Unofficial First Meal

The weather was nice yesterday and today.  A fair amount is getting done on the house.  They started back filling the cistern pipes as well as make additional underground connections.  The siding is going on slowly but surely as well. And I am caulking some more areas inside the house to make it air tight.

One thing we encounter in these parts of the woods is that the trades will take days off to go deer hunting this time of year so we lose out on a few days here and there.  I wish I could be out in the woods; maybe once this project is over I’ll have time to get back into hunting again.

I’ve spent the last two days giving tours to neighbors and friends as well as caulking all of the electrical penetrations in the drywall.  Bob came out and did a preliminary blower test Saturday morning too.

Saturday was extra special because Christine and the boys brought me out McDonald’s for lunch.  We had our first unofficial meal at the new house.  Much fun.  We made a makeshift dining table in the kitchen and ate our chicken sandwiches together.  Followed up with play time in the warm sun on the front porch.  Finally Christine and our oldest son helped pick up debris and throw it in the dumpster. 

For caulking I used a low-cost latex white caulk from Lowes.  I sealed around every electrical box, inside and outside walls.  I also caulked all the ceiling lights.  Caulking the inside wall outlets is probably not necessary but it is an added level of defense.  Ultimately all the air in and out of the house will be controlled.  We won’t let any air run around willy nilly in our house. No sir.  For electrical wires and the flashing around the fireplace flue I used a red fire rated caulk.  The drywall in the attic that was accessible from behind was caulked by our insulation contractor.  Speaking of access panels, later on in the project I’ll put weather-stripping around the panels to assure air isn’t passing through them either.  On a normal house they just lay a piece of drywall over the openings.  This allows air to flow from conditioned to unconditioned spaces.  In our house we’ll want to prevent that from happening so it will require special tactics.

As I said, Bob brought his blower testing equipment out to get a preliminary reading.  We’re shooting for EnergyStar 2.5 rating on the house.  It should perform beyond EnergyStar 3.0 but the only reason we’re not doing that yet is because 3.0 isn’t out yet.  He set up the blower (essentially a large fan in a sealed door opening) on the front door and put tape over the obvious openings in the house: door knob locations, basement window side cracks, dryer vent hole, etc.  The fan was then turned on and the equivalent of a 20 mph wind was hitting our house from the inside out.  The fan sucks all the air out of the house through the front door.  The air then needs to be replaced so it flows in from the outside through all the air penetrations in the house.  As we walked around we could feel air coming in around the door frames, attic access panels, un-caulked outlet boxes and even a light box that was already “caulked” by the drywall crew.  This then gave me an idea of what areas need additional attention.  I also got to see first hand why it’s critical to caulk between framing memebers throughout the house.  I could feel air coming though seemingly tight, nailed 2×4’s around the basement window.  Crazy.

The preliminary blower test also allowed us to see where we’re at on our performance numbers.  The numbers can be used to “right size” our HVAC system.  The system will be sized for worst case scenario, but even so it may be smaller than what a builder would put in a similarly sized cookie cutter house.  Full disclosure, I’m not an expert in what all the numbers mean, so consult your local home energy consultant.  And I don’t know if our numbers are good bad or indifferent, but they look good to me. These numbers you see here are from the estimate; which was verified by the blower test that we’re on track. Our calculated peak load and required capacity for heating is coming in at 31.1 (kBtu/hr).  For reference our EDGE60 pellet fireplace will output 52.5 (kBtu/hr).  I’m not sure if this means the house could technically just be heated by the fireplace. The specification for our a typical house our size is 84.0 (kBtu/hr). On the cooling end of the ledger our required total peak load and capacity are 17.6 (kBtu/hr).  With these numbers we should be able to get the HVAC system designed and set up to work well with our house while saving us money.

As far as whole house air infiltration goes the numbers are more difficult for me to understand but they are coming in as expected.  If you’re into this sort of thing here’s where we’re at so far.  Keep in mind once the house is complete the numbers should improve. ACH=air changes per hour (I’m pretty sure that’s what it means).  For heating we’re at 0.23 natural ACH, cooling is 0.18.  Don’t ask me why they’re different.  Go ask your pop.  ACH at 50 Pascals is 3.00 (still no idea what this means but Bob said it was as expected).  CFM at 50 Pascals is estimated at 2050, and we came in around 2000.

For what it’s worth annual heating cost is projected to be $439 and cooling to be $116.  Water heating should be around $183 and lights and appliances (which I’m assuming is way off) is at $1488, so we’ll re-look at that last number.  We’ll firm up these numbers once all the mechanicals are in and obviously for sure once we move in.  Stay tuned.

Pics from the last couple days:

Our first unofficial meal in the new house. Look at all the sunlight we get in the fall through the south-facing windows.


Overkill, I caulked every outlet and light fixture in the joint. This will assure air flow is controlled from room to room, cavity to cavity. I used a simple white caulk and squished it around with my finger as best I could. No one will be hiring me to caulk their house any time soon. I'm very messy. Red fire rated caulk should go where the wires come through the top of the box.


Future architect in the making, enjoying time on the sunny front porch.


Good picture showing how thick the finished walls are. We've got 2x6 framing with 4" rigid on the outside and firring strips for the siding. Note the doors are mounted inboard whereas the windows were mounted outboard.


