Case Study: Annual Energy Usage In An Energy Efficient Home

[editor’s note: I changed the title to ‘energy efficient home’ from ‘passive solar’ – this post doesn’t talk about passive solar that much, I can delve into that at another post]

Wow that’s a pretty boring title for a blog post.  I figured “Murdering Fewer Mountains and Trees So I Could Play My XBox” would be a bit to melodramatic for a Saturday night.  My new year’s resolution, which I decided upon last night was I wasn’t going to spend the day on the computer.  Well I made it ’til dinner time before I just had to hop on and fire up an Excel spreadsheet, and for your benefit, a blog post.

I spent the last hour or two pulling all of our utility bills for the last year or so, and entering them into my spreadsheet.  Also I cracked open a bottle of 2010 Joel Gott California Cabernet…it’s pretty good.  Whoever brought it over, thank you.  You’re welcome back here any time. [editor’s note: my sister said she got me the wine so I wouldn’t have to drink Yellowtail.  Thanks sis.]

2010 Joel Gott 815 California Cabernet Savignon makes everything better.

2010 Joel Gott 815 California Cabernet Sauvignon makes everything better.

So I looked at the energy costs from 2009 at our old house.  This was the last year I have complete records for on a previous spreadsheet.  The records I pulled for this new house span from March last year when we were still finishing the house through this month’s bills.

The old house was a cookie cutter colonial, about 2,700 sq. feet.  In 2009 there were just 2 of us and a baby.  Heating was natural gas, electric everything else including cooling.  The furnace had a humidifier too. We had city water and sewer at the old place.  Why this is important is for two reasons: city water and sewer means water magically shows up and leaves the house and we pay a bill to the utility to make that happen.  This also means we’re not really expending any electricity to get that water and send it back, as far as I know.  The old house also had about half the number of light bulbs compared to our over the top new house and it’s hundred or so light sources.  Cooking was natural gas predominantly.  Washer and dryer were electric just like in new house (we have the same appliances in the new place).  Most of the light bulbs were incandescent but many were CFL’s and a few halogen bulbs; no LED’s. Finally we had a gas fireplace but we never really used that.

The new house is about 3,000 sq. ft. and there are 4 of us in here living.  Heating and cooling comes by way of our hybrid system employing geothermal and natural gas. Our fancy system also had an air exchanger and full house air filtration system.  Water and sewer is handled by our cistern and septic systems.  Both of these run off of electricity to pump water in, filter it and send it back out after our bodies filter it a little more.  The new place also has a sump pump which runs all the time basically to keep us from going under water during wet periods.  Cooking is handled by duel fuel range, and electric appliances.  As I said the new place has a ton of light sources, i.e. bulbs, so that alone is a huge load.  Only 4 of the bulbs are LED’s (not including the range hood’s 4 LED bulbs). The rest are all incandescent light bulbs.  The fireplace is our handy-dandy pellet burning unit, and we’ve barely made a dent in our free ton of pellets we got from Northfield Fireplace. It’ll be 2014 before I have to buy pellets.  We run the fireplace every few nights when hanging out in the family room.

Usage and lifestyle are about the same in both homes, for example in terms of watching tv and play video games.  The new place does not have any electric garage door openers though, not that it matters a whole lot.  I’ve just been too cheap / broke to put them in yet.

R Family Company, LLC estimated we’d use $2,413 annually on gas and electric when they did our Energy Start rating last year.  The engineer and architect estimated the usage to be around $1,500 – $2,000 a year just for HVAC…I think.  I’d have to delve into the paper work a bit more to confirm that.  In reality we’re pretty darn close to those numbers, after considering a few things.  I added up utility costs across the four major utilities most of us pay: electric (E), natural gas (G), water (W) and sewer (S).  Other utilities are lifestyle like phone, cable and internet so they’re not important in my calculations.  So adding up EGWS we’re at about $3,080 for the year 3/12 to 2/13.  Our 2009 total in the old house was $3,129.  So actually a little LESS in the new place.  Now there are some expenses not added into the new house such as septic service like getting it pumped out or fixed if it broke.  Same for the water system and sump pump in terms of repairs.  I did include bleach and filters for the water purification system.  HVAC filters would be an added cost in the new home too (the old place had a washable filter).  There is one bill for electric in March of last year that was $800 when we had the resistance heater in place I believe.  That throws our new house total off a bit.  If you take most of that out of the equation then we’re spot on with the $2,400 estimate Bob gave us from Energy Star.

Here's what we paid in 2009 and what we paid in our first year in the new house (most of the year at least)

Here’s what we paid in 2009 and what we paid in our first year in the new house (most of the year at least)

Our Natural Gas (G) usage plummeted off the face of the earth.  Dropping a whopping 90%, I don’t even think the gas furnace kicks in all.  You can see it rises in the winter, so some heat usage and probably more cooking usage as well.  Most of what we pay for gas is fees, taxes and the privilege of having access to gas.  The geothermal heating is just fine for us.  It’s not too cold or clammy like some people claimed it to be.  The fireplace is offsetting some of this too, so figure if we had to buy pellets (a $100-$250 a year maybe?) our heating cost would go up.

