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.


Anymore a typical day goes like this:

4:06am wide awake staring at the ceiling worrying about something, remembering something, or designing something.

5:17am fall back asleep

6:30am alarm goes off, shower, dress, grab various and assorted printouts regarding building the house

7:30am get to work, read emails, check meetings, prepare to deal with what corporate america decides to dish out

8:46am get coffee, contemplate if it’s all a bad dream (bad day), or where the time’s going (busy day) or what I’ll have for lunch (every day)

11:30am swing by cafeteria, turn nose up at basically all the specials, invoke the will of god to not eat something that will give me a coronary on the spot, and instead settle on chicken salad, which has been good lately (interestingly enough, it’s the least healthy sandwich in the cold sandwich line….I combat it by ordering pretzels instead of chips.)

11:37am take lunch back to desk and begin hunt for exotic Italian laminate for kitchen, or exotic green housewrap for exterior, or exotic thermostat with LCD screen and simulated sweeping dial. (honestly, my goal is to make sure I make the building experience so miserable for everyone I come in contact with, they’ll pay me to never do it again.)

12:15pm back to work

12:17pm I get a call, laminate is found!  Future coffee center rejoices.  Green house wrap is nowhere to be seen.  Bad house wrap.  Bad.

4:31pm leave work, figure out who didn’t do what, or who did what they shouldn’t have done or, god willing, who did what they were supposed to (present company included in all three by the way so don’t go thinking I’m perfect.  I’m not…..but I do make it look awfully easy.  Plus I have flair and wit.  But I digress.)

5:12pm get home

5:17pm leave home, goto Lowes to pick up sixteen 2×4’s, some glue, vapor barrier and spray foam insulation.  Stuff it all into a Jeep Wrangler in lieu of using a real pick up truck or, say, anything capable of safely transporting 8′ long pieces of wood.

6:20pm get back home, scarf down grilled cheese sandwich, listen to arteries harden.

6:27pm start piling kids into car to go look at the house

6:52pm look at house, remember to get trash can out there.  Pick up trash, take pictures, watch wife tempt death by walking on walls, watch kid build bird house out of joist cutoffs.

7:30pm get back home.  Cut sixteen 2×4’s into various lengths.

8:42pm finish cutting.  Go inside. Look for happiness in the bottom of a Bud Light Lime bottle.  Draw pictures and read Dr. Suess with my oldest boy.  (The grabby younger kid with the devilish smile is asleep by time I get back in the house.)

10:00pm go upstairs, check emails, write blog, search for green house wrap, check window quote, flick bug off monitor…literally, I just flicked a bug off my monitor.

11:15pm go to bed, start all over again the next day.

Today they started the first floor deck.  We’re using engineered lumber for all the joists, headers and rafters.  The largest piece of lumber on the site very well could be a 2×6.  Which means no old growth trees were likely used in making our home.  In theory all the wood used to make my house grew up (or was recycled) from sapling to lumber within my lifetime (I made that up but it sounds really good).  Even if that’s not true, it would be a pretty cool way to measure which trees you should use for building the stuff you’re going to build.  Using engineered wood also means I can span longer distances, less dead weight in the house (which is a concern with me and the cat living there), and everything is dimensionally stable and true.

Here's the stair opening. You can see all the blocking per the Superior Wall builder's manual. All the joists are engineered and look like I-beams.

Today they set the steel I-beam and laid down all the first floor joists, tomorrow the sub-floor will go on.  I’ve got to stop out and install all the 2×4’s I cut today by inserting them into the foam cavities I created yesterday.  I’ll attach them with some construction adhesive and eventually spray some insulation foam around to complete my thermal break between the cement of the wall and the cement of the floor. 

Here Christine walks on the walls to get a closer look. I contemplate whether I sent in the life insurance check. I slowly realize if she's gone I'd have to get up with the kids in the middle of the night. I quickly tell her to get back on dry land. It all works out just fine. My interaction with kids is back to the market minimum.

Some more pics from today:

Looking towards the house. It'll look a lot different in just the next two weeks.


A lot of guys use pick up trucks to haul their tools, supplies and other manly stuff. I on the other hand have a yellow jeep with 2x4's sticking out the back.