Board and batten siding on north wing of house.

 Happy Thanksgiving!
Obligatory greeting because today is the fourth Thursday of November and I live in the USA.  So, full disclosure, I am not a huge Thanksgiving fan.  From a culinary standpoint the holiday, manifested primarily through the Thanksgiving meal, is less than desirable in my eye.  Too many brown items on my plate.  This is regardless of who prepares the meal.  Chef Ramsay could prepare dinner next year in our over priced kitchen and it probably wouldn’t be my favorite (bonus points to you for realizing I picked a Brit as my chef example, irony or poor pop references are my middle name). In my case, this year was better than most as we kicked back at my brother’s place and partook in the deep-fried turkey he made for the family.  But generally speaking, brown food doesn’t cut it for me.  Other pain points of the day include liberals protesting revisionist history and the fact that I’m usually hung over on Thursday (and Friday) morning.  And no, I will not be in front of Best Buy in my tent tonight waiting for Black Friday sales.
Sure the food gets all the press, but for me the point of Thanksgiving is to take a day amongst the other 364 each year and give thanks, and hopefully hang with folks that I haven’t seen in a while.  And to think warm thoughts about those I can’t hang out with today (many of whom are in states warmer than Ohio incidentally).  I try not to limit my thanks to one day but if one has to binge on something today I say “thank you’s” are just as good to binge on as food or booze.  (Full disclosure, despite my luke warm admiration for Thanksgiving dinner, I did go up for seconds, and I burnt through my fair share of wine and beer today.) 
Before I get to the touchy, feely stuff, let’s talk house.  I had the opportunity to check out the job site on Wednesday before it got dark.  The yard looked a lot different as it was torn up and pipes are running every which way.  Our 10,000 gallon cistern is in and pretty much all of the water collection pipes are installed.  There were two sections of roof we’re not collecting from so those downspouts run on a separate line.  Everything outputs to one of the pools collecting on either side of the driveway.  It’s exciting to see all of the infrastructure going in.  When complete we will have the equivalent of a water collection and treatment plant on site; a small-scale version of what larger civilization centers use throughout the world.  Water is managed on site from the second it lands to the time it exits the property.  Every drop of water we use essentially is “rented” by us and the output back into the yard where it is purified again and sent packing back into the environment.  Pretty cool and completely self sustaining.  We’ll use nature as our model (google “Biomimicry” to learn more) to collect, process and dispose of water on site.  We’ll be creating natural habitats that will support a variety of native plants and animals. 

10,000 gallon cistern. Lid and two scrubbers will be visible above ground. We'll have to get creative with the landscaping so you can't see them very well when you come to visit.

Finally we are done with the blue rigid insulation foam on the outside of the house.  Four months later, from the day we unloaded the sooty 2×8 panels, big Tony finally installed the last panel.  I wasn’t too far off on my estimate.  We did have to buy and install 4×8 sheets of 2″ in the screen porch area.  We had a lot of scrap foam, but the cutoffs weren’t appropriate for the large wall section.  All in all I did a good job estimating square footage (yes, I’m patting myself on the back.) 
Siding is coming along faster now that they are on the ground.  The attic still needs its siding but for now they’re back on the ground.  We went with 12″ miratec boards for the “boards” and 4″ miratec ripped down to 2″ for the battens.  All the joints are sealed  with caulk to keep moisture out of the ends.  The trim boards throughout are miratec too.  I consider the miratec to be a synthetic wood based material.  It has a smooth side and faux wood grain side.  We went smoot side out for the trim.  It will paint up real nice and give us a clean modern look.

Septic tank is back filled. We'll be able to see the tops, but once again, some creative landscaping can obscure these items.

 Tomorrow Christine and I will work on caulking all of the electrical outlets and penetrations.  The following day will be our preliminary blower test. 
We’ll have the pleasure in the coming days of giving Corky, Barb and another friend tours  of the property.  Will be the first time they’ve seen it since Corky helped clear the house site and they blessed the land back in June / July.  Our other guest has an acute interest in practical sustainability and energy efficiency; so I’m sure he’ll be delighted to learn more about what we’re trying to achieve and how we’re achieving it.
 I love showing off the property and sharing all the great things we’re trying to accomplish, it’s a great learning opportunity, so no arm bending required on my part to show off the joint.

A PVC pipe network underground collects ALL the water off of the hard roof surfaces and manages the water in a controlled manner. About 85% of the water collected will be the house's sole water supply.

So that’s about it for the house today.  As expected everyone had the day off, though I think even Shane was out there working on the cistern lines this morning. We’ve been fortunate with many of the people pouring their time and effort into our project (yes, I get that I’m paying them, but c’mon it’s Thanksgiving and the dude was probably out there gluing pipe and slopping mud around; more than any of you will get out of me on any given holiday). 
Today is a good day for reflection; and even an insensitive jerk like me has been known to reflect on my life and world around me every once in a while (when not drinking or eating.)
 As I’ve said, Autumn is my favorite time of year.  Thanksgiving is a nice way station between the saturation of Halloween and the sentimental overload of Christmas. It’s a holiday second only to Christmas, I think, in terms of reflection and self reckoning.  Afterall I truly believe even the most jaded amongst us have something to be grateful for. And here’s a day focused on gratitude.  Much like the settlers around whom the holiday is founded, I guess Thanksgiving is a point of debarkation from where we’ve been and an opportunity to chart what lies ahead.  In contrast, it’s easy to feel optimistic while the Easter season lays waste to March and April and replaces them with daffodils and ham sandwiches.  You want to really

Detail of downspout routing for use as water supply or diversion to natural pools near driveway.

get to the nuts and bolts of your brief existence there’s no better time than whilst chipping frost from your windshield, raking dead leaves in the yard or digging through turkey left overs.

