It’s been a fairly hectic few days balancing family, house building, and life in general.  If I were to take a piece of paper and list all the good things on one side and all the bad on another I know which side would win.  Let me preface this by saying, in the grand scheme it’s all good.  No one’s died, yet.  No war or famine has broken out, yet again.  No over hyped hurricane came crashing down upon us.  But holy smokes building a house has taken ALL of the fun out of “building a house”.  Between contractors, mother nature, selling our current house, etc. etc. enough is enough already.  Death by a thousand little tiny paper cuts.

So what have I been up to.  I leveled out the gravel in studio.  I used a rake and got most of it down to about level.  Upon that stone I put a 6 mil vapor barrier down and 4″ of rigid insulation and soon it’ll get 4″ of cement, just like the basement.  I rimmed the outer perimeter with 2″ of rigid to create a thermal break between the cement floor and foundation walls.

6 mil vapor barrier over crushed stone in studio.

 We also got the post holes dug for the porches.  Sono tubes were inserted into each hole.  When they pour the cement for the studio and garage, they can pour the tubes at that time as well.  We also got the first utility trench dug from the electrical box to the house.  The excavator came up with a plan to dig it where I had cleared some brush a few weeks ago.  This saved some distance (distance = money) and we saved the cherry tree by the driveway.   
Finally after 3 weeks we got the rough framers back out to the site.  It’s an Amish crew and I don’t know what in the heck they do but they’re lightning fast.  I used to frame houses and I don’t think we were ever that fast.  Too fast in fact because I have no idea how half of the energy-saving details are going to get executed in between them working so fast.    
We got to see the “house” for the first time today which was exciting for about 5 minutes at work.  I showed it off on my iPhone like a new dad would show off his kid in a nursery window.  Then the stress starts surfacing again.  There’s still a lot of confusion on my part regarding how the house is supposed to be sealed up and the framers are moving fast. 
The main structure is going up.  They forgot the front door, the family room square window isn’t square, I know the gable in the master bed room is wrong and will need amending, and the laundry room is way, way, way too big.  The last one is our fault.  The architect didn’t have a laundry room in the original plan so we turned the master bath into one (moved the bath).  We saw it today and it’s about the size of our kitchen.  We’ll partition it out some more and maybe add some closet space for the laundry or master bedroom. 
They’re making the house out of wood; that part is at least correct.

A few highlights of the day:

Our oldest son, seems to like the house and is excited (even if his parents aren’t excited at least he is). 

There’s an interesting thing about the two square master bed windows.  One faces east and one west and they each perfectly frame a tree in their view.  After weeks of my a-hole neighbor telling me about sight lines, mother nature serves me up an ironic little goodie.  Now each day I’ll have morning tree to the east to say “hi” to and an evening tree to the west to say “goodnight” to.  The nice thing is it was a totally random occurence, I don’t think anyone can take credit for it (I certainly won’t).  The east tree is a cherry tree I was able to save near the drive.  The west tree is in the preservation area (the one I’m hoping doesn’t die).

As we were leaving we saw a really nice 8-point buck feasting in the east meadow.  He seemed totally at ease with us and with all the destruction we brought to his back yard.  I can’t wait for the brush to grow back in and turn the land emerald again.  Maybe that buck will come visit us after we move in. 

He probably doesn’t care if my rafters are off by 8″ or not.  Or if there’s a draft at the top of my walls.  He’s happy eating and running around the yard with the other deer. And that’s the kick in the butt that our land gives me every time I get down on this god forsaken project.

I’m guessing maybe I shouldn’t care so much either.


Latest wall section, created by yours truly.


Good MorningTree


Goodnight tree


Stake ‘n Snake


Ugh, the rough framers pushed back their start date, again.  It’s tough to get excited when progress keeps getting delayed.  Fortunately we have plenty to keep us busy.  The land is basically rough graded.  I awoke early this morning and drove out to meet the excavator.  Having spent some time the previous night coming to terms and getting comfortable with the lay of the land, I was confident going into our quick morning meeting.  We walked down to the future pond area and I we talked about the planned shape and location of the pond.  It will be more of a water catcher than a formal, dug pond.  To start with I doubt it’ll be more than 4′ deep.  Should  be nice enough for frogs and nesting ducks hopefully.  And hopefully I can get enough bats to mitigate (is that the right word?) any mosquitos.  One missed opportunity is that all our blue clay is intermingled with regular clay so we won’t be able to line the pond with blue clay, which would be the preferred method, especially if you’re getting free blue clay.  For now the pond area is just staged dirt piles.  They’ll be arranged and feathered out either during the final grade or when we go to do the landscaping next year.  If need be I’ll secure the mounds with fabric or organic material to reduce erosion over the winter.

Tonight the plan was to stake out the breezeway and screen porch.  We’ll have the excavator drill out holes for each post location.  Then we’ll insert a sonotube, which is a circular cardboard tube, into each hole.  When the cement contractor comes out to pour the garage and studio, they can pour cement into each sonotube.  The top of the sonotube will be flush with the grade.   Before the cement sets we’ll insert a threaded rod which will allow us to attach an adjustable bracket and then ultimately our pressure treated posts will bolt / nail to that bracket. The excavator will use a 13″ bit on his auger which should allow a 12″ sonotube to easily slide down into the hole.

To stake out the locations we (the wife and I) used a tape measure, the house plans, some orange spray paint, wooden stakes (from Lowes), and a mallet.  I bought a nice 200′ tape measure from Lowes for around $20-$30.  It works very well, just make sure you’re looking at the right side as one side has decimal marks instead of inches.

