I actually thought of something fun we could do this weekend.  Amongst picking out all these store-bought products for the house I remembered we had something fun to pick out this weekend.  Leave it to my wife to remind me how swimmingly fun building a house can be.

Me: “Guess what we get to pick out this weekend?”

Wife: “I dunno.”

Me: “No, I’m serious, try to guess.”

Wife: “A divorce lawyer?”

Clever.  I’m kinda sure she was joking.  Made me laugh at least.  Anyway I digress. What we’re picking out is a cherry log, actually two, that will make up the mantle over the fireplace; not sure if I mentioned this before.  Actually there’s a maple tree too somewhere we can choose from.  I’m going to check the blog picture from earlier when I cut that cherry tree down.  It was the only tree I cut down myself. It was standing pretty much EXACTLY where the fireplace will be.  If I can discern which log(s) are from that tree, that’ll be the one.  I have a pretty good eye so odds are fairly good, assuming the tree is lying around out there somewhere.  Maybe I’ll fire up the Jeep and take it out to drag out the trunk and then chainsaw it into two 7′ long sections.  My carpenter can then take it and start drying it out and then mill it into the mantle shape.

The A+ title of today’s entry is in honor of the three inspections we passed this week with flying colors.  It’s nice to know the government approves of what we’re doing on our property.  Kind of related, I did check and I’ll have to drywall my studio ceiling, but that’s okay.  Electric should be wrapped up in the coming days.  The roof is mostly done and Tony is moving at a steady pace on the rigid insulation installation.  The house is still cold inside this time of year, despite the 4″ of insulation already up.  We still have one door and a window to put in.  Plus there’s no means to get the house up to temperature except the sun, which is non-existent around here.  The house still lacks a fair degree of thermal mass as well.  Once the trim, cement counters and flooring are in, along with everything else, we’ll be able to absorb and retain more heat inside the house during this time of year.  Daphne can’t wait.

A+ also refers to the house design.  As the blue foam goes on and the roof is finished it’s starting to fill out nicely.  Less awkward teen ager, more twenty something super model.  My studio door is on now and it really punctuates the corner.  It’s a Therma-Tru door with Low-E glazing so it’s about as energy-efficient as you can get.  We’ll be painting it white I believe to match the rest of the house trim.  The front door isn’t in yet but it matches the style of the studio door.  The interior of the house is looking nice too since my guys swept up in prep for the inspections.  Thanks go out to everyone who’s worked on the project so far.  They should be proud.  It’s a remarkable project in my not so humble opinion.

I’ve got a bunch of pics to share with you today.  Enjoy.

Recycled rigid insulation supply is dwindling as it goes on the house. Yay!

Studio door is installed. No more walking down to the basement. Yay! With the doors we mounted them inboard and will put extensions on the outside to make up the difference with the rigid insulation. You can see the detail on the REMOTE wall system cross section.

Studio wing of the house.


I like this view of the house. From this angle it looks evocative of the old mills that have dotted the countryside of Northeast Ohio for over a 100 years.


Kitchen pic will make for a good "before and after".


We stacked the switch boxes in areas where we needed more space. Here, the trim and plans for hutch placement dictated a gang of 3 switches over 3.


We happen to really like pocket doors. Maybe it's the Asian influence or their practical nature. We like to keep everything open, so pockets are nice because the door hides away inside the wall. One challenge is switch placement. In this example we have a 2x6 wall, so we're able to use a low clearance switch box. (not shown)


Church-like studio windows.

Needful Things

I didn’t have a chance to visit the site today but I suspect it was fairly quiet.  By time I see it tomorrow the roof should be complete.  Several if not all of our inspections should be complete for the time being. 

In the meantime we’re busy surfing the net to find fittings for the house.  All the plumbing is selected but we’re behind on light fixture selection and haven’t evaluated doors or hardware yet.  We’re also diving into what we’re going to do for stair rails.  I checked and a cable rail is a viable option for our home.  It’s difficult finding a local resource but I’ll keep looking.

I’m busy designing the stairs and behind on designing the ship’s ladder to the attic / loft.  I discovered a site dedicated to stair ideas called Stair Porn.  It’s exactly what it sounds like, tons of pics of staircases, all of which are drool worthy. When you’re old and married, this is as good as it gets. (just kidding honey)

Beyond the stairs items requiring my design work are pretty much done until we move in.

We’re coming across a lot of neat and beautiful products in our search.  In addition to being efficient and sustainable anything that’s going into the house is going through a rigorous evaluation by us to make sure items are aesthetically beautiful and / or interesting.  I’ll be honest, the search isn’t completely exhaustive.  We’ll leave antique or rummage finds for after we move in.  There just isn’t the time so we’ll rely on the internet to do the walking for us and hopefully save some money in the process.

One neat product I was turned onto today can be found at Nest.com.  It’s a thermostat that actually learns what temperatures our family likes and eliminates the constant need to be programming or setting the thermostat to different settings.  It’s “gotta have it” form factor and interface seal the deal.  Like a bobber under water, we’re hooked.  We’re so easy.