 I’m thankful for everything that makes up the thirty-eight orbits around the sun that I’ve had on this blue marble. This includes the good, the bad and the ugly.  The mosaic that is my life is not necessarily extraordinary; at least to the average person.  But what is extraordinary is that it is my mosaic. 
 I could never type an all-inclusive list of what I’m thankful for.  I’ve been extremely fortunate in my lifetime; more so than any one man deserves I suspect.  I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had. More so I’m thankful for the people I’ve had in my life.  Some I’ve known my whole life.  Others I’ve known for what seemed to be a blink of the eye.  Some I had the pleasure of spending this special day with; others that I could only spend time with in my heart today. Still others that will forever be available only in memories.  I’m thankful for those that brought me into, have nurtured me in and that I’ve brought into this world.  I’m thankful for what they’ve done, and not done, for me.

Blue foam is done!!!! The entire house is encased in 4″ rigid insulation. We ran out so we had to use 2″ new foam doubled up in the screen porch area.

 I’m thankful for them all.

Instead of saying “Happy Thanksgiving”, I should be saying “thanks” to everyone.  I’ll plan on trying that a lot more next year on Thanksgiving day; and the other 364.

Board and batten siding. Overhang of foam and siding onto foundation is a bit much. Will ruin the look we're going for on the foundation when we go to install stone. We'll fix it down the road though. Need to get siding done without delay.


Cool goggles I'm ordering from Restoration Hardware. What? I had a free $100 to spend. I will rock these come snow shovelling season.


Crown Jewel

View of installed loft window.

Today we installed the last window in the main house.  The largest window in the house punctuates the “crown” of the house, front and center in the attic / loft.  It’s approximately 5’x5′ and understandably it weighs a fair bit.  It took four of us, (myself, brothers and Tony) to install it.  I have to check but it showed up a few inches too wide and tall.  You’ll remember this is the window that was too tall to begin with so we had to re-order it.  Something about it, it just wants to be a really big window no matter how small we try to make it.  How can a window be an overachiever?  I don’t know but this one’s doing a pretty good job.  My brother and Tony carried it up through the staircase to where we prepped it in the second floor gallery.  They removed the handles and remounted them on the inside face.  I crimped and cut the air expansion balloon and capped it with silicone.  Tony and I then went up to the loft and my brothers handed us up the window.  If the window was an inch wider we wouldn’t have gotten it through the ladder opening in the floor.  Once topside my brothers stepped outside onto the sider’s scaffolding.  One interesting note, the wood blocks holding up the scaffolding are lagged into the gutter boards with bolts.  This provides enough support for the scaffolding ladders.  Anyway, my brother’s get the gold star for the day cause the scaffold platform is about 20′ in the air outside the window opening.  No worries, I think it’s 30′ before humans die from falling.  We caulked the window rough opening surround with silicone to give the window a tight seal once in place.  The rough opening was incredibly tight so Tony and I slowly fished out the window to the guys outside.  With a little pounding the window was then inserted into the opening and nails pounded through the aluminum nailing flanges.  The opening was leveled and because it was so tight we had to basically go with it “as is”; no shims or anything to fine tune.  It’s a non operating window so it should be okay.  I’m glad we’ve passed this hurdle. 

Nailing the loft window in place. Note how the window goes floor to ceiling. The glass is tempered to meed code and for safety purposes.

Now the house is basically sealed up except for a couple minor details.  Should be ready for our blower test any day now. The blower test will be used to assure everything is tight as well as the information will be used for our EnergyStar 2.5 rating paperwork.

It was nice to see the house in daylight since I miss it most of the week.  All the drywall is hung, including the garage.  The exterior blue foam is virtually done and the siding is coming along.

One of the things that happened this week before / during drywall installation was the fireplace was removed so that area could be properly insulated with caulk, insulation and fire resistant foil paper.  The folks over at the Fireplace Shoppe then had the unit back in the next day.  We’re definitely looking forward to firing the unit up once we move in.

What I call the "mill" view of the house showing the siding on the studios.

 Christine and I have been frantically spending our weekend selecting lighting and other assorted finishing items.  Due to budget constraints, we’re all over the map in terms of sourcing lighting.  A bulk of the lighting is recessed so we have minimal fixtures.  Many of the lighting fixtures (and ceiling fans) will come from Barn Light Electric in Florida.   Their selection is crazy cool and suits our taste and Joe’s artistic creation extremely well.  It’s an eclectic blend of industrial, rural and vintage lighting. Beyond that we picked up a couple of light fixtures at Home Depot as well as Restoration Hardware out of Columbus, Ohio. Some of the lights we ordered started arriving so it’s kinda cool to see the hardware in person.  We are also picking out the exterior door handles and locksets.  The house will be under lock and key very shortly. It’s crazy to think just a few months ago Corky and I were cutting down trees.  Now here we are this far along in the process.  Very cool, very exciting.