Tools of the trade. This pic is actually from the night before when I plotted out some of the landscape elements for reference.

Rolling up the driveway I stopped at the electrical box and grabbed my stack of wooden stakes, threw them in the back of the truck and proceeded up to the build site.  We unloaded our “tools” and took a quick look at the pond area and rough grading.  Everything looks real nice, and a bit flat, but that’s okay.  Pretty much our entire house is on an 4′ grid so naturally the breezeway columns are basically 8′ apart.  We didn’t get too technical, just measured off the house and studio foundation walls, took a few diagonal measurements and drove a stake into the soft freshly graded soil. 

In addition to the stake, I marked each location with some spray paint.

 After we got most of the breezeway staked, Christine randomly blurts out “snake”.  I get up from playing with a clump of clay (I’m easily distracted) and walk over to see what she is talking about.  After 10+ years of marriage I pretty much just assume she’s insane (it’s a mutual assumption I’m sure) and sure enough she points over to the pile of stakes resting on the house plans and I see nothing.  Hmm.  Fortunately, I don’t say “Um, honey, those are ‘stakes’ not ‘snakes'” as if I’m talking to my two-year-old.  Realizing my skepticism she ushers me closer and says “snake” again.  Still dumb founded I reluctantly pick up the top stake off the pile half expecting to see a rattler jump out at me as part of some sort of America’s Funniest Home Video moment.

Then I see it. 

Wouldn’t you know it, it’s the smallest darn snake I’ve ever seen in my life.  Then the biggest cricket I ever saw jumped out of the stake pile and I nearly screamed like a 12-year-old girl, but that’s not the point.  Back to the snake.  We decided to “rescue” him and release him in the east preservation area.  I have a phobia against touching any thing that is alive and isn’t a mammal so I scoot him (how do you know it wasn’t a her?) on to the house plan and walk him over to a grassy nook in the preservation area.  Snap a quick pic and he’s gone.  Of course he’ll grow up and probably scare the be-jesus out of me next year, but for now he was just about as cute as Mother Nature makes animals, this side of baby rabbits.

Our snake friend just before he was released into the preservation area. Not sure what kind of snake he was, other than awfully cute.

After Mr. Snake was gone we went back and finished the breezeway.  Some of the snakes, er…..stakes didn’t have easily aligned reference points so I pulled some diagonals from previous stakes and plotted out their locations.  Everything looked pretty good.  We then plotted out the column locations for the screen porch and back porch according to the print. 

Actually, having the rough framers delayed is good because now we’ll be able to have all the post pads (i.e. sonotubes) poured when they do the studio and garage.  And ultimately it’ll all be done around the time the framers start so they can post out the porches and breezeway without putting in temporary posts for the most part.

Picture of the staked out open breezeway that connects the garage to the house (right).


Screen porch stakes.


Lay of the Land

Tonight’s entry won’t be that interactive.  We worked out at the land tonight and I didn’t take any photos.  The excavator is almost done rough grading the property so we went out with the boys to take a look.  Nearly all the mounds of clay around the house have been relocated, much of it going to the corner of the property where we’ll build up an area to encourage a natural pond to form.  The pond will help manage storm water on the property and provide habitat for wildlife.  It’s strictly optional but I think it’ll be a nice feature.

I know there is a slight discrepancy between the landscape architect’s plan, the survey and where the actual house ended up.  After dinner I grabbed my 200′ tape measure, plot plans and family and headed out to the site.  I located a couple of the landmark stakes the surveyor put in around the pond area and, with the help of my two year old son, I measured out the rough area for the pond.  The problem with working with a two-year old is that it’s like working with a small child.  He doesn’t stay put, so after I measure about 60′ from end of “pond” to the other, I look back and the little guy holding the “dummy” end of my tape measure has walked about 12′ towards me telling his “da da” that he’s holding the measuring tape….Alright sixty feet, minus twelve feet equals forty-eight feet…..good enough.  How well my landscaping plan is executed currently hinges on the whims of a kid who carries around a pink phone, and attempts to eat green walnuts when I’m not looking.  I really should splurge and get some more senior level assistance.

The pond site is a nice crescent shaped area and won’t require the removal of any trees, save one 2″ diameter oak or ash (I forget which kind).  We’ll relocate that tree, even if it’s an ash.  incidentally, if you don’t know, all the ash trees on the property have a date with destiny at some point because of the invasive emerald ash bore which will basically make ash trees extinct in Ohio for all intents and purposes.  We have quite a few elm trees too which also will die out when they reach a certain age.  I learned a lot about trees and identification of them while planning the house and landscape, all in thanks to our landscape architect.

Since we were out there I decided to end my curiosity and roughly plot out the wine & sculpture garden, or outdoor “room”.  (yes, my nose is in the air while I type this, how’d you know? Make fun all you want but if you ever come over I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.  We can talk in a snooty tone and I’ll splurge and buy $12 bottles of wine for you to enjoy.)  This will be a nice area to entertain small parties, have formal outdoor dinners and entertain art friends and patrons.  It’s about 40′ square and surrounded by a variety of trees and bushes.  It was pretty easy to measure off the house and spray paint a couple of the corners.  It was nice to finally start visualizing.  We have a lot of extra dirt from the house but I think there’s enough real estate to spread it around.  There’s a slope where the wine “room ” is so we’ll level it out and stage the nature trails winding down to the pond area.  I was also able to confirm that one of the cherry trees we saved won’t be in the way of this particular room. 

