunk of our time, but the wait I'll have to endure before setting up the listening room sometime in January will be an absolute crusher.

In an attempt to try and hold down costs on the new home, we've been procuring many of the interior finish items ourselves. So between working full-time, driving ridiculous distances everywhere, everyday and shuttling materials back and forth to the construction site, it's been maddening to say the least. On a recent two-day period, I calculated that with all the boxes of porcelain, natural stone and slate tile that I lifted and handled multiple times those days enroute to the construction site, I deadlifted about 7,000 pounds of materials. No exaggeration.

And not to mention attempting to hold onto some semblance of the normal, everyday activities we still try to partake in. Our entire family dynamic during the holiday season has been, well, seriously compromised by our presently dungeonous living arrangements. Halloween and Thanksgiving were frankly disastrous. And the ever-present potential of not being in the new home by Christmas is almost unconscionable. Our family tradition of the last thirty years is to decorate the home for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving; Bambi—who decorates at a level that would give Martha Stewart a run for her money, is still in complete shock at not being able to adequately decorate and prepare for Christmas. We've already reserved a hotel suite as a backup plan, just in case—she absolutely refuses to spend Christmas in the Dungeon!

I've spent a considerable amount of time working at the new home wiring it to be as modern and up-to-date electronically as possible. I've hard-wired all rooms with Cat 6 and coax cable for computer and AV purposes—you wouldn't believe the resistance I ran into trying to acquire everything I needed locally. “You're doing what?” was a typical response, usually followed by “don't you know everything is wireless these days?” Nonetheless, I forged ahead, and the house is essentially ready for us to “cut the cord” from cable tv, and all entertainment sources will be streamed throughout the house via high-speed internet or from the big-rig in the downstairs listening room. I've acquired a QNAP NAS, which I've been programming nights and days off, which will be the heart of the new home network and will be part of the headless microRendu setup I'll be streaming all my music from to the big rig (and hopefully everywhere else). I'll also be installing Roon Server on my headless setup, and will use the Roon Android app to stream music throughout the rest of the home on different AudioEngine setups, using Android tablets as elegant remotes.

The new listening room is a fairly generous 15.5 feet. x 26.5 feet with a 9-foot ceiling; that's a volume of about 3600 cubic feet, compared to about 1700 cubic feet at the old place. All lighting and accessory outlets are on a separate rail and separate breakers from all the audio circuits. Digital equipment has its own dedicated circuit, as well as analog, pre- and source equipment, and all amplifiers are on dedicated circuits as well, all on the opposite rail of the breaker box from everything else. I also ran in-wall, 8-gauge speaker cable for surrounds for SACD and other multichannel sources to keep things nice and neat. All interior walls and the ceiling of the listening room are heavily insulated, and ASC Tube Traps and other acoustic panels from GIK await placement in the new room. Which currently has a pretty intense slap echo; carpeting and acoustic treatments will eventually help tame this. I'm hoping to make it a really resplendent environment for both listening and serious equipment evaluation.

Despite all the zaniness, I can't begin to tell you how very stoked I am by the prospect of getting to move into the new place fairly soon, even if we miss the holidays. Our old house was a bungalow that we'd finished with all Mission-inspired furniture and decorations. The new home is a Mid-Century style; lots of glass walls, and we've been slowly acquiring new and vintage period-appropriate furnishings—it'll be quite the transition from the last 30 years!

I hope everyone has a very, merry holiday season, and I'll post an update in the new year with plenty of pictures when it all shakes out!