Breezeway between house and garage.

This coming week the cistern will go in.  The septic system has been tested and approved by the county / health department.  We’ll also be getting a temporary furnace to get the house up to temperature so the guys can finish drywalling (taping and mudding) the interior.
One interesting thing I noticed this morning is the house was very cold.  Which is remarkable  

Fireplace properly insulated. Foil paper is fire resistant just in case.

 because it was very warm outside.  Now that it’s virtually sealed up the house is isolated from the world around it thermally for all intents and purposes.  It was cold cause there’s no heat / furnace but regardless it will hold its internal temperature now. 
Take a look at the pics.  The project’s coming along nicely. 

Fancy hotel look wall sconces for the Master Bathroom courtesy of Restoration Hardware. I asserted myself and selected these much to the chagrin of the wife. Trust me I say, I'm a trained professional. She reminds me she is too.


Family room. Only about three months from beer, food and game night with friends or family.


Upstairs art gallery wall. Will all be covered in wood, secret doors, and artwork. Ceiling opening is for ladder to attic / loft. Windows up there will route hot air out of the house by way of cyclonic action from the basement all the way up. Think giant helical air flow up stair case, gallery and loft once the windows are opened up.


Downstairs gallery and temp staircase. Located near the studios for clients to traverse between Christine's and my studios.


Front hall. Real fake I-Beam above.


Drywall scaffolding. Eventually the upper wall will be frosted acrylic to get light into the craft room. At some point the attic / loft floor will be frosted glass as well to drive daylight into the gallery.


 The orchestration and tempo of our home construction ballet was devised not by the minds of a men but rather it is born from an amalgamation of planning, circumstance, irony, luck and a messed up sense of humor that permeates our universe.

On one hand certain tasks move along at a glacial pace.  This can be a blessing when you waffle as much as I do on seemingly everything.  It’s a curse when you’re dolling out money hourly or you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature.

Other tasks take barely the blink of an eye.  Great when you’re behind schedule and over budget.  Shakesperian-ly tragic when you’re not sure if they’ve just drywalled a small woodland creature in your walls. 

Insulation, drywall, siding and a few minor odds and ends were all planned for this week.  Siding should be complete in about 72 years from now, and even so, some detail mistakes are showing through.  Insulation went remarkably fast, almost too fast but manageable.  Fast that was until the drywallers showed up.  I sould’ve known something was up when 10 guys showed up just to deliver the drywall during our KSU tour.  These guys rolled in on two boomed straight rigs and descended on the house.  They were just delivering and they meant business; mildly disturbed the insulation guys weren’t out possibly.  I can tell you me my theory on insulation guys vs. drywall guys, but that can wait for another bed time story.  I wasn’t in the mood for stories so I high tailed it the hell out of there to leave the drywall guys to their own devices.  Left Tony to talk ’em off the ledge and the KSU students to fend for themselves.  The numbers were fairly close.   Last thing I needed is someone figuring out I was the owner and start asking me questions.

I stopped back after work to find the house filled with drywall.  The studio wall hole where they boomed in the second floor drywall was patched and the entire gable covered in rigid insulation.  I don’t know what the heck Tony did but it was buttoned up tight in an afternoon.  Blink.

Moving fast, but not too fast.  Needed insulation guys to wrap up and they did, drywall started the next day.

My late afternoon phone call turned into primitive panic upon learning that basically the entire house was drywalled in a day.  I’m sorry, other than the foundation, I’d become accustomed to “Glacier World” at the homestead in terms of work flow.  Need to pick out roofing?  How bout you do it as we’re standing on the roof.  Windows?  Tell you what, how ’bout we order one during framing, four after the others are delivered and for sh*ts and giggles we’ll forget to order one until all the others are installed.  Cool. 

Drywall up in a day?  I guess I don’t follow.  You’re saying you hope it’ll be up in a day? No.  No, you’re saying it’s all basically up already.  It takes me longer to mentally debate the nuances of Pumpkin Spice vs. Cinnamon Dolce Lattes at Starbucks than it took for them to drywall my house. 

I didn’t get to “bond” with the wiring, framing or insulation.  We were going to talk about our feelings… plans.  And “poof”, they’re all covered up, just like that.  In a way I feel violated.  Someone get my therapist on-line one.  See, drywall, other than framing is probably the biggest game changer perceptionally (I just made up that word right?) when it comes to building a house in my opinion.  It changes everything as where you could see (walk through for that matter) walls the day before, today you can’t.  It can really make a spacious house seem small.  And in some cases just the opposite. My mind races so I gather up my briefcase and hop in the Rabbit.

Did I take pictures of all the wiring?

Pics of the HVAC ducts so I don’t peg ’em when I go to hang art?

What about insulation to sound proof the 1/2 bath? (damn it, turn the fan on and hum Hall & Oates tunes if you’re going number two).