So today was my new norm.  1,440 minutes of constant “on” or preparing for “on” time.  It’s going to be awesome when it’s over and I can hopefully enjoy it all (assuming I’m not in a box under a rock from one too many chicken salad sandwiches).  And you know what, “on” time ain’t that bad.  It makes you feel alive and you get to roll with the ups, and the downs, the laughs and not so laughable moments.
“Today is gone. Today was fun.
Tomorrow is another one.
Every day,
from here to there,
funny things are everywhere.”

Zen and the Art of Home Building



I’m tired.  I just cut approximately fifty blocks of foam, each approximately 19″ x 4″, out of my shiny new basement walls.  The reason I had to cut out the foam was because there needs to be structural contact between the basement wall and the cement basement floor.  It was hard work but I wouldn’t trade it for the world in retrospect.  Removing the foam may have left a void in my wall, but it filled a void in my self.  This simple act created structural contact between my self and our home.

My first attempt to take on this foam removal task was on Saturday, but I the 2.5″ thick foam easily overwhelmed my utility knife and my spirit.  I basically gave up and threw in the towel, but quickly found encouragement and confidence from Tony and my wife, Christine.  There are alternative methods to doing the floor but they create pretty sizable thermal bridges.  If I’m going to all the trouble to create thermal breaks, get fancy windows, and insulate everything, they rationalized why have a weak link in the system just because it’s difficult work.  Nothing in life worth doing is easy.  Ultimately it came down to “what is the right thing to do?” and let that be my guide.

So I went tool shopping, which is hardly like pulling teeth for me.  And Sunday, bright and early I went to the job site with my helper, Christine.

The circled area where you see the "x" (which is a future, pressure treated, 2x4) is where I cut out foam.

The plan worked well, Christine marked out 4″ increments from the bottom of the wall.  4″ gravel, 4″ rigid insulation and 4″ cement floor.  She transferred the marks across the face of the studs and back across the foam lined wall cavities.  Then with my handy-dandy drywall hand saw (non-powered by the way), I cut out the foam; all the way across and 4″ wide, corresponding with where the cement floor will go.

Me cutting foam.

The right tool for cutting foam, I found out, is a simple Sears Craftsman drywall hand saw, about 6″ in length.  I had a more aggressive generic one, but the simpler serrated blade of the Craftsman saw cut a lot easier.  A more aggressive blade does not move through the foam easy enough.  I then used an all purpose pry bar and inserted into my cuts to pop out the foam.
In a perfect world, the wall manufacturer would have this all set up in their mold so I wouldn’t have to remove the foam after the fact.  But that’s for the future, for now it was my sweat equity.

Use a pry bar to pop the foam out. The foam's not glued in so it comes right out. I left the 4" of rigid insulation below, on the wall. I paid for it and it's at the same level as the insulation I'm going to be adding above the gravel and below the cement floor.

Here’s what the bays look like after foam removal. I’ll save the scrap blocks and use them when we insulation the floor. Yeah, I’m pretty hard-core.
Picture of my line marking helper. It made the job a lot easier having someone marking out our lines for gravel, foam, and cement on the studs and bays. We used a thick Sharpie (which eventually wore out) and a red marking crayon from Sears.

All and all it took about 8 man hours to do.  I’ll go over the next steps in the coming days.  As you can see, we didn’t get our first floor deck on yet.  Once that’s on, it’ll get real dark in the basement.