Towards the middle of the house, the alcove we carved out for the basement window will necessitate that the fern garden be a bit larger outside the window, but this isn’t a big deal.  Beyond that we have an idea where the vegetable garden will go but that, like much of the landscaping will go in next year so we’ll fine tune that then.

Working our way across the biggest change will be with the play area and outdoor pavilion.  Both of which, as drawn now impede into the west preservation area.  I think the house ended up being seated about 16′ too far west.  But this is okay because I’m not sure I’d want it further east.  We’ll have to rework these areas to accommodate our needs and keep the aesthetic of the master plan.

I wrapped up the evening by measuring out the front yard.  There are two yard areas but we’ll only put one in to start with.  The other yard area will remain a meadow on the southwest end of the property.  I was happy to see a piece of dead standing timber will be in the south preservation area and provide a nice natural sculpture to gaze at.   It, like all the dead standing timber on the property, will provide habitat for birds and insects.

Tomorrow I’ll go over the final grading plans with the excavator and then it should be back to focusing on the house as rough framing commences.



The framers are delayed until later in the week so the only work being done on the site is the excavators are meticulously backfilling the house and relocating the dirt pulled from where the house currently rests.

Backfilling the studio requires significant amounts of gravel to minimize pressure on the Superior Walls of the main house.

 The land is changing quickly.  I still miss what it looked like when we bought the property and walked it, even with all the ticks.  It’s looked like a moon scape the last six weeks.  Now the large mounds of dirt are being used in some of the back fill or being relocated to another part of the property.  We’ll be using some of the dirt to form mounds and eventually a pond. As the mounds around the house are removed it restores the topography back to what we remember but alas all the vegetation is gone.  Hopefully our planning works out well and the top soil that was set aside will be drop on top of the restored sections.  This should assure that the vegetation that was there before grows back.  Within a couple of years any areas that aren’t landscaped should return to their natural state. 
There are still some decisions to made on roughing in the landscaping.  We need to cut our excavation budget to account for the excess gravel, but we should be able to fit in the rough in of the pond.  There’s a natural area for it to fill from so we’ll leave it where the original plan called for it to be. 

You can see a mound to the left, and to the right an area where the mound of dirt has been removed.

After talking to the HVAC contractor, I think geothermal may be back in play.  Using the pond for the geothermal system would be beneficial, but the pond is pretty far from the house.  We’ll have to weigh our options in the coming weeks.
We’re kind of in a state of flux, between phases.  On one hand things have slowed down so it should be relaxing, but on the other hand a lot of decisions have to be made and bills paid in short order.  All of which leads to increased stress levels.  So we have a diverse array of subjects that we have to consider on a daily basis, from mechanical systems, landscaping, and topography to designing entertainment centers and planning the basement layout. It’s kind of sad to see the land in the state it’s in now.  We ran over a lot of little to medium vegetation.  With all the dirt we had to remove because of the blue clay, the disturbed area is significantly larger than I’d imagined.  And sadly I noticed one of the largest trees on the property must’ve been shocked even though it’s in the fenced preservation area.  It started to lose its leaves early and doesn’t look good.  Hopefully it’ll bounce back after all is said and done but you and I both know how that goes.  A real bummer because it provides all the shade for our screen porch and west rooms.  A tree that size won’t grow from scratch within the number of years I have left on this planet.  If it dies I’ll cut it down and plant a new one under which my grandkids can chase each other around. 

There was a large mound of excavated dirt here. It's slowly being reduced by the heavy equipment on site. The dirt here is being relocated to form a pond and / or back fill parts of the house.

 We’re passing the time until the rough framing picks back up again by designing the fireplace and entertainment center.  The biggest challenge here is we have an open floor plan and a 26′ long wall that will have a door, hutch, fireplace and television / bookcase.  It’ll be a miracle if we can design it not to look like a train wreck.

Here you can see we're backfilling the entire height of the 10' tall Superior Walls with a layer of gravel then the remainder is dirt. Very expensive but necessary.

Also we’re trying to wrap up the plans for the off again, on again fireplace.  It’s on again so we’re trying to get quotes and figure out if the flue will be inside or outside the house.
That’s about it for today.  It’s about time for ProjectCam to get a recharge and my rain barrel has collected virtually no water.
Hopefully by the end of the week we’ll have more to share in regards to progress on the home front.

We picked up our Pactiv Greenguard Raindrop housewrap. It's pricier than normal house wrap, but unlike normal housewrap it won't lock water against the OSB. We've gotten several compliments on our housewrap. I try not to brag too much.


This is what our dinette looks like these days. Plans, sketches, magazines..... Right now we're designing the fireplace & entertainment center.


Phase One Wrap Up

The excavator has started to back fill the house and garage.  This will make the property look a bit different and closer to what it looked liked about a month and a half ago when we cleared out the brush.  With the exception of the wood and cement rectangles that are the house and garage.  In my mind I kind of consider this to wrap up Phase 1 of the project.  Now we switch over to rough framing and selections.  We’re past any of the major deal breaking hurdles at this point.  Knock on wood.  (With my luck the foundation will collapse just to spite me.)

The garage is backfilled inside and out. It also proves to be a convenient lumber yard, freeing up space for the excavator and bulldozer to move around. You can't really see it but by the trash cans, I added a rain barrel. We don't have any water on site so this will give the workers a source for clean non-potable water. We got ours from Woodland Direct for about $115.