The Rabbit leaps as I exit the highway in anticipation of seeing the house in its latest state and my mind disintegrate 1/16th more.  Not since I was heading off the framers has the Rabbit been this excited.  It’s a miracle I don’t run us both into a rain-soaked guard rail out of spite.  I pull up the drive…..

…there are lights on inside for the first time ever.

I park and stumble towards the studio, greeted by a pile of white drywall scraps and three smiling drywallers.  Timidly stepping into my new studio I’m greeted by four more smiles and nods.  I scamper upstairs to get out-of-the-way of the men working below.

Upon returning downstairs I expect to see the international sign for “we just drywalled the sh*t out of your house today like it was a walk in the park” glinting in every eye I see.  Rather the twelve man crew is packing up the last of the days provisions, stepping through the inky blackness of the November night and into the white van that will take them home (presumably). The red glow of the tail lights all there is to betray the otherwise quiet dusty walking silhouettes.  These guys banged out a pretty incredible amount of work in short time.  I don’t know what their demeanor was when the did it but I would hope it was with some swagger and boastfulness worthy of the job done.  Maybe Cypress Hill playing on the radio. 

But I suspect it’s all in a day’s work for them.  They’re happy to do it and make it look easy. Just another house in a long line of houses.  For us it’s home though.  Less than 24 hours later the garage and all the loose ends are drywalled. 

I didn’t go to see the house today.  It gets to dark after work to see it anymore.  I’m now reluctantly relegated to living vicariously through field reports, night-time emails and phone calls.  I’ll see her, the house, on the weekend.  She changes a lot day-to-day now I suspect, with the drywall that I have yet to fully see and the siding going up. I had grown accustom to my daily visits.  Being so drawn to the house and land that I would think of excuses not to leave.  Yes, it will be special living there.  But it won’t be the same as those hot summer days and nights out there….before.

I shudder to think if I turn my head or blink an eye…..poof!  It’s done.  Then what?

Pics, enjoy!

Upstairs Gallery. Note we're leaving drywall off Gallery wall to accommodate hidden storage doors made of MDF or plywood.


Energy Star docs I have to fill out. Ugh, homework.


Just noticed this now, but not a big fan of roof intersecting studio window assembly. 4" trim compounds the problem visually. Going to correct this at some point with 1x8's and possibly shave roof back on each side.


nighttime studio drywall shot.

Progress Update


I ran out to the house this morning to surprisingly find a fair amount of progress.  Siding is starting to go on the main house.  Insulation is progressing inside and out.  The outside is done except for the screen porch.  Inside is done except blowing in some into the rafters.  All the rafters have a translucent fabric stapled to them.  The insulators poke holes in the fabric and spray into the holes, filling up the bays with cellulose.  Once the drywall is in they’ll fill the attic spaces with cellulose as well. 

In the knee wall areas I’ll put up some sort of paper material to create an air seal.  I can talk more about that in a later installment.

Drywall has been delivered.  We had to cut a hole in the wall to get it upstairs but the hole was quickly repaired and insulated.

you can see the holes in the fabric where insulation is injected into the rafter bays.


porch exterior insulation is done. We still have to clean up insulation job below floor boards including covering to avoid insect damage.


Very exciting, siding is starting to go on the main house. Here we can see the Western Red Cedar siding going on the studio wall.

Field Trip

Photo of KSU students and I during their tour. Of note, you can see the hole in the studio wall for the drywall to be offloaded into the house. It was sealed up later that day.

We had some very special guests stop out at the job site today.  We (I) welcomed Joe Ferut’s architecture class from Kent State University.  Joe is our architect and a professor at the school.  We had nine of his fourth year students visit.  It was fairly cold out there today but fortunately the season’s first snow fall gave way to partly sunny skies by ten o’clock. 

The insulation crew was hard at work when I showed up.  The second floor had been insulated the previous day and today the first floor was being wrapped up.  We’re using a spray cellulose insulation made from recycled newspapers.  This process creates a lot of dust and left over insulation bits, but everything is swept up back into the hopper and sprayed back onto the walls.  A large truck pumps the material to and from the house.  Inside technicians spray the insulation between each of our 2×6 framed bays.  They then take a board and drag it along the studs, removing the excess insulation which is collected and returned to the truck.

We talked to the students about the architect – client process, our project and some of the exterior features.  We then walked inside and toured the house.  Much was mentioned regarding the energy-efficient tactics we employed as well as some of the products we used such as the Serious windows and the Quadrafire pellet fireplace.  The students seemed to like climbing up into the loft and admiring the view and space.  apparently I now know, the loft can hold eleven people at least.  Party!

I had to leave soon thereafter but I had an enjoyable time showing off the project.  We’re really proud of what we’re accomplishing, and more importantly energized knowing that we’re sharing info that will be beneficial to the next generation of architects.

Good pic illustrating all the insulation strategies including caulk, spray foam and blown in cellulose.

Happy corduroy day by the way (11-11-11).

Water, Water, Every Where

Nor any drop to drink.

One of the challenges of our lot, and we knew this going in, was that we’d have to rely on something other than city water or a well to provide all of our potable and non-potable water needs.  The irony is that you only need to walk our land after a rain storm to see how much surface water runs across our property (which we knew all about prior to buying as well).  We’re a fairly hardy lot so neither fact bothered us in the least.  We actually embrace both as they make our land and situation unique.  And frankly necessity is the mother of invention.

