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)…..as 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.
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.
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”:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.