The Superior Walls require special consideration when back filling including gravel bottom to top to minimize pressure against the walls.  We also have to brace up the stair opening during backfilling.  Our blue clay necessitated a 45 degree dig so backfilling involves stepping the dig first then back filling.  Overall, the amount of gravel required in prepping the footers and backfilling the cast cement walls decimated our excavation budget.  This means that we’ll have to forego any landscaping and need to accept the push back from our building helpers on the cost of engineered rafters and other performance & sustainable features.  We’ll be over in other areas such as cabinetry, appliances and fireplace as well.  Savings will come from rebates on the windows and my ability to find fairly good pricing on the metal roof.  We’ll see where else we can save.  I have to be careful because many products out there appear to cost less up front but typically are of inferior quality or performance, or the product cost doesn’t factor all the costs associated with that product.  For instance I didn’t factor in the amount of gravel when comparing foundation options or engineered lumber performs better than traditional lumber so it may be money well spent. 

Also I’m not sure we’re getting a discount for some of the labor-saving methods we’ve employed.  For example our architect designed the home so everything is divisible by 4, which is what most building materials are sized in (e.g. 4×8 sheets).  Also he spec’d 2′ on center wall studs to reduce material and save costs.  I have to look so I’m not sure if the lumber yard picked up on that and laid out the framing accordingly.  I do know there was very little scrap left over after the rough framers built the first floor deck; virtually no OSB cut offs left over.  Not sure if our rough framers reduced labor costs because of the minimal cutting and lighter weight engineered joists.  It definitely makes their job easier.

We did push the lumber yard to provide us with trusses for the garage even though they’re a little more expensive.  This will avoid wasting old growth 2×12’s to hold up drywall in the garage ceiling.  What a waste that would be to rip some old growth forest in Canada down so I can hang drywall in my garage ceiling.  I’m assuming there are families in Canada that like forests as much as we like forests here in Ohio.  As I said before, I had to cut and run from using engineered lumber in the main house roof to appease my “builder” and to offset the cost over runs for the excavation.  We’ll be using 2×8’s which will give us 95% of the performance of the engineered rafters, and save us about $5,000.

I’m saving a lot by self contracting but it’s an uphill battle because no one really has the same perspective or philosophy as I do, so I have to do the best I can to at least sway their thinking for the portion of time they’re working on my house.  If you’ve got the money and interest, hiring a contractor familiar and sensitive to the triple bottom line may be well worth it.  The other advantage is having a contractor increases, in theory, that someone’s looking at the details 24/7 vs. my situation where a handful of people all take a small part, myself included.  Save money my way, but you have to live with imperfection, and inefficiency.  Also, cost avoidance is still hard to come by.

Who knows, maybe I can start a new career as a green builder.    Of course if we don’t sell the house we’re in now, this one we’re building will be for sale. 

And we can start all over from scratch again.

I got to walk in my basement. It was AWESOME. I do love the inside of the Superior walls and can’t wait to finish them off. You can see the bracing necessary though around the stair opening.

Say goodbye to the outside of the Superior Walls, they're being backfilled. Kinda sad because I've gotten used to seeing them. Here you can see the filter fabric we laid down first, then there will be 2' of solid gravel, then a channel of gravel up along the wall. The sloped walls will be stepped and backfilled with conventional material. There will be so much gravel in this area that I don't think we need a drain under the window. It should naturally drain down to the drain tile. We will have to build a retention wall on the far side of the window though. My dream is to finish this area in stone.

Making Progress

Yay, we have cement in our basement!

We finished placing down the 4″ rigid insulation last night.  Also we installed our 2×4 thermal breaks in the foam pockets I’d previously cut out of our Superior Wall bays. As an added measure I also sprayed some expanding foam in the gaps between the 2×4’s and the blue foam in the walls.  I also sprayed around the base of the steel columns and any other misc. places I could see.   I didn’t go completely nuts with the spray foam but the little bit I did should help.  There were some gaps in the our insulation here and there but I doubt any of it will add up to anything meaningful. Afterall we’re dealing with constant temperature earth, then rigid and then 4″ of cement.  On top of that eventually is any furnishings like carpet, drywall, etc. plus more wall insulation.  The basement should be fine and toasty, or cool depending on the time of year.

I’ll share some photos from the day with you….

Here are the pressure treated 2x4's in the pockets I cut out of the foam walls. I used liquid nails to adhere the 2x4's. You can see how nicely everything is lining up on our level lines on the studs. 4" gravel, 4" foam, then 4" cement.

I ran out of daylight last night so I woke up and was the first person in line at Lowe’s to get some more spray foam.  I scampered out to the site and the cement contractor and pump truck were already set up by 7:30am.  I snuck downstairs and sprayed a few last-minute spots while they laid down the rebar on top of my rigid insulation.

Rough plumbing for the bathroom. We had to move the horizontal pipe up 4" after this picture so it'd clear the foam and cement. I'm not sure these pipes are all in the right place....probably something I should've checked before they poured the basement this morning.

Morning in Lowes parking lot. Mmmmm...pretty. Now back to work

Because our lot isn’t back filled yet and the general difficulty in getting to the main house, we had to employ a pump truck to pour the basement floor.  It was pretty neat to see.  I cement truck basically backs up to the pump truck and dumps the cement in to a hopper.   The pump truck then out reaches its long boom and pumps the cement into the basement through the stairwell.  The boom is operated via remote control.  We ended up needing two trucks worth of cement to do our basement.