We’re finding some great lighting at Barn Light Electric including the vintage industrial pendants for the Dining Room which are made from old acetylene tank tops.  Some of the cage lights we like we’ll try to find elsewhere but if not we can get those from BLE too.  I have yet to find a spot for an old-fashioned gooseneck light outside, but we’ll see. For track lighting, I’ll bite the bullet and shop based on price; though there are some really cool track lights out there.  Most of the lighting in the house is recessed.  Tracks carry the day in both studios and the upstairs Gallery.  I plan on out fitting everything with either CFL’s or LED bulbs to minimize electricity use.

The kitchen is going to be awesome, though we’re struggling to match up the cabinet door fronts with the dining table but we should be fine in the end.  We discovered a great range hood on Zephyr’s website.  The sleek lines and glass will go nicely with the concrete counters and aluminum cabinet door front trim.  For a back splash we were planning on going all stainless steel, but the Zephyr site had a stupidly cool tile kitchen that we may have to steal.  If you need inspiration for your kitchen, visit their site, it’s in my top 10.

There will be plenty of other objects we’ll have to pick out and buy. I’ll try to cover as many as I can and report back regarding how well they turn out and work.  Overall it should be, hopefully, an eclectic mix that ultimately all works out.  Stay tuned.


Autumn Road

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the new house is the drive up the driveway to the site in Autumn.  That alone is worth the price of admission. In just a few hundred feet the beauty of the valley encloses into a leaf lined country “road”, ultimately leading to our home, perfectly bookended by two stands of trees.  A day’s trials and tribulations give up their last gasp, having been worn down by a spirited charge down the valley’s wall and winding roads.  Leaves gently flutter earthbound through the glint of a lazy late season sun.  The crunch of gravel under tire is tempered by a week’s worth of leafy carpet laid down fresh.  Regardless of the temperature outside, one is virtually guilted into rolling down the window to catch the scent of Fall in the air.  Carbon cycling back to where it came from.

View of house with most of the metal roof in place. The charcoal grey color is great this time of year because it holds its own against the steely Autumn Ohio sky

Most of the standing seam metal roof is now in place.  It has unified and slimmed the house considerably.  It does not look as expansive as anticipated.  The metal roof should last upwards of 40+ years and is fully recyclable when it does need to be replaced.  The gentle ripples between seams allow the metal to expand and contract, avoid oil canning and provide a gentle visual detail to add interest.  We’ve got nothing but compliments on the style and color. (pat on back, and a “thank you”, for the wife).
With the sun setting so early it’s impossible to get pictures of the inside.  Suffice to say, all the trades have roughed in the mechanical systems so we’ll be ready for insulation relatively soon.  The exterior insulation is being wrapped up as well.  After that we start finishing the exterior and interior with siding and drywall respectively.
Waste wise, we’ve employed our second waste container from Kurtz Brothers.  This time it’s a smaller one to handle the intermediate was being generated.  We should have one more container for end of project.  Maybe two.  Waste is something I wish I’d done a better job with but at least by using Kurtz Brothers, i’m assured that a lot of my waste is being recycled and made into other products.  This is better than randomly picking some everyday waste hauler; who knows where their waste ends up.
The interior framing is complete.  We’re making the kneewall areas our “line of defense” against air transmission, so we increased the roof thickness to 16″ by installing 2×4’s to match the interior ceiling plane.  This will give the roof an R-60 value throughout, saving a lot of energy and resources that can be used for something better than heating and cooling our house.  We also framed in transoms above the interior doors to allow for evening privacy AND air flow between rooms.
Fortunately the weather has been pretty good lately.  This is an encouraging change as we finish closing in the house.
Pretty soon I’ll have to go outside, or open a window, to get in the Autumn mood.  Maybe go for a walk down the drive.

Cut Man

Today was pretty cool.  Today I took a vacation day and worked on the house.  Today I had the privilege of stepping into a time machine.

I don’t know what it is, but for whatever reason I woke up at 4am stressing out about the house.  My mind processing 10,000 things regarding design, to do’s, road blocks….on and on with no hope of getting back to sleep.  When I did get to sleep again I was greeted with the “house dream” consisting of a massive house, executed nicely but with enough oddities to stress me out, even in dream mode.  Next thing I know I’m transported to the present and I awake in a panic wondering what time it is. 


Damn it all to hell.  Finally able to sleep but I’m late.

Text shows my brother’s running late as well; enough time to scramble, throwing my circular saw into the Rabbit.

The weather looks a thousand times better in that it shouldn’t snow today.  Yesterday was a complete nightmare of wind and air turning to a crystalline vapor mist.  Today would be dry.  Today was my day.

Today I was a cut man.

I arrive on site to the pleasant surprise of several trucks and vans on site.  Finally the trades were cramming to get their work done and get inspections going.  I park the Rabbit on an embankment to the side of our driveway, suitable for the Jeep, not really for the VW.  Propping the door ajar with my foot I grab a handful of the day’s requirements.  One dash into the hatch to grab my saws and tool belt then up the drive to the house site.  Looking at the house I admire its scale and proportions.  They grow on me daily.

