Thursday, February 25, 2010

9 days

Could it really have been nine days since I last posted? Wow. Can I account for those nine days?

There have been dishes and laundry and dinner & sledding with friends.

There has been snow and cold, sluggish temperatures that have kept us in, listening to The Long Winter on CD and playing games of card baseball.

Oh, and James came back briefly! For dinner, root beer floats, popcorn, paper airplane races, and Herbie the Love Bug. (I will take a moment to point out here that the entertainment value of the Herbie series of movies increases dramatically when watched with a 6 and a half year old.)

There was one day of ballet and pizza and friends and a City Park (!). And another day for the dentist.

There has been hauling out and in of materials and garbage and recycling and tools.

There has been resawing and planing and more sheathing and lunch up high.

There has been a lot of hammering in of seismic straps. 30 straps x 36 nails per strap = over a thousand 16 penny nails. Oh my!

And, there have been stages of an important project that we will finish this weekend. Here's a little preview of what we've been up to.

In addition to all of the above, there has been too much watching of Hulu, too much eating of ice cream, far too much staying up late, and more working than is advised. We've managed to squeeze in some reading and playing and conversation and laughter, too. So sorry for the hiatus in blogging. I'll be back more regularly this week.

Signed, The Reluctant Homemaker

Monday, February 15, 2010

valentine love

In the spirit of the holiday 90 minutes past I thought I'd share a little Reluctant Homemaker love.

These are the places in my home that I love.
The concrete in our basement is beautiful. Although I sulked and stamped my foot through all the many color tests and concrete forming tests and endless shopping for materials I had to do for this concrete, I am so glad we did it. It is really, really beautiful. The color, the texture. It looks so warm and inviting compared to any concrete I have ever seen before. And it perfectly evokes the design style we are after — a sort of post-modern, industrial naturalness, with a bit of old world dilapidation thrown in for good measure.

The shower in the bathroom with its built in rock perch and built in rock soap ledge and square windows makes a person just want to take a hot shower. This again was a detail I put in a bit of a fuss about. Using the excavator to carefully place the rock in the middle of the framing and get it oriented just right. Coping the concrete formwork around the rock. It was all so time-consuming and intensely particular. I just wanted to make a house like everyone else's at the time. But once again it is one of those details that will make our house a home and I'm so glad we did it. 

Our concrete floor with the beautiful color and curve is so stunning. Yet again, it was a detail I complained and rolled my eyes about and yet again it was absolutely and wholly worth it.

The wood framing members of our home are so beautiful and warm.

I LOVE my larder!!!! It's one of my favorite parts of my kitchen, which I also LOOOVVEE.

The crow's nest is going to be the best room in the house. It has stunning views, an intimate feel, and a special seclusion.

I love this detail at the gable end of the roof. The square shape. It's another detail that took extra work and extra effort, but is so worth it.

One can't help but love sunrises like these.

And aspens like these.

But of all the loves of this Reluctant Homemaker, this little boy and his handsome Papa are my sweetest Valentines.

May you be enjoying the loves in your life this holiday weekend. XXOO

Saturday, February 13, 2010

shaking things up

This week has been a little out of the ordinary. Not so much time at the building site and lots more time doing other things, like...

:: planning

:: shopping

:: working at the computer

:: theater-going

:: seeing friends

:: working at the computer

:: getting bored in offices

:: helping out at Heliocentric

Did I mention there's been a lot of working at the computer?

While I haven't been at the building site as much, things have been getting done. Among other things...

A roof for the pizza oven was finished

Properly nailed off and sealed wall sheathing

Seismic hold-downs drilled, glued, and screwed

More rafter support wedges

Oh! How could I forget? This week there has also been salsa!!!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

results so far

Sometimes when things seems to be dragging along and you wonder if you will EVER be able to move into your house, it helps to take a look at the results so far.

Result #1
We have nearly all exterior walls built. All sheathing is attached. The roof underlayment and rigid insulation is in place. The PV racks are up waiting for their panels. All the concrete work is done (well, except for the basement shower, but we won't dwell on that). The house is looking distinctly house-ish.

Result #2
I've got a 6 year old who knows how to build a house. He can competently use hand and power tools. He can speak with great authority and curiosity about concrete finishing, framing, and insulation. He's an excellent problem solver at the building site and feels comfortable grabbing materials and tools and building a boat or a crane or a hospital when the fancy strikes.