It was pretty cool, the two of us, working on the house together.  Like Christine said, it makes it feel more like “our house” now.  More so than if we’d just handed over a check to some builder.  We’re going to make a point of getting out there and working on the house.  Even if it means I have to pay a professional to fix our mistakes afterwards.
And that leads me to the real fortune I got dug out of my basement today.  See, sitting there relatively all alone, cutting foam from one bay to the next, I finally found some semblance of inner peace that I’d been searching for.  Corky would be proud, and I probably owe him a beer because he predicted it back when we did the blessing on the land.  As he was walking out I told him about my need to meditate or some how come to some form of inner peace or I wasn’t going to make it to Fall, let alone make it to the end of this project.  He said I didn’t need to go meditate on some rock, lie on some couch or even climb a mountain.  By just working out there, on my land, meditation would come on its own.
We live in world where we’ve insulated and homogenized the 1,440 minutes we’re gifted each day.  So much so, that there isn’t a free moment to reflect or clear our mind. 
What I experienced today, cutting each block of foam, was freedom that I can only dream of on any given day.  Yes, the work was a pain in the ass and it was hot out there.  But you know what?  I didn’t have to think, make a decision or be badgered by god knows who or what out there.  It was just me (and Christine for a while), my wall and blue sky above.  The value of that is ten times, a thousand times greater than all the minutes spent running around in a typical day.  Days spent running around, fighting other people’s battles and working other people’s dreams.
It’s remarkable how, as I leave our land and drive back to the real world, deep down inside I can feel myself adjusting.  Where we’re building our house is out in the country, but by no means desolate.  In a way though it’s about a million miles away.  I’m pretty sure somewhere along the road as I come and go from the land, I pass through a veil.  A screen so real I truly believe if I squint hard enough in the warm August air of a Ohio summer afternoon I could see it.  It eases through my car window and all of a sudden I realize I’m on the other side where the reality of the rest of the world emerges.
And it’s not that bad.  Not that bad because back there, about a 1/2 mile back, just past where the road runs along the railroad tracks…..yeah, back there I’ll get to pass through going the other way again tomorrow or the next day.
And the fireflies will start dancing as the sun goes down.  Crickets will chirp and my worries will ease because I’ll know I’m home.


The first floor deck goes on tomorrow.  Today though, for once, I had the answer to a potential problem.  The excavator was nice enough to put our steel I-beam on the foundation wall to help out the rough framers when they go to set it tomorrow. This is a huge help, as you’d know, if you’ve ever been a rough framer.  Moving I-beams by hand up onto a wall, especially a 10′ tall, non-back filled wall, is a pain in the ass. I’d rather fall through a window opening while stapling Tyvek to plywood than move an I-beam by hand.  But I digress.  The story is the excavator called me and in the most polite way possible said “Chris, um, I put the beam up on the wall and it looks to be about seven feet too short“.  Ah-ha, it’s supposed to be seven feet too short!  Yes, score one for this guy.  See, we gotta leave room for the staircase.  Don’t blame the excavator, at $30-$60 a pop I’m stingy with my blueprints.  My finish carpenter asks for a blue print daily and I laugh in his face.  And he’s my brother! (Ok, ok I’ll show you the blueprint but you only have 7.5 minutes alloted to you….ready…go!). 

See? The dashed line is my I-beam. In reality it's a pretty red color. I like the color red. It goes nicely with my eyes.


Each day spawns a steady stream of little minor issues that cut into my house-building-enthusiasm like something that repeatedly cuts into something else.  (How the hell do I know what analogy to use, it’s late and building a house is awful.) Today was no different.  So as a coping mechanism I divert my attention to things that are fluffy, easy and I have relative control over.  By the way, ProjectCam is up to ~600 pictures and 80% battery left.

Today’s diversions include: 

1) Getting ready to order windows.  I’ll tell you more in another post, but let’s just say, they’re gonna be triple white (inside, outside and hardware).  And they’re going to be super insulated.  Not super-duper insulation cause we still have to pay for the blue clay incident mind you. 

2) Coming up with new ideas that cost tons of money.  These ideas don’t last long, but they’re fun to play with.  We whipped out our Estes / Twombly book and saw a really cool glass dormer that may just be the answer to our need for natural light in the craft room.  I’m pretty sure if we did this design change my architect, window salesman and carpenters could all afford to go to St. Thomas for Christmas.  I’ve decided we can add this on after the house is built (if at all).  Sorry guys, Santa will visit you in Ohio this year.  

3) And the final diversion for a typical problem filled day: let’s pick out a roof color!  See the roof is like months away from installation, but why focus on the “here and now” when I can relax in the rest and solitude of picking out something that is of little consequence right now.  That my friend is called “diverting”. We’re getting a metal roof.  It will be durable, good-looking, environmentally friendly and be a great substrate for collecting water (all our water will come from the roof).  And it comes in a variety of colors.  Which is great except my brain is mush and I waffle…a lot, so picking out a color will be tough.  Here are our options:

Roof color options. Bright yellow was my first choice but alas, it's not really an option.