My brother is getting out of his truck.  We exchange pleasantries and walk inside.  The electricians are hard at work; wires running seemingly everywhere.  The radio is blaring classic rock and the smell of wood fills my nose.  I set down my saws and swing my tool belt around my waist, fastening the plastic fastener in front.  Not in back like the nerdy guys do in the handyman magazines or I suspect they do on ‘This Old House’; no offense to TOH, I’m really a huge fan.  It’s just this is how I’ve always worn it.  What is missing though is any semblance of a carpenter’s pencil.  Rather I’m stuck with random ballpoint pen from my car. 

Amateur hour.

But not really.  Because today I got to do something I haven’t done in a long time.  And not to say I’m an expert at this, or anything for that matter, but for one day I got to do something I wasn’t too half bad at doing back in the day. 

Today the plan was to tackle some odds and ends.  In the end we ultimately framed out the fireplace.  The actual fireplace will go in next Friday so we needed to frame it out.  Part will stick into the screen porch.  The rest into the Family Room.

After setting out the tools, extension cords and air hoses I manned my station.  Two plastic saw horses that had seen better days but were secure and proud none the less.  I loaded them up with 2×4’s and 2×6’s.  For the next several hours my brother and I designed, schemed, cut and nailed until we had the framework that would eventually house our fireplace.  I pulled the tree hugger card and made sure we had 8″ of rigid below the fireplace box and I even used the 2×4’s from the window packaging for the plates and platform joists.  My cuts were the straightest but hey, it’s been a while.  Afterwards we set the first door of the house, the one going to the screen porch.  Meanwhile the roofers continued their march west.  The HVAC techs, electricians and plumbers all made significant progress as well.

And over in the Family Room was a 38-year-old guy transporting himself back in time.  See, in high school and college my brothers took pity on my and let me work for them rough framing houses.  I wasn’t the most adept at walking roofs or walls so that basically meant moving lumber.  Eventually though I could man the saw; measuring, cutting handing up boards and sheets of plywood to the guys above, below or around so they could be nailed up.  Sure I’ve nailed my fair share of boards so it’s not like I was one-dimensional, but the romance is being one thing or another, not necessarily a jack of all trades. 

For all intents and purposes. I was a self-proclaimed “cut man”.

So for one day I got out of the office and I got to man the saw again, alongside my brother.  He laughed because he said it takes a pretty special project (or a fair amount of money?) for him to come out of retirement, away from his cabinet shop, and fire up the  framing gun.  I’m pretty sure if I wanted to I could close my eyes or squint hard enough to transport myself back eighteen years today and not have been able to tell the difference.  It was only for a handful of hours, but part of me had dreamt of it for a long time.  And part of me knows that, aside from maybe one or two more days at the house, it’s a dream turned memory that will most likely never be repeated as long as I on this side of the horizon.  The funny thing about time is it glosses over everything so much that the only things that shine through are the good parts, generally speaking.  Framing was a nasty job at times and working to death in a corporate America cube is a lot better in most if not all regards.  I’m not being mellow dramatic either.  I have absolutely no desire to go back to that way of life or to even do much more manual work on my own house for that matter.  But inside of me, somewhere, there’s a part that looks fondly upon the best parts of that old job.

To visit, possibly for the last time, that time and place while working on my own house is pretty special.

So as I reflect upon the existence that is my life at the, god willing, halfway point I’m ashamed that most of it is made up of selfish acts and actions.  Maybe in a way this house can somehow be one selfless acts I somehow help leave behind.  The reality is though I’m going to enjoy it as much if not more than anyone else so there’s not much selflessness about it.  And the reality is I’m but one of dozens of people making this house a reality.  At times a bit player at best I am. I like to think though on the off chance one of my sons wants to hang on to it or sell it they’ll either get a house that will have low overhead and was ahead of its time or they’ll make a pretty penny off it.  When you’re me, this is as good as it gets.

I can always hope and dream though.

When my boys look back upon it, upon that house, somewhere back there in the shadows where memories and dreams dance, what they’ll see is their old man got to be a cut man one last time.  And he loved every second of it.

Pics for your enjoyment:








Not So Heavy Metal

I don’t know what’s going on or who we pissed off but virtually nothing is happening at the house. In all fairness I’ve only mustered enough energy and time to wrap and finish off four more windows.  Beyond that not much is happening.  The blue rigid insulation continues to be put on, along with the firring strips for the siding.  Most of the dormers are done and the west gable is complete.  The porch roof also now has underlayment.  Our roofer recommended, and installed, ice guard over the entire roof due to the shallow 2.5/12 pitch of the roof.  The screen porch roof is a lot easier to walk on than the 12/12 pitch of the main house.  Almost like walking on the ground.  All this work is in preparation for the other roofer who will install the metal roof.

recycled blue Dow 4″ rigid insulation on exterior of house, with firring strips on top for siding and sealing of joints.

Which leads us to today.  They started installing the standing seam metal roof today!  Rejoice!