Here's a good view of the job site with the pump truck and cement truck getting ready to pump cement into the basement.



The boom is controlled via remote control by the operator, standing to the left in this picture.

The floor was poured in about 1-2 hours.  By 10:30am they were finishing off the top surface of the cement and using a trowel to cut the expansion joints in the cement floor.  The cement flowed into the bays of the foundation walls, locking everything together like a giant jigsaw puzzle.  Will be interesting to see what kind of cracking develops in the floor over time as the house settles.

Christine brought the boys out to see the cement truck and pump truck. I thought the trucks were pretty neat to see up close too.


Picture of the poured basement. Very cool indeed. Starting to look and feel like a house. Eventually somewhere in there we'll have a play room, storage room, bath and maybe even a home theater with tiered seating.

Now that the foam is down and floor is poured, my work out at the site pretty much revolves around keeping things clean and orderly.  I took out two new shiny trash cans.  One for trash and the other for recyclables.  Eventually we’ll probably get one of those large dumpsters for construction waste.  I’ve got a call into a supplier that rents them and claims to recycle up to 80% of the contents.  In the meantime I’ve started separating our construction waste and setting it off to the side.  I’ve got  a lot of foam cut offs that I need to figure out what to do with.  Hopefully they can be recycled, if not they may end up being landfilled or maybe I can use them up in my studio floor.

We picked up these nice Rubbermaid cans at Home Depot or Lowes (I didn't actually go to buy them, the in-laws did, I just hauled them out to the site). They both fit in the VW. Not sure if anyone will use them but they make me feel better; at least I'm trying..

 The excavator starts back filling this weekend and we’ll be ready to go when the framers come back to start framing the first floor.  Then ProjectCam will really have something to take pictures of and the house will start taking shape 

I started separating the construction waste as well as storing the various building materials off to the side. Backfilling starts soon so I want to make sure things are organized.


We’re back on track.  Jonathan, our excavator, set up the pump and spent 5 hours last night pumping out the water from around the foundation.  The rest was pumped out with the help of a large diameter hose attached to the pump today.  My rental bill is adding up as we had to get a generator out there to power the pump.  Solar panels should have been the first thing I built as it doesn’t appear we’ll have power on the job site any time soon.

I went out after a long, hectic day at work to get the basement prepped for the concrete coming in two days.  I was working solo tonight so I parked the VW and grabbed my tool bag and walked across my concrete studio foundation.  Was good to see my duck pond had disappeared.  Upon reaching the deck I gazed out towards ProjectCam as I always seem to do.  Lo and behold, a buck looking right back at me from about ten feet in front of ProjectCam.  He was perfectly still with the meadow obscuring his body.  I suspect he was hoping I didn’t see him, but I did.  I slowly walked across the deck, hoping that if he stayed there by time I reached the corner I could snap a pic with my phone.  I was unsuccessful, for as soon as I moved he leapt across the meadow past the west preservation area.  I’m glad I saw him because he basically melted away all the trials and tribulations of the day.

I laddered myself through the large hole in the deck into my basement.  Sigh.  All the water was pumped out but there was still a lot of water on top of the 6 mil vapor barrier Christine and I had set a few days earlier.  Our recycled panels are covered in black soot, so everything was a mess after the rain.  I had to single-handedly pull, drag and flip each ten foot wide piece to roll the dirty water off.  I removed the 2’x8′ rigid insulation panels Christine had previously laid down and aired them out.  I then had to reinstall all the plastic barrier material.  What a pain.

6 mil vapor barrier material after I re-laid it out. It rests on top of the gravel.

I then went about laying down the 4″ rigid insulation on top of the plastic sheets.  I did not stagger the joints and I left the little notched channels up, figuring the cement could grip the sheets when poured on top.  I used a hand saw and jab saw to cut the foam around a couple of the steel support columns.  It’s starting to get dark earlier so by time 8:30 rolled around I was about done for the day.  I laid out most of the full sheets and saved the cut sheets for Tony to finish tomorrow.

Laying the 2x8 sheets of rigid down on top of the vapor barrier. 4" of cement will go on top of these sheets. You can see the notches in the wall foam. We'll put the 2x4 inch pressure treated boards in there to create a thermal break between the cement floor and cement walls. The basement floor is basically flip-flopped thermally compared to the walls. The cement floor is "inside" the house, thermally speaking.

