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.

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