Standing seam metal roof on garage.

In case you were dying with anticipation, we went with Sheffield’s COOLR Energy Efficient Metal Roofing Material in a Pre-Weathered Galvalume color.  Thickness is 24 gauge (as opposed to a typical 26 gauge material.)  This metallic color is a Kynar 500 finish and looks like a charcoal grey in regular light.  Today it looked light grey due to the overcast rainy skies.  This color, like most COOLR colors is EnergyStar and LEED 2009 compliant.  It has an ISR (initial solar reflectance) of 0.30 and an EMI (emissivity) of 0.79, and finally an SRI (solar reflectance index) of 27.  These numbers are fairly respectable and should help keep the house cool in the summer.  The durable metal finish will outlast me, even if I stopped drinking and started exercising.  We’ll never have to replace our roof unless, god forbid, we get hit by a massive hail storm or tornado.  Only worry might be a scratch or rust but the Kynar finish is pretty durable.  I’m not worried.

The finish will be good to for collecting rain water as our primary water supply.  I did some research and decided that a metal roof was the best finish for collecting rain water for my family.  You can use pretty much anything other than cedar shakes.  The cedar will leach stuff into the water that’ll make you sick.  Asphalt shingles don’t sound like an appealing surface to drink from so that, in conjunction with having to replace them every 10-20 years, nixed that option.  Copper, Aluminum, and slate all would have been viable options as well I suppose.  Plastic roofing was a possible option too.


















Additionally I stopped out early this morning to post up notes for the AWOL electricians and noticed our excavator (the guy) out working in the dark, the lights on the excavator (the big yellow machine) illuminating the back yard.  Today was a double-header of success in that in addition to the roof, the septic tank was installed.  Not sure if it was inspected but at some point they’ll truck in 1,800 gallons of water to test the system and get the inspector to sign off on it.  The septic system won’t actually be hooked up to the house until virtually when we move in to assure it stays “clean” and free of debris that might compromise the system.  We’ll also get a list of stuff we shouldn’t throw down the drain.  If we throw bacteria killing agents or chemicals down the drain it will negate the bacteria in the system rendering the system useless.  I think we should be fine, but will be interesting to see the list.

I of course was so engrossed by our new roof, I forgot to take pictures of the septic tank for you to enjoy today.  If it’s still uncovered tomorrow I’ll take  a pic.  It’s actually pretty cool looking.  I think it’s plastic and it’s finished in a racy green color.  The location is half way between the house and septic field.  Waste will be pumped up from the house to the tank, then up to the field.  The actual location may wreak havoc with our landscape plan but at this point I don’t even care anymore. Just get it in there and we’ll deal with the impact to the master plan later.  As noted early on, the house is shifted about 20-60 feet west so our landscape plan would need adjustment anyway.

Goodbye sewer bills! (of course we’ll have septic maintenance bills, but I suspect those will be less or at the very least fairly constant……we’ll see.)

Hopefully someone starts working again on the HVAC and electric.  We also have some framing to finish too before insulation can start going in.  Exterior doors were slated to show up today too, but didn’t.

But I can’t complain too much because I’m just as guilty.  We have a laundry list of things to design and detail and select.  I thought at some point it’d be easy or more enjoyable.  Enjoyable at times, easy never.  There’s also some labor I can do out at the site as well so maybe a few days off work are in order.

Stay tuned.



Here I’m putting on a strip of 4″ Vycor Plus over the head and jamb nailing flanges on the windows. Another option would have been to install the windows when framing the wall and encase the flange, buck and onto the wall with 12″ rolls of Vycor. 12″ would be a special order. The 4″, 6″ and 9″ we’re using are readily available at Lowes.

















Window Day

Wow, very busy day on the blog today.  My highest number of vistors to date.  Where’s the party?

It was a fairly busy day at the job site as well today.  Most of the windows are in.  Of course my notes were disregarded and feable attempts were made to crimp the gas tubes coming out of the windows, but even that couldn’t keep me down too long today.  We rushed out there with the boys in tow to catch a glimplse of the house before sunset.


My diagram of how to crip the expansion tubes on our gas filled windows. I of course did a stellar job. When I'm not around I'm pretty sure they do this shit on purpose just to see if I'll have an anyurism

We chose to install Serious high performance windows.  To be hard-core we would’ve bought German windows but we’re not hard-core.  We’re medium core.  Serious windows are made here in the good old USA.  They’re not a household name unless you’re building a seriously efficient house like we are.  To keep our budget in check we went with their middle of the road 525 series windows.  They’re decent looking windows although not aesthetic standouts by any means.  They’ll do the job.  We chose primarily casement windows as casements will net better performance than double hung.  Many of our windows are fixed which are even better.  Only problems we’ve run into revolve around our ability to order properly and issues with the expansion balloons.  No one told me about the balloons so we waited longer than the 5 days to crimp the tubes and cut off the balloons.  We were told this shouldn’t be a problem.  What is a problem is one balloon got sliced by a worker and was in the upside down position so for all intents and purposes I have to assume all the argon gas escaped.  We’ll get a Serious tech out to fix that window.  Additionally we had one window miss sized by the architect and two miss sized by the manufacturer.  I contributed by miss ordering 4 windows that needed to be tempered and they weren’t.  Finally today I noticed I forgot to order one of the garage windows.  So a bad start but at least they’re going in.