Flipping the barrier material and laying down rigid foam sheets was exactly what I needed.  The labor wasn’t too bad and the peace and solitude relaxed my soul.  I would’ve worked out there indefinitely had it not been for the setting sun and late hour.  It’s a far cry from the hectic world of reality.  Working in my basement I’m devoid of all the responsibility, and at times the non-sense, of the world “out there”.  Just me, foam and a clearly defined goal.  No thinking, no worries, no bills, no crazy neighbor, no constant push and pull of a day job…….nothing.  Just  the solitude of driving down there, working and driving back. 
If I could bottle that I’d be a millionaire.
And for me nights like tonight replenish the reserves of my soul.  I’d go so far as to say because it’s “work” it lacks a certain degree of guilt one might have when doing something like fishing when one should be cutting the grass back at home. 
It doesn’t really hit me until I crawl back up the ladder for the last time today and look up at the clear orange-colored dome of sky above the “land”.  And I look out hoping to see another deer.  A part of me wants to go back down in that hole and put down one more piece of foam.  The same foam I’ve grown to resent because it’s covered in black soot and I’ve moved each piece at least three times already. 
Down in that hole, you see, is a place where I live in absolute freedom of mind and soul.  Down there I get to pull off the side of the road of life, even if it’s just for two hours on a Tuesday. In that basement I’m me.  I’m not anything or anyone else. I’m not your dad, husband, son, brother, friend, boss, employee, customer, neighbor, or random stranger.  I’m just some guy cutting foam.  And when I come out of there and look at the world around me I realize what a great little rectangle of this world our family has.  My mind is clear and I can imagine again…..and plan……and smile. 
I hesitantly reach down putting my saw into my black tool bag and pick it up.  I walk across the foundation that will support the studio where, in a few short months, I will  paint on rainy Spring mornings.  I look down and see my foam block ducklings, marooned where the retreating water left them earlier in the day.  I smile and take one more look back, desperately trying to devise my greatest design ever: a way to bottle a moment.
I stow my bag and close the hatch of the VW.  I don’t want to go but I have to.  I can hear the highway in the distance reminding me that the world is still spinning on its axis.  I look up at the sky fading from orange to purple, bookend-ing my day.
And I can’t help but laugh as two bats fly by.
One way or another this will work out just fine.

Duck Pond

The rain woke me up this morning at 3am and I wasn’t able to get back to sleep.  Stressing out about the house means that once I’m up….I am up.  The cat was happy though because I, in addition to uploading art on the internet for sale, cleaned her litter box.  I went to work and as planned rushed home, scarfed down dinner and drove out to the job site.  My plan was to finish laying down the 4″ rigid insulation in the basement in preparation for Thursday’s cement floor pour.  Surprisingly the ground was pretty dry around the house site.  Even more surprising as I worked my way across the concrete foundation walls was what I saw below me.  The absolute, number one, story book quality irony about our house is that there seems to be water everywhere you don’t need it.  Below me was a nice swimming pool on the outside of the foundation and inside was about a 1/2″-1″ of sporadic puddles on top of the vapor barrier I’d laid on Sunday morning.  My blue clay was doing an awesome job of turning my foundation into an over-priced duck pond.  We can’t have a well because there’s no sub-surface water, but I have surface water everywhere after some of these big storms.  (By the way, not enough water to be a problem.  Once the drain tile is hooked up and the sump pump is on duty, everything should be dry.)

The "ducks" on my pond are the foam cut outs from the foundation walls. We'd set them outside when the gravel was leveled. As the water rose, they took off on a race. They all started to your left in this picture. At least one made it clear around the house and was swimming in circles when I arrived. Also you can see my 2x4 thermal breaks floating in the water too.

On the outside was about one foot of water, enough to float all my insulation cut offs and a handful of my pressure treated thermal break 2×4’s I’d stacked outside the window.  Tony and Christine were joining me this evening to help finish the basement prep but there was nothing we could do.  We’d have to pump out the water.  To do that we’d need a generator.  Due to a gov’t glitch, we still don’t have power on the job site.  Pumping would have to wait ’til Tuesday.
So we did the next best thing, move foam around…..again.  We needed to clear the garage out so it could be backfilled later this week.  For what seems to be the 4th time Tony and I moved foam.  I’m quickly starting to resent my blue foam. 
Christine took the task of rescuing our 2×4 blocks.  These are the ones I’ll be gluing in between the foundation wall and the cement floor to eliminate the thermal bridge created when concrete touched concrete. Like a mother duck she gathered each of her “ducklings” and placed them safely on shore to dry out tomorrow.  Fortunately we’re not supposed to get rain for the next two days.
Salvation came later in the evening when our excavator, from Fike Excavating, said he was headed out there this evening to take care of the water.  Granted, I’m sure it’ll show up on my bill, but that’s great service in my book. That makes me less worried about missing our Thursday date with the concrete truck.  There’s a lot of prep and coordination involved when making a house like we’re making, so acts of nature tend to complicate matters.  No wonder I’m up every morning at three or four o’clock.  By the way, my home building diet is working wonders. I’ve lost 20 lbs. so far and it’s only been a few months.  I should be two-dimensional by December.
So hopefully the house will air out.  Tony will probably have to lift up the rigid insulation we’d laid down on Sunday and then shake out the vapor barrier to get the water off of it.  Hopefully by tomorrow night we’ll be back on schedule.
In other news, ProjectCam is about halfway through his memory card and batteries.
Red / Orange laminate for the kitchen is ordered and should arrive tomorrow.  I’ll tell you more about the Kitchen build in the future (trust me, it’s probably the best looking Kitchen in Ohio).
We’re down to three color choices for the roof.  Exterior color scheme will be top secret until the final reveal.  Stay tuned (or plan on visiting when we’re done).
I’ve almost finalized the size of the steel beams for the kitchen.  Turns out they’re more aesthetic than structural.  I’m thinking a 5.25″ x 8″ beam will work well. 
I found Raindrop!!!  Ha, ha, not that kind of rain drops.  I found the special housewrap we’re going to use.  My local mom & pop lumbar yard found it for me with the help of the Pactiv sales rep.  It’ll be here just in time for rough framing.  It comes in 9’x100′ rolls.  I hope I estimated correctly.  I guessed……er, estimated 5 rolls will work.  Raindrop is awesome because it has corrugated ridges so that when water condenses on it, the water flows down and out of my walls as opposed to other house wraps that retain moisture.  It’s a tad more expensive but the longevity of the structure will more than pay for the difference.
Wavy picture of the house (my camera must drink as much as me). All the blue foam on the deck is going down in the basement….as soon as the basement drys out.