We really just have to narrow it down to 3-4 at this point and get some sample chips.  We’ll definitely go with something in the grey or metal color range unless one of you can convince us otherwise with a compelling argument or, if all else fails, a humorous antidote.  Acrylic coated Galvalume is actually a couple grand cheaper than a color so that’s definitely in play.  I do worry about glare from raw metal.  


So let us all divert together.  Here’s what the house looks like if you don’t remember:

"Contemporary Farmhouse" with an Industrial Mill character (once I get done with it....bwahaha).

Send me your comments and votes for a roof color.  If we pick your color you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing we agreed with your impeccable sense of style and color.

You want a prize? 
Okay, but first let me tell you about the time I fell through a window while stapling Tyvek…….

It’s Not Easy Being Green

We have foam.  Actually we have extruded polystyrene rigid insulation; and a lot of it.  I ordered all our rigid insulation and it was delivered today.  Insulation Depot supplied us with enough recycled rigid insulation for under our slab floors and the entire exterior (assuming I calculated correctly).  It comes in on a tractor trailer and I had my rag-tag crew of worker bees out there bright and early this morning to unload it.  Insulation Depot saved me 50% on the cost of my rigid insulation with the added benefit of using recycled material that was diverted from going to a landfill.    The material I got came off of a roof from somewhere on the Eastern seaboard or Mid-Atlantic I suspect.  It was very dirty but no one said it’s always easy being green.

After unloading from the semi truck we reloaded the insulation onto a trailer to haul up to the job site.

 Our load ended up all being 2×8 sheets of recycled blue Dow rigid XPS.  You basically take what they have on hand.  Sometimes you’ll get green or pink insulation boards in varying dimensions.  We’ll be putting the rigid insulation under the concrete slabs.  Even though the earth is a toasty 50+ degrees year round, the insulation will help prevent condensation and keep our floors an even toastier 68+ degrees I’m thinking.  On the exterior walls, our 4″ of rigid insulation will make our walls 10″ thick and give us an additional R-20 on the walls.  It’s all part of our plan to save us up to $1,500 annually versus a regular cookie cutter house built to code.  That’s $45,000 savings in utility costs over the life of a 30 year mortgage.  Not to mention the increased property value.  Also because we’ll be super insulated, our HVAC system doesn’t have to be as robust as what you’d normally put in a 2,800 sq. ft. Ohio home.  The goal is to use the A/C and gas furnace as little as possible throughout the year.  We eventually will have a pellet stove and maybe someday switch to geothermal.  At some point I’ll theoretically be able to switch us off the grid if we wanted to.

Unloading 2x8 sheets at the job site. Dirty work but luckily we had Corky out there along with Tony (one of our builders), the wife, my dad and my niece to help. They pitched in without complaint. We were up to our eyeballs in grime.

 Today was a lot of planning for getting the house up and going; including planning the cement pours, the rough plumbing was started and the steel beam and posts were hopefully ordered.  With the Superior walls and the details we need to implement to make this such a great performing house, traditional planning and task lists need to really be detailed out.  It’s not like a typical house where everything gets “banged out” in a clean linear order.  Everyone involved has had to adjust a little and successful planning is essential.  Kind of preparing for a big football game.  Plays are formulated, and practiced and refined. Most of what we get done in the next two weeks will set the stage for the rest of the project.  After that it should get a lot easier and more conventional.

Self portrait of yours truly, riding in the back of the truck on one of the runs up to the job site. It took about 6 trips total, covering the 1/3 mile length of my driveway. You can see in my eyes that I'm losing my mind.

For more information on using recycled rigid insulation on your project check out Insulation Depot at
They were very helpful and accommodating and I was able to pinpoint my delivery time within an hour so I could have my crew at the ready.  All the insulation is inspected, so we don’t expect any insect damage.  Some pieces will have cutouts from whatever it was used for before.  And some of it was melted a little here and there.  But since it’s going under slab or outside the house it should suffice and is never seen.  It comes in on a semi and you’re responsible for unloading within a 2 hour window.  We unloaded using 6 people in about 45 minutes.  If your insulation is recycled in the traditional sense, plan on it being a dirty job.
Nothing in life that is “worth it” though is easy.