Electrical (E) usage is way over the top at nearly 3x the usage of the old house.  But consider: that wild March bill last year, the septic, sump and cistern all running off electric, electric oven and the biggest culprit all the light bulbs…all add up to higher (E) usage and costs.

Water (W) and Sewer (S) costs are a fraction of what they were but once I have to maintain the systems it’ll be a wash I bet….think about replacing the septic tank, field and cistern and there isn’t enough wine in the world to make that not be a major bummer, man.

First Energy now has this cool energy usage graph that customers can utilize to see where they are spending money on electricity

First Energy now has this cool energy usage graph that customers can utilize to see where they are spending money on electricity

Here's another First Energy  graph that highlights electric usage

Here’s another First Energy graph that highlights electric usage

I logged onto First Energy’s site and they have a new energy summary that will show you how much energy you’re using and where at.  It looks pretty good though it works off of a lot of assumptions, I’m not sure you should get too hung up on the exact numbers.  I filled in all kinds of info about my appliances and house.  I like all the color coded graphs and bars.  It even compares my house to the average house.  For electricity we barely beat out an average house ($27 per month) but for overall energy we win by a large margin ($700 annually). It’s actually embarrassing see our costs pegged all the way to the left on the little cost graph……not.  Granted these numbers are just one month’s were of data I think.  I’d have to delve into it deeper to see what a year would really save us.  Also I need to go back and look at our Energy Star docs and engineering docs to see what they estimated and where we landed.  For instance I think the engineer said about $1,000 annual saving on HVAC alone.

By the way, we keep the house at about 70 degrees throughout the year.  The fireplace thermostat gets set at 75 degrees in the evenings just in the family room area.  Personally I need to be in a certain thermal band to be comfortable so I’m not one to dial the temp up or down to far, even to save cost and planet.

I wish someone invented a smart meter, that my utility companies would support and use, that would do all this monitoring for me and just output a report on my computer or phone. Maybe I should design one.

We can save costs in the coming year a couple of ways.  Convert more bulbs to LED’s, especially the bulbs we use the most.  I plan on insulating the hot water tank. I did that in the old house.  We can insulate the basement walls even more, insulating the top 4′ that are at or above grade.  There are some air holes at the corners of some of the exterior doors that I need to close up as well.

One note, when we go to install a solar power system, having this historical electrical usage will be helpful in sizing the system. Right now it’d be difficult to go zero energy (use as much or less than we produce) because we’re at about 17,250 KWH per year.  Let’s say we had 15,000 KWH per year…that translates to a 15 KW solar system.  That would take up about 1,500 square feet of space….our garage roof is probably about 600 square feet (the part that faces southwest).  So we’d have to cover the house bits up too with solar panels.  Cost would be somewhere between $40,000 and $80,000 to install.  Not too bad considering there’s a Jeep I’d love to have that costs $40,000.  Savings over 20 years could be as high as $20,000 to $40,000 (including tax breaks and factoring in the cost of the system i.e. above and beyond).  The system would save between 400 and 800 thousand lbs of CO2 as well.  These are just wild ass guess numbers I gleaned from Dove Solar & Wind’s website while drinking my wine.  Our system would ultimately be smaller; we’d reduce our usage quite a bit and employ other goodies like solar water heating and LED’s everywhere.

Also today we went to the zoo.  They had a cool exhibit talking about collecting rain water and rain gardens.  Around this building there were two rain gardens with a “bio swale” connecting the two.  This inspired me.  We’ve got this surface water problem in the front yard that I’m going to tackle this Spring.  It’s late so I’ll talk more about it in a future episode.  For now you can look at a  couple pictures of the front yard and our temporary pond so to speak.  Night kids.

This is the little pond we get between the lawn and front bed, every time it rains or the snow melts.

This is the little pond we get between the lawn and front bed, every time it rains or the snow melts.

Spring project will be to address the surface water issue by reworking the topography by hand to get the water to drain.

Spring project will be to address the surface water issue by reworking the topography by hand to get the water to drain.

Air Exchange Ventilator

Okay it doesn’t sound as sexy as “passive solar” or “LED light bulb” but today we’re going to talk about our home’s “air exchange ventilator”.  I had to clean it out yesterday so I took some pics.  What is it you ask?  Let me tell you.

As you should know our house is super tight.  So air doesn’t or shouldn’t get in or out easily if all the doors and windows are closed.  Like an exclusive club downtown, we have a bouncer that determines who gets into our club.  It most houses, maybe even yours, air molecules run willy nilly all over like they own the place.  They come and go as they please.  And air molecules, typically in the heat of summer or cold of winter, are really awful critters.  See they sit on their lazy asses outside all day and night, and when they get too hot or cold the come into your house.  Did you invite them in?  Well yes cause they provide you with