We’ve been spending the last few days strategizing about the construction details as well.  It sounds like we’re switching to 2×8 rafters (gusseted to some other framing members) instead of the engineered ones that were specified.  Theoretically this will save us about $5,000.  Yes, it goes against my principles, but if it makes the people helping me build the house happy and saves some money (that can be spent on a fancy convection microwave oven) than who am I to argue.  Christine thinks I caved in, and she’s probably right.  I agreed to it as long as the look and performance remains the same.  Personally I like engineered products, as they’re very exact and sophisticated.  Traditionally man kind has had his way with nature and society by applying a Neanderthal like heavy hand when faced with a problem.  To me engineered building materials, albeit more expensive on the surface, illustrate that someone gave some thought to getting the best performance out of the least amount of material.  Any grade school contractor (like grade school level of action, not actual contractors who build grade schools)… I was saying, any grade school contractor can throw lumber or cement or plastic at a problem to make it go away.  I like the elegance of orchestrated materials coming together to create a symphony in wood, metal and glass.

Of course I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth because my engineered foundation is hemorrhaging money, time and labor but you’re missing the point.
Wood I-beams make me tingle.  There I said it.  Goodbye wood I-beams for my wickedly large roof.  I’ll miss what might have been.  On the plus side, the 2×8 rafters will give us stronger overhangs.
But I ramble on.  We can talk more about how we’re going to construct our rafters and the sealing necessary at the top of the wall where the rafters and wall meet.
I’ll leave you with this.  The funnest thing about today once again has nothing to do with the house.  The funnest thing I did today was sitting in the Family Room and “bat spotting” with my 2-year-old son.  We watched in amazement (at least I was amazed) as bats fluttered across the sunset sky, swooping and diving.  So if everyone gets something in the new house, from studios to ceiling fans, I’m going to put in for bat houses.  And I’m going to sit on my porch watching the bats flutter across the painted sky on warm summer evenings with my kids.
Bat houses.  Lots and lots of them.
Sure beats over priced duck ponds.

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate

I’ve got two computers at home.  I usually write this house “journal” on my desktop computer and download most of my pictures on there as well.  This morning I’m using my laptop downstairs, trying to avoid waking up my little family.  A thunderstorm rolled through and I’d say it woke me up but pretty much through out this house project I don’t really sleep anymore.  Don’t eat or go to church either for that matter.  I do drink more and have chronic neck pain so there’s that.  So this morning I could either lay in bed staring at the ceiling waiting for death to come rescue me or  I could write.  I grabbed my laptop, neglected petting the cat (she asks for so little and I oblige her by giving her as much) and stumble downstairs.  I have some new “photos” to share so I plugged in my picture-taking device.  Much to my delight the computer folder I put the new pictures in had some old pictures of when the “land” was just land.  And there’s a small picture of our building permit, and ProjectCam and all sorts of pics from just before we started just a short two months ago.  Back then anything was possible and it was exciting.

Right now the house site and project are a far cry from all the excitement, imagination and ideals captured in those pictures from before we started.  We’ve leapt over a lot of hurdles so far, but it’s a constant barrage that it pretty much annihilates any hope that this will be an enjoyable process.  The goal now is to just hang in there and hope whatever is the result of this is process is something we want to live in.  The very process, as it’s designed now, essentially reinforces the fact that a house is just a house.  A bunch of materials slapped together.  One would be remiss to read much more into it.  As an owner my primary purpose in life is to pay the bills and take what they give me. I rank just above that cat in importance, except I don’t purr when you pat me on the head and say “aw, that’s a nice smoogims woogims”.  Building a house is not at all like they show it in the movies (alright, if they showed it in the movies). These days, for me, reading Dante’s Inferno is a “pick me up”. 

I put a metal can in my driveway and each morning I deposit a small portion of my soul in it before I go to work.

A little bit has happened at the job site over the last few days.  I went there on Friday and crawled down into the basement.  I will say, it was fun standing down there because it’s the first form of “shelter” that has been created.  It actually felt like a basement, granted one with a gravel floor and trash all over the place.  That made me feel a little better.  Later today we’ll start laying down our layer of rigid insulation with a vapor barrier between it and the gravel below.  The gravel was leveled out yesterday by the “cement guys”.  I will give a shout out to my brother / contractor who pushed gravel around while I played golf yesterday.  “Better him than me” I always say.

It's starting to feel like a house. We'll have a 9' tall finished basement once it's all said and done.


Here you can see the special blocking pattern required when using Superior Walls. They have a builders book that goes over all of the step necessary to stabilize their product before building the rest of your house.


The plumber undermined our gravel footer so we reinforced it with cement when they poured the beam post pads. The large black crock is where the pump will be for the downstairs bathroom. It will elevate the waste up and out of the house towards the septic field.


Basement view showing beam posts.


View of the completed first floor deck

It’s not all doom and gloom, but it can be a bit much at times.  We’ll start on laying down the vapor barrier and rigid insulation in the basement today.  Should be an easy task in preparation for pouring the floor later this week.  Until then, I’ll try to hang on and hope it all turns out as planned.