For our situation we’ll have a 10,000 gallon cistern and rain water collection system installed.  If our family of four is average we’ll use up to 70 gallons a day per person, or 280 per day for the household.  This works out to around 102,200 gallons a year.  Less if we conserve, more if I decide hanging out in the warm shower is more enjoyable than stepping out on the cold tile in the morning. 

We’ll have about 5,000 square feet of rain water collection area, give or take a couple hundred feet.  Every 1,000 sq. ft. of roof collects about 600 gallons for every inch of rainfall.  So our roof collects around 3,000 gallons every time it rains an inch.

Let’s see, not a math teacher but 102 divided by 3….carry the one…….we need 34″ of rain and melted snow equivalent to provide our family with water for a year.  I suppose more if we’re watering stuff, washing cars or running nude through sprinklers.  Akron, Ohio, the nearest large city near us gets about  38″ of annual rainfall / precipitation.  This year we’ve gotten 48″ of rain. 

So generally speaking we should have no problem with our water supply.  We predict the only times we’ll have to truck in water will be in the dead of Summer when it doesn’t rain and the dead of Winter when everything’s frozen.  Otherwise we should be right as rain. (pun intended).

I actually am looking forward to rain water as opposed to well water.  I don’t like the feel, smell, taste and stains that sometimes accompany well water.  Worst case scenario, we could drill for a well and have it slow feed the cistern.  We’re just not likely to get a well that will work for daily use.

Obviously city water would be nice. But the advantage of my system is that I’ll never get a water bill.  Yes there will be maintenance and I need chemicals to treat the water just like well water (or city water for that matter).  We’ll just be running our own water company on site.  Freedom and democracy at its best.  Air pollution is a concern but frankly I don’t think it’ll lead to any long-term ills.  Although you never know.  In that regard I’m at the mercy of which way the wind blows and what America is willing to put into its air.

We resolved the Western Red Cedar issue as best we could at this point.  As I noted previously, Cedar is a huge no no when it comes to rain water collection for potable purposes.  The natural oils and chemicals could pose a problem. On top of that if you’re using cedar shakes for your roof they’re treated with man-made chemicals which make them very toxic.  The State of Ohio Health Dept. won’t allow water collection on shake roofs.  What they don’t have on the books, yet, is cedar siding, namely on a dormer and how it affects water supply.  It’s something they’ll look into, quite possibly based on our inquiry.

Our house has cedar siding so we were concerned with run off getting onto the roof and into the water supply.  I checked with the lumber yard and verified the WRC is totally natural so we’re at least free of man-made toxins.  Alas though, Mother Nature does hate me because she makes sure cedar repels bugs through the use of her own toxins.

Long story short we’ve taken several prescriptive steps in short order.  The siding is going on as we speak.  1) We’re going to omit two gable end sections from our collection area, one isn’t critical and the other is a large dormer with lots of cedar on it.  The idea is that rain would beat onto the cedar and run down the laps onto the roof below. 2) We may make the cedar inert by painting or sealing it.  Down side here is we would compromise the look we’re going for; weathered grey.  3) Long term I can rip the cedar off and side the dormers and gables in galvalume metal.

Regardless, we’ll be fine.  If we all develop cancer or asthma then I’ll know why at least.

The cistern, downspouts and gutters should all be going in later this month.

Other than that, insulation is slowly going in.  Exterior insulation installation has slowed down, just as the finish line is in sight.  Not sure what’s going on there.  Also, this Friday we’ll have our second big tour, this time a local University will be sending a class out to take a look.  Last week we got a great welcome from our future neighbors.  I always enjoy showing off the house and sharing what we’re doing and what we’ve learned.

ProjectCam has a new memory card.  Tragedy of tragedies, the last card started lapping itself so I think I lost 200-400 frames.  Hopefully not much was going on at that time.  We’ll see.  This time of year, it’s dark by time I get out there.

Until next time, talk to you later.


Studio Night

Good news, cedar siding is going on the dormers. Bad news is I just realized cedar siding's going on the dormers.

On an otherwise dismal day, at least one little portion of my existence is shaping up.  Siding is going on the house.  There’s a dormer that’s 2/3 covered in siding materials.  The bulk of the house and garage will be Western Red Cedar siding that we’ll let weather to a natural grey color.  The remainder will be painted board and batten siding.  It took the picture above for me to finally realize a potential issue though.  The cedar siding may wreak havoc with the health of our rain water collection plan.  You can collect rain water for consumption off a variety of materials including asphalt shingles, but cedar is a no no.  There are toxic preservatives in most if not all cedar shakes used for roofing.  Cedar itself, regardless of preservatives, contains natural tannins and oils that make water coming off of it non-potable.  Figures with everything going on I’d wait ’til the last-minute to realize there was an issue.  I guess my oversight knows boundaries after today.
Ultimately though this only affects the three dormers on the house.  The attic loft is painted board and batten siding so it won’t cause a problem. 
I’ll know better tomorrow if we have to replace the one section on already.  Otherwise everything is running along, slowly but surely.  The siding job itself is stunning in conjunction with the metal roof.  Bar none, it’ll be one of the best looking houses in the area. Of course I’m biased and know nothing of humility.  Ugh, I wish we were doing stone right off the bat.  We’ll all just have to wait a year.