525 window performance chart

Our windows are white inside and out.  This should match the decor nicely.  Here are some more pics from today. 

note double fir strips for board and batten siding. studio window are individuals with framing between. Will be tough to insulate between.


Porch roof went on today too!


I showed you the rendering yesterday. Today a foyer wall.


framing for transom over doorway


kitchen area with i-beams above


this is the best thing I designed so far in the last six months. pipe cleaners as "hoses" on a Lego semi truck. Made one blonde kid really really happy. At least I have one fan.


It’s Autumn in Ohio.  Which means it doesn’t stay light out much past 6pm and is pitch black at 6am.  Generally these are the two times I am out at the house.  Rain clouds don’t help the situation. 

What this means for you is that you don’t get to see any new pictures. 

Yesterday we had the framers back on site.  I trudged through the rain and mud and left a punch list tacked to the foyer wall early in the morning.  I then had to bolt to work and then onto a design crit at the Institute of Art.  The Rabbit likes the whole house building thing I suspect.  I filled his tires with air the other day to give him a fighting chance when I go barreling down into and up out of the valley that our new home will be located.  The right rear was down to 10 psi, so maybe he picked up a nail.  I have to keep a close watch ’cause he’s not one to complain.  It’s a miracle we’re both not dead yet.  I’m pretty sure if we did wrap each other around a tree on some inky black rainy morning I wouldn’t die.  Who would they call to say something’s wrong with the house if I wasn’t around?

I was a little concerned regarding the window installation.  I left various notes not to molest the mylar balloons, lest all the gas escape out of them for lack of a thoughtful touch.  Wasn’t too long until a series of phone calls to the site ensued to explain what to and not to do regarding everything from the windows to the porch construction.  The dim morning light revealed nothing except more rain being pushed across the windshield.  By time we got to the third phone call of my claustrophobic, cross town commute the Rabbit’s front tires were slipping enough to remind me he was there.

“They’re going to mess it all up, we need to go back.”

“We don’t need to go back Rabbit.  We need to go to work.  Have a little faith.”

[Yes, I mentally talk to my car.   Contact my therapist and take a number if that alarms you.]

Turns out man does not live by faith alone.  I’m pretty sure they screwed up my windows.  Not so much that all the gas is gone in two of the largest windows in the house.  Rather they cut the balloons and it doesn’t look like the tubing is crimped so I have my suspicions.  Luckily the gas, which makes the window cost more and perform better than cookie cutter windows, is colorless and odorless.  So there is no discernible way to tell if it’s inside the window or not.  Now technically I don’t know if it’s in there or not from the factory but lets assume the window company filled them with gas.  I now have doubt in my mind regarding the presence, or lack there of, of gas, that will drive me certifiably insane at some point in the next 1-30 years that I’m alive and live in the house.  That’s apparently where faith gets me. 

I’m working out a deal to get a window tech out to assess the situation. Afterall I already know at least one window needs to be refilled because someone cut the balloon outright during unpacking.

Meanwhile the blue rigid insulation is going on nicely.  On top of that are firring strips for the siding.  For the board and batten siding we have horizontal firring strips and vertical strips covering the seams of the rigid insulation.  For the lap siding we just need vertical strips.

The roof is scheduled to start being installed next Monday assuming the weather is nice.  Electrical, plumbing and HVAC rough’s should be done in the next week.  For a water tank we found out today we’ll be going with an 80 gallon electric tank.  I may switch to 50 gallon to minimize the amount of water we have to heat and idle.  We had to switch from the gas-fired tankless water heater because we’ll be using a hybrid gas and geothermal heating system.  The geo system will pre-heat the water, therefore an old-fashioned water tank will be just as efficient as the tankless, or so I’m told.  I’ll wrap the tank in insulation to retain heat and keep our utility costs down.

For future power supply options or expansion I checked with a local solar power company.  All we need to do is leave one 15-20 amp breaker slot open in the garage panel and run a conduit from the garage attic to the electrical panel.  The garage really is the best spot for photovoltaics.  We don’t want to mar the aesthetic of the main house with PV cells.  In theory I can power two cars with a closed system in the garage and never pay for gas again (except for the Jeep).

The porches are being framed in this week in anticipation of the roofer starting.  They also built the office platform for my studio.  My punch list for the framers includes the items that will be needed for the insulation as well such as firring down the roof to get 16″ of blown cellulose insulation in the roof.  I’m trying to get them to use the left over 2×4’s from the window packaging to save me some money and trees.

Today’s only eye candy is the front hall pic.  We landed on a design.  I’ll talk more about it when we do the walk through.