Behind the Scenes

Not much has happened in the last two days.  At least not anything that visually looks much different from day-to-day.  The first floor deck is finished.  My apologies, no photos of the progress tonight.  We did visit the site to show a friend around the site, but did not snap any pictures.  I also shirked my duties by not installing my wooden thermal breaks in the basement walls.  That’s why god invented weekends I always say.  We’ve got a couple of days before they pour the basement floor and they still have to level out the stone in the basement, so I’ve got some time.  We did get the post pads poured today which means tomorrow they can set the steel support posts for our steel I-beam and the LVL that supports the master bedroom suite.

It was a busy day behind the scenes so to speak though, as nearly every day is.  I ordered the windows.  There’s a pretty hefty lead time and in reality I could have ordered them a few weeks ago because it sounds like the rough framers will blow through our house in about seven building days.  But we’ll be okay.  The framers can come back at a later date to install the windows.

I haven’t had much luck tracking down my Pactiv Greenguard Raindrop housewrap.  I’ve got some feelers out to a couple of resources.  We’ll have a meeting later this week with my site supervisor and architect to go over the nuances and details of constructing the non-traditional aspects of the home.  To make the house super insulated and tight there are some fundamental details we’ll need to adhere to construction-wise to assure we get the performance we want and to minimize the amount of do-overs we encounter (basically the number of times I have to pay someone to rip out something that I already paid for because it was installed incorrectly).  The hard to find housewrap is just one player in a greater team effort to make our home outperform pretty much every other home (relatively speaking) in northern Ohio.  I will now be in the rarefied air where I can get into thermal performance arguments with friends and family who have log homes.  Yes, I know it sounds dangerous, but trust me ladies (and gents), my house will be able to hold its own in said arguments.

Here’s a wall section of our version of a “passive solar house”:

Typical wall section for our high-efficiency house. Courtesy of Ferut Architects in Vermillion, Ohio.
You can see we’re using 2×6 studs and 4″ of rigid insulation on the outside.  That will give us 10″ walls with really deep interior window sills.  The cat will love us for that.  There are essentially 3 locations we could’ve place the window in the wall section.  We chose the outward most to give us the most window sill inside and the most conventional look on the outside.  The other two options would be smack dab in the middle or even inboard, framed in the stick walls in a traditional manner.  With our way we’ll have to build large wood “bucks” around each window.  It’s kind of a pain but it will give us the look and performance we desire.
The Greenguard Raindrop goes on top of the plywood sheathing.  We didn’t go with the triple pane windows to save costs but the windows we chose will outperform pretty much all name brand double pane windows.  We did not get the hard-core German import windows.  I went to the City Club once where they were talking about windows for passive solar houses and they said the only windows you should use are from Germany.  I think that’s a little crazy.  My windows are from like Wisconsin or California I think.  I guess I won’t be privy to the secret German window handshake, gang sign and tattoo, but I’ll still be plenty cozy in wintertime.  At some point I’ve got to divert funds to my overpriced fridge and range.  I mean come on cold wine and well cooked tenderloin count for something in this day and age.  Sorry German windows.  Maybe next house.
Speaking of passive solar, our house is oriented about due south.  We’re off by a few degrees if for no reason than to be outliers at the “Passive Solar and Plush Kitten Convention” (I made that up).  Seriously though, the house just sits better on the land this way and it won’t affect our performance that much.  Also it gives us a nicer orientation for when I place photovoltaics on the garage roof.  You typically want those facing south (in the northern hemisphere). On the main house we’ll have really big windows and the roof will overhang enough in the Summer to keep the sun out, but short enough to let it flow inside in the Winter.  No we don’t have massive cement floors or walls to absorb heat and store it overnight for late nite Deutsche swinger parties.  Though we will have some dark tile and cement countertops in the kitchen, so that’s gotta count for something…right? 
“Dies ist keine passive solar.” 
“Meh, grab me a Burning River from my overpriced fridge and sit your German butt down on my ski lift chair.  If you’re nice I’ll tell you my goat wrestling story.”
There will be some details like wrapping the top plates and making sure everything is sealed up tight that we’ll have to work through the differences compared to normal construction.  Hopefully over time what we’re doing will become “normal” construction.  But for now most of what we’re doing goes against what the traditional model the home construction industry and supply network has been founded on for the last 70 years.  I’ve found that to be the biggest challenge.  Right now, in 2011, we are kinda stuck in a transition period.  There are great designs, solutions and products but many of them are either expensive, difficult to find or the techniques to implement them aren’t fully developed or understood.  Working against that is misunderstanding, need for education, or worst case: resistance to change. Additionally, our forms of measurement of success are based on how things have always been done in the past.  There are a lot of old models that need an “extreme home makeover” (all rights reserved, American Broadcasting Company) so to speak.  Also even the green building industry doesn’t always think holistically, that is to say how does my product work with other products that I may not be trying to sell you? As a consumer, being willing to research and sometimes pay more isn’t always enough.  There’s still a lot of luck and praying involved….and mistakes to be made.   When in doubt, cave into conventional ways of thinking and let the next generation sort it out……(just kidding….though there was that one mahogany beam I was going to use in my closet…..)
I think we’re doing a relatively good job all things considered.  My current windmill I’m chasing is how to handle construction waste.  I need to get some garbage cans out there (by the way, why don’t have a vehicle able to haul large items?  I need a pick up truck desperately) for recycling and trash.  We’ll get a huge dumpster eventually.  I ran out of time and energy to go hard-core and separate everything and forego the dumpster. 
I guess that’s it for now.  A few more days of misc. stuff and then the framing will commence full steam ahead.