Porch ceiling covered in OSB. Will then be wrapped and covered in insulation inside and out. The recessed lights have a built in adjustment so they'll slide down the requisite 1.5".

This week was remarkable also for the fact that I got back into the studio.  Granted it was only to paint frames, but in the studio again I was.  I had forgotten how good that can be for my soul.  And no, it has nothing to do about hiding from the family.  In fact, for half the time I had a guest artist in studio.  

A budding "tape" painter just like his old man. Hopefully he loses the paint brush and makes something of himself someday. Being an artist is no way to go through life. Trust me.

I set up the easel and palette for my painting buddy, donned in his official “painting clothes”,  and proceeds to bark out orders.  He concisely tells me which colors of paint he’ll need for the night’s session.  I’m then informed I need to supply him with no less than five brushes and two palette knives, all called out by their proper names.  And every five minutes or so  I am to stop whatever I am doing and supply him with painters tape.  Not to get all ‘Flowers Are Red’ on the kid, but regardless of what colors I dole out most of the painting is a greenish grey blob.  But if you were to ask the artist it’s a painting of his “Tower”. (Actually no need to ask, he tells you outright, so his ego-maniac, artist dad is doing something right).  After about twenty minutes he’s done for the night and he retires back up the wooden stairs leading out of the basement, leaving me to my thoughts, paint and my one beer for the night.  It will be easier when we’re in the new place as the studio will be on the first floor and  easier to access the rest of the “action” in the house.
But also, hopefully, the new studio will be still somewhat secluded.  For I forgot what it was like to get away from the rules, expectations, and order of “reality” and get back into the studio where pretty much anything’s possible with the bat of an eye.  How nice it is to turn on some music, wet a brush and paint something.  Anything. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s something to be said for solitude; no matter who you are or what you think you’re doing (or think you obligated to be doing) with your 24/7.  A solitude and individuality that to the extreme can make one unbearable to be around, but well worth the risk in any instance.  Trust me, I’d lead you not astray.
That being said it’s still a nice treat  when you are fortunate enough to get the occasional fellow artist to join you in studio for a night.  Even when he’s a demanding, blonde three-year old.

Mantle Day

Building the house is a series of seemingly mundane processes and “work” punctuated by the rare fun task to give the project its seasoning. 

I went out to the house today to work on some odds and ends with my brother, who’s also our master carpenter for the project.  The pocket doors are all installed except the Master Bath pocket.  That door ended up being a 2′-10″ door which is a rarity in the pocket door world so we’re backordered on that one.  No big deal.  We also installed blocking for towel bars and toilet paper rolls.  Not the sexiest part of the job but necessary none the less.  I also moved the Dining Table pendant plates to be more in line with the lighting plan I conjured.  They were mounted outboard enough off plan for me to notice. 

Overall we’re humming along.  Inspections passed for all the rough ins.  Siding will start going up on Monday.  The final color scheme is a pretty poorly kept secret, but you won’t know until I post it here.  Actually final paint won’t go on untill Spring because we’re in the heart of frost season now and the afternoon temperatures no longer reach any manageable height.  And finally the largest window in the house will go up in the loft sometime this week.  How it will go in is something we’re still working on.  Hopefully with the help of the siding contractor we’ll get it installed.  The 45 degree metal roof makes it quite the task.  One other thing we did today is we installed a couple more LVL joists under the loft / attic ladder opening.  I like that the opening is still letting in a fair amount of natural light into the otherwise dark Cape Cod hallway upstairs.  In my dream of dreams and maybe someday I’ll install a glass floor in the attic and let even more light in.

I do need to check ProjectCam though.  I think he’s being neglected; his memory card may be full.

Once we wrapped up our chores inside my brother and I jumped outside and started looking for logs.  The fireplace is going to need a mantle to hang stockings from so I thought it’d be nice to craft one out of the timber we cut down when clearing the lot.  We only cut five trees down so we had a limited selection.  My first choice was the cherry tree I cut down myself, with Corky’s guidance.  It was actually standing pretty close to where the fireplace is today.  Unfortunately it proved to be too narrow.  Our mantle is 48″ wide, about 5″ tall, and between 3″ – 6″ deep.  The mantle will curve in a gentle arc to make it more approachable / pass-able.  The fireplace is in the center of the room and is in a traffic area so to have a solid rectangular slab, while more congruent with the style of the house, would project too far in my opinion.

We walked over to a larger pile of timber that was felled and stored near the east preservation area.  Amongst this pile are a handful off cherry trees and one maple tree.  We selected the lower trunk of a cherry tree as it gave us the most material to work with and would be softer to cut with the chain saw than the maple.  If I had to guess I’d say this is the cherry tree Corky dropped with the help of Jonathan the excavator.  It was a pretty gnarly tree that required some roping to assure it fell in the best direction.

Picture of the raw cherry tree log we selected for the mantle.