I’ll jump onto the stair case designs next.  We’re way behind on a few of the design items.  We actually need to select flooring now too so we can match the stair treads to the flooring.  My carpenter (aka my brother) isn’t talking to me right now ’cause I got short with him regarding the windows and my lost gas.  I have faith at some point he’ll start talking again; after all he’s not going to want to keep walking around my kitchen cabinets in his shop, right?

Now I haven’t been going to church too often with everything that’s going on, but I suspect the big guy will let it slide for now. Which gets me thinking. There’s a lot of faith involved when one takes on this kind of project. Faith that it’ll turn out half way decent.  Faith that we’ll all be talking to each other when it’s done. Faith that my kids will forgive their old man for spending their college fund on the wild goose chase that is this environmentally friendly house.  Faith that I’ll still be married and / or alive at the end of this god awful process. (just kidding honey, I love you, please pick out flooring for me already.)

Faith that when this ridiculous carousel that is my life spins around to the other side there will be a brass ring there waiting for me.

Faith that I’ll be able to grab it.

Waffle Forthwith

The good news is I’m running out of things to design and decide on as we pass the halfway point of the project.  The bad news is my ability to waffle is at its peak presumably.  The only thing that keeps me from vacillating from one choice to another is my uncanny ability to procrastinate.

This week everyone important is procrastinating too.  We’re pissing away a nice string of warm sunny days.  The roofers and rough framers keep pushing back.  apparently we’re at the bottom of the priority list.  By time we reach the top the rain pushes us back and the cycle goes full circle.  Meantime we are making some progress sealing up the house.  I spent Sunday cleaning up the housewrap envelope.  I installed sections of Raindrop where they were missing and sealed everything up with Lowes housewrap tape.  I’m taping all the seams and around the windows where the wrap meets the Vycor membrane flashing. I decided the little seam about 30+ feet  up on the studio gable should be fine sans tape.  Amazing how ones knees knock when you’re alone on a forty-foot ladder way up there. I even notched around the rafter tails with the house wrap.  This step will come in handy should I ever need to be institutionalized down the road.  I also wrapped membrane flashing over the nailing fins of the windows along the head and jambs.  The sill will remain open to let any accumulated water escape.  Our line of defense will be just behind the bottom of the window where it meets the window buck.  We’ll caulk at that point and separate inside from out.  The mylar balloons are off of most of the windows as well.  I crimped the breathing tubes in two places before cutting them with wire cutters.  The cutters did a good job crimping the tubes as well; I dipped the ends of each tube in silicon just to be safe.  In theory this should keep the gas inside the windows.

I’ve waffled quite a bit on our defenses against water and air, much to the chagrin of Tony who’s been doing most of the work.  He smiles and laughs at me a lot, so he’s happy….right?  All in all though I think we’ll be fine.  We followed the spirit, if not the law of our REMOTE wall system gameplan.  Somewhere in Alaska a home builder reads agog sipping his whiskey and cocoa; I’ve defiled his pet house building process in a way that is not okay.  My apologies to a gentleman I’ll never meet. (If you haven’t figured out by now, I stole our game plan from an article Joe the architect gave me from some builder in Alaska.  Ohio is like Alaska except I swear we get more snow and it’s significantly more depressing here in February.  At least we can stockpile Christmas Ale here to sustain us during the bleak winter.)

The plumber should be roughed in this week and the electricians are going to town.  I’m trying my best to avoid a lot of re-wiring as I oscillate all over the map in terms of where lights should go.  Generally we should be okay.  I scratched together a plan for my studio and we’ve identified many of our light fixtures.  Christine’s in charge of lighting fixtures from here on out.

The world is patiently waiting for me to design the staircase and front hall closet area.  As soon as I think I have something I like I change my mind.  I thought we had the stairs figured out but there are some nagging details that are getting in the way.  Functionally we know what we want the front hall area to be / do.  Just need to figure out a way to design it so it’s not a mess.  Here’s my latest rendering, kinda but not really what the final will look like:






In the family room I’m still trying to make room for about six light switches next to the porch door.  We’ll have a hutch next to the door between the fireplace and door.  The measurement I’m coming up with don’t leave much room.  There are several other challenging light switch spots throughout the house too. 

We’re starting to run into minor challenges with getting the kitchen cabinets to match the wood grain and color of the dining room table.  For now the dark color of the table is driving the color scheme of any built-in pieces that mimic furniture.  Light wood will carry the day in terms of flooring, steps and window sills. 

All subject to change of course.


Slow But Sure

We’re slowly wrapping up the rough framing and getting ready for insulation.  I met with our EnergyStar rater and insulation contractor this week to do a walk through of the house.  It’s best to know what we need to do before the insulation and drywall start going on.  On the exterior the windows are being installed and the rigid insulation is going up.

There is some concern regarding the HVAC ducts being on exterior walls.  These days most if not all the ductwork should be on interior walls to insulation them from the exterior.  Otherwise it’s difficult to get enough insulation in those wall bays.  At least I’ll have 4″ of rigid insulation on the exterior to mitigate the issue as best we can.  Flexible ducts have been installed in many of the kneewall attic areas of our Cape Cod style home.  This means that in reality we will have to treat all these areas as conditioned space.  This will mean insulating the roof and exterior walls just like the main house, but also using some paper material to prevent air movement.  The paper material will act like drywall in terms of controlling air flow, but will be less expensive to install.  Another concern with the flexible ducts is they were installed with too many tight turns or corners.  Flexible ducts need to have gentle radius turns to keep air and debris from piling up in the corners.