Result #3
There are even some positive personal results. I've noted before that the main task of building is Moving Heavy Stuff. While I frequently complain about this fact, I am forced to admit, there are some benefits to all that Moving of Heavy Stuff. I also will add that I've learned A LOT through this process. In many practical ways, more than I did through 4.5 years of college. I've also gotten to put into practical application all that trigonometry, geometry, and fraction math from junior high.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

green building 101: the balloon theory

{Green building 101 is a new regular feature I'm adding to the blog. It will be a series of articles on topics related to green and sustainable building. If you have any requests for topics, please post in the comments.}

I was recently trying to explain to some of my laborers the general goal of the framing stage of our house. Some of what we are doing on our building is very unique if you're used to standard building practices. I could tell my explanations were not having the inspired effect I was hoping for. Suddenly, brilliance struck with metaphor: what we're building is a giant 50 ton balloon out of concrete and wood.

In high performance and passive solar buildings, the goal is to be an absolute control freak about the air coming and going from your structure. In the old days, buildings were haphazardly and unwittingly "ventilated" by being drafty. In the 1970s, prompted by a sharp rise in energy prices, builders and homeowners started to become more aware of the huge energy cost implications of air infiltration, or drafts. We started sealing and caulking and weatherizing our homes to reduce energy costs associated with drafts.

High performance buildings like ours take this weatherization step to a whole new level. We seal every crack and seam in the envelope of the home to prevent all air infiltration — just like sealing seams in a giant hot air balloon. Then, we warm the fresh air coming in and insulate the whole package to keep the warmth inside.

We started at the foundation by forming our footings using 4 inches of Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) rigid foam insulation. We even used the foam under the footings, a very atypical step, to insulate our home from cold ground temperatures. All seams in the foam were sealed and filled with expanding foam "glue." This same forming and sealing technique was used to form the concrete floor (8 inches EPS below the floor) and walls (7 inches EPS) as well.
building and seam sealing the concrete forms from EPS foam

EPS foam under the house

the EPS foam cladding of the concrete basement

When we moved on to the wood framed part of the house, we started with a special sill seal under all the bottom plates made from EPDM, the same material used in automobile seals. We also put a bead of low VOC caulk under all our walls. The OSB sheathing on the exterior was caulked on the positive surface at all edges and nailed in place. The sheathing was also overlapped to the concrete basement walls and sealed once again using caulk.

EPDM sill seal stapled to the bottom of the wall plate

bead of caulk under each wall
caulk and sill seal under the wall with the overlap between floors show
you can see here how the sheathing overlaps the lower floor and the seam is caulked
caulking the edges before a new piece of sheathing is installed
our stash of caulk & mastic in the insulated "hot box" to keep it from freezing

Once again, when we put the roof sheathing up, we used a flexible mastic on top of all the seams, and then covered the whole thing in a continuous layer of rigid EPS, sealed at all seams with expanding polyurethane roof adhesive.
gaps — like at the ridge — are blocked and filled and seams are troweled with mastic
all seams between sheathing sheets are troweled with mastic
more seam sealing
expanding polyurethane glue and EPS foam on the roof

Now that most of the exterior framing is complete, we are going back to seal and block any visible holes with expanding foam, mastic, caulk, and wood blocking.
extra blocks for air infiltration were added above the structural rafter blocks and all seams were caulked

Once we've built our balloon envelope, the next consideration is fresh air. Fresh air is critical for healthy living, but in our house, we will control the air coming and going using an air handler. In a heating climate like ours, a Heat Recovery Ventilator, or HRV, is the air handler of choice. It has a motor to move fresh air in and another motor to move stale air out. The two air streams pass by each other, without mixing, through a series of thin-walled aluminum passages that transfer the heat from the outgoing air to the incoming air, thus bringing in pre-heated fresh air.
diagram borrowed from this article on HRVs from Popular Mechanics

Our HRV system will have air coming in that is further preheated by going through a "ground loop" of hundreds of feet of flexible plastic tubing buried below the frost line and kept at a constant 50° F or so, much warmer than our outside air in the winter time, thus further reducing energy costs.
digging the trench for the ground loop air pre-heater

The air changes needed in our volume of house will be determined by careful calculation of how many people and animals and plants are in the house and how much carbon dioxide we're all producing and how much fresh air we need to stay healthy. When we host a party, a CO₂ sensor will notice the extra people and step up the number of air changes per hour in our home.

For more information on sealing, see this article on the greenbuildingtalk website.