My brother then proceeded to make an end cut for length with the chainsaw.  A knob was knocked off the one end next.  We then positioned the log to make cuts lengthwise to square up the timber.  Eric cut off as much sapwood as possible.  The sapwood would show up as white bands in the finished product and wouldn’t stain as well.  Once squared up on all four sides we loaded the soon to be mantle in the truck for transport back to the cabinet shop for processing.  Eric will seal the ends and set the log inside to dry out.  By sealing the ends the log will more uniformly dry, but there’s always a chance the log with crack.  We’ll have to wait and see but it shouldn’t.

First cut of log for mantle. Note, you can see the chairlift chair in the background I believe.


squaring up the cherry mantle log with a chainsaw


Fin. (for now)

Once dried the log will be run through the jointer, planer and chainsawed into shape.  Ultimately it’ll be sanded and.  We’ll lag it into place above the fireplace when we go to trim out the inside of the house.


Been out-of-town so I missed out on a few days at the building site.  Insulation has begun and our EnergyStar consultant has been visiting the house.  The rigid insulation is being wrapped up outside and the front porch is on as well.  While I was out they didn’t run the insulation all the way down my studio wall when they put the front porch on.  I’m contemplating removing the porch, install the rigid and then lag the north side of the porch through the foam into the studio studs.  On the other areas of the house the ledger board is against the house, my prefered method for structural reasons.  Thermally though this is a train wreck mitigated only by the fact that where the ledger board ends up vertically it’s at or below the floor joists.  We’ll over compensate inside with lots of spray foam in the joist bays atop the Superior Walls.  I can’t do that in my studio.  The issue is compounded because there are water lines that run in that studio wall where the porch meets.  Best thing may be to start over on the front porch.

The fireplace is in, just waiting on the inspection.  I’m getting some feedback on the housewrap on the outside of the chase, but need to check with the inspector, I’m not sure what the issue is.  I also need to bring out the air intake 4″ so it will project past the rigid insulation.  Finally the fireplace installer inserted some pink batt insulation in the chase areas.  We’ll pull that out and make sure it’s insulated properly.

Cost is becoming an issue so we’re cutting back where we still can.  We’ll delay the air cleaner and humidity control on the furnace.  They can be added if necessary down the road.  One nice thing about doing them now was getting the 30% tax credit on the entire geothermal system including these add ons.  But omitting them now saves some money.  We’re also omitting all the stone on the house and will install that after we move in.  Stone is planned to go on the foundation, fireplace, chase, garage and front porch area.  We picked out a really nice cultured stone product that gives a nice stacked stone effect.  No big deal waiting.  Need everything to grow back in before the house is book / magazine photo shoot ready anyway.  Inside we’re reevaluating the kitchen cabinets and may switch to laminate door fronts.  Laminate will be less authentic, but more durable and may be able to get a better match / consistency of color and visual texture vs. playing with real wood.  Countertops may switch from concrete to laminate as well.  Though there are several other materials we’ll look at.

The greenest thing is to buy durable materials that you don’t have to replace down the road. But with every plan, flexibility is the key to success.  There comes a time when various points on the quality, quantity, cost triangle have to move in or out.  We’ll omit the front hall built in for now too, that can wait until we’re moved in.  Items like the screen porch, certain light fixtures and transoms above the bedrooms will wait as well.  Other items can be upgraded down the road such as the lighting in the boys bathroom. Several fundamental items were never up for consideration such as the HVAC hybrid geothermal system, appliances, roof, siding and insulation.  We’re balancing as best we can.

Some items will have to wait til Spring regardless including exterior painting.  It’s just too late in the year to reliable paint the house on the outside.  Siding doesn’t start going on for another week.

Insulating the house takes about 5 working days.  The first few days are spent spraying expanding and non-expanding foam in the joist bays and windows respectively.  ALL wire and pipe penetrations between floors get sprayed with expanding foam.  And all the seams between framing members get caulked to stop air penetration in its tracks.  Seeing this in person is awesom, not the act but rather the result.  I’ve actually dreamt of this day and I’m downright gitty I get to see all the caulk lines in person.  This is so above and beyond what cookie cutter builders have been doing for decades (centuries).  It’s also simple and cost effective.

Here are some pics, enjoy.

Not thrilled with how much 4" rigid we'll lose out on with the ledger board mounted so high on the studio wall. may remove porch and do over. Note, porch ceiling gets OSB and 1" rigid insulation. Should be 2" rigid but lights are designed to slide down only and 1.5" inches. I may box out around lights and add another inch of insulation everywhere else. It's living space above so it's critical this area be air tight and insulated.


Spray foam, roof baffles for air flow and corrugated "blockers" for the end of each rafter bay. Note, when we switched from engineered rafters to stick built, we gained a nice thermal break between the 2x4 and 2x8 rafters as shown here. this kneewall area is our line of defense. We'll insulation and tack up insulation wrap under the 2x4's to keep everything thermally copacetic.


QuadraFire EDGE60 pellet burning fireplace. Will burn sunflower seeds, corn, sawdust or switchgrass. 4" flue pipe is easy to exhaust, though it's crooked when it exits our house.


Window insulation is non expanding foam. Expanding foam will warp your windows.


can see white caulk on all framing seams. Expanding foam in joist bays above.


unfinished fire place chase. not rigid insulation under chase. air intake for fireplace shown.


styrofoam baffles stapled to underside of roof for proper air flow to keep roof in good shape for years to come.