A bit more on insulation.  We’ll be using blown in cellulose insulation made from recycled newspaper.  Fairly green although it is treated to be fireproof.  For air tightness we’ll be caulking the drywall seams so that should minimize any perceived ill effects of the fireproof insulation.  As far as I know it’s a safe product.  Part of the insulation job will include extensive caulking and sealing of the entire house, including around light fixtures, outlets and any wall or floor penetrations.  One place to pay attention to is between the OSB sheets.  Technically the framers should space the sheets 1/8″ apart for expansion.  They usually don’t but regardless, any visible gaps in the OSB should be sealed with spray foam from the inside.  On our house there are a couple of areas where you can see daylight shining through the green Raindrop housewrap, between the OSB wall sheathing.

We’ll be having a blower test and filling out three sets of survey forms to establish our home’s HERS rating and ultimately our EnergyStar qualification.  It’s critical that the house essentially be air tight.  I Googled it and it looks like Ohio has about 1,300 EnergyStar homes so we’ll be in the vast minority.  Hopefully in a few years this will be the norm.

On the exterior we continue to pick away at sealing everything and installing the blue rigid insulation.  Windows are starting to go in.  We seat the aluminum nailing flanges of each window in a bead of silicone sealant / caulk and level / nail the windows in place.  Over the top of the flanges, just like our REMOTE wall article says to do, we cover with Grace Vycor Plus membrane flashing.  The insulation contractor will seal everything up from the inside with spray foam and caulk where necessary.

The windows show up with a breather tube and mylar expansion bag.  Serious windows do this because all the windows are gas-filled. Without the tubes the windows would explode when they’re driven over the Rocky Mountains.  Without the mylar balloon the gas would escape.  One of the balloons did get cut so I suspect we’ll have to have a tech come out and refill that window.  On all the other windows, I’ve been crimping the tube in two places and will cut off the mylar balloon.  I then hit the end of the tube with silicone caulk and then tuck it into the window frame.  The gas should stay in the windows for 100 years.  Definitely not my problem then.

On the exterior we’re installing aluminum termite shield to protect the bottom of the rigid from ant / bug infestation.  We simply bought some white aluminum sheet metal and bent it up to form an “L” with a little lip for water run off.  The termite shield gets tacked up behind the housewrap at the bottom of the exterior walls.  It overlaps the foundation by about 2-3 inches.  Resting on top of the termite shield and housewrap are our 2×8 foot  x 4 inch thick sheets of Dow blue rigid insulation.  The rigid is installed by tacking the panel with a couple of screws.  We then come back through and put 1×3 firring strips over the vertical seams.  The horizontal seams get a one foot strip of Raindrop; it’s zig zagged with 4″ stapled above the panel against the existing housewrap, then 4″ runs across the top of the insulation panel, and finally the last 4″ flaps down over the top of the panel.  If our panels weren’t so dirty we’d just tape all the seams.  The firring strips will help give us a decent seal as will the housewrap strips.  We use 8″ screws to secure the firring strips to the wall (passing through the rigid insulation).  Try to hit studs with every screw.  Otherwise the screw will act as a conduit for cold or heat.  We missed a ton and technically should back out the screws and try again, but it’s painfully slow already so we’ll snip the exposes screws and I’ll kit them with some foam insulation.  Should be alright, even for Ohio.

One interesting thing I came up with this week, the loft window is showing up late but we need to get the blue board in place ahead of time.  Once the blueboard is in I won’t be able to get the membrane flashing in place.  So I took strips of it and left the backer paper on and stuck the rest to the window buck perimeter.  After the window is in they can remove the paper and stick it over the flanges.

Here are some new pics from the last few days.














blue foam with housewrap horizontal "z" at joint


detail of housewrap "z" at horizontal joints of rigid insulation.


column pads for porches are finally poured. sono tubes shifted so much, threaded bolts are barely in pad. Bad workers, bad.


to remove just the backer paper from half a strip of Vycor membrane flashing, I use a common nail.


I remove half the backer paper so I can stick the strip around window buck. Once back ordered window is in I can stick the rest. In the meantime I don't hold up blue foam installation.


termite shield


window breather tube and balloon


Life is Good

Life is good.

Not in the sense that you’d put that statement on a tee-shirt featuring a stick figure driving a jeep with a cigar in hand.

No.  Life is good in the sense that my existence is a daily, ultimately futile, game versus life.  Life is a tough competitor. Just when I think I’ve got the upper hand, life laughs at me and a) let’s me know who’s really in charge, b) changes the rules, or c) bats me around like a mother cheetah teaching her cubs how to hunt or d) all of the above.

My apologies for being absent for so many days.  I’ve been busy battling life.  Not to be confused with battling for my life, which is obviously serious business not to be taken lightly.  My thoughts and prayers to all of you who are, or know some one who is doing the latter. This entry is not meant to over emphasize the petty stuff or belittle the real tragedies of life. No, I see it this way: each day handed to us, by the grace of god, is a battle with the mind numbing nuances that Life (capital “L”?) throws at us in hopes of beating you down. 

We’re way behind schedule.  Northeast Ohio is witnessing its rainiest year on record I suspect, all because we decided to build a house.  If you live in Texas, for the small sum of $1.375 million dollars, plus moving expenses, I will move to your state and plan on building my dream house there.  Find me a plot of land with some sort of geological feature that causes water to pile up in the basement like the boiler room of the Titanic.  As soon as I start building, I guarantee any and all droughts  will vanish immediately. 

For all intents and purposes, it’s rained every day since we started building.

There’s so much rain, I have frogs living in my sump pump reservoir.

By Halloween the locusts should be showing up or the Cuyahoga River will turn to blood.  Vegas puts the odds of either option at 2:1.

The rain pushed our roofers back three weeks.  Our cement guy was pushed back two weeks.  The framers can’t finish ’til the cement is in.  The rigid insulation is freakishly laborious and time-consuming.  There are whole seasons of ‘Lost’ that are easier to understand than the procedures required to make the house air tight.  It’d be one thing if little kids rode by on their bicycles and said “Wow, you’re an idiot.”; I’ve got grown men, who are trained professionals, saying “Wow, you’re an idiot.”

In an attempt to do something productive, last Saturday the wife and I attempted to chip up the brush that was cleared to make room for the house. The chips would be nutrient giving mulch for our veggies and landscaping next year.  Life decided to make that a 40 degree (F) day and turn the air into a fine water mist.  We had mud up past our ankles. After an hours worth of dropping the kids off, driving around and setting up the rented chipper we were ready to go.  I chipped for precisely 17 minutes before life decided to screw with me.  It was a 6″ chipper that I jammed up with a 4″ log.  After about 15 minutes of messing around we dislodged the log.  Ha, take that life.  I promptly managed to get a 1″ diameter branch through the chipper’s fly-wheel.  Scratch head.  How the?  Life wins.  Take chipper back, lighten wallet by $120 and leave pile of wood for spring.    You could put the amount of mulch I created in a thimble.

Chipper rental guy: “You did what?”

Me: “I got a branch this big [holding thumb and index finger in an “O” about one inch in diameter] stuck in the fly-wheel”

Chipper rental guy: “I didn’t know that was even possible?”

Me: [handing over Visa card] “Life is good.”

Life just piles on and piles on the challenges.  Mother nature, work, family, disgruntled kids, my mental deficiancies….on and on.  I fight back with reckless driving, my Visa and checkbook, cursing, alienating people, drinking, feeble attempts at working, contrived design solutions.  Back and forth.  Back and forth the battle rages.

The game of life isn’t about winning, it’s about surviving.  Building a house, or at least this house, puts me right on the front lines. Every morning one eyelid opens up.  I have a decision to make.  Life is out there, wherever life hangs out.  Life has it’s fuzzy slippers on, drinking coffee with CNN, Fox or MSNBC (maybe all three for all I know) on in the background.  Life is like, “Ugh.  You again.”  I lie there slowly willing my systems to boot up.  It’s a god awful 15 minute process whereby I weigh the consequences of lying in bed for the rest of the day.  I can’t.  Someone’s bound to find me.  Life will find me. 

And if I interrupt Life’s coffee, Life’s gonna be pissed.

So I drag myself out of bed. On one hand, ready to take a beating.  On the other hand, figuring out which tools might give me a fighting chance that day.  I make a mental list of everything I know for certain Life will throw at me that day.  As I jab a contact in my eye, it’s rather apparent Life’s already winning cause my bed’s over there and I’m over here.

As I fumble in the closet I drop apathy, sarcasm and general disdain into my tool box for the day.  Life shakes its head thinking “how original“. I make a mental list of the unexpected things Life might throw at me that day.  I check my iPhone for the weather.  Rain.  I shake my head thinking “how original” to myself.

Back and forth it goes, all day long.  I post up a lighting plan here, pay a bill there.  A contractor doesn’t show up here, a thermal melt down of some sort there.  Life fights me every step of the way.  Sure, Life lets up here and there.  Brother designs staircase on the fly in fifteen minutes.  ProjectCam is still working. My kid does something cute.  Wife hasn’t changed the locks. Then Life cracks down again.  Hey, you’ve defied physics by jamming a branch through a steel flywheel:  Go back two spaces.

My advice, you need to bring you’re “A” game when you face Life.  Life is pretty much in control.  You have to do your best to stay one step ahead of life.  Between you and me, you may want to think about bending the rules every once in a while too.  Can’t hurt.  When in Rome…..

Tomorrow I’m taking time off work to work on the house.  It’s supposed to be sunny all day.  I shudder to think what that means for in terms of what Life will throw at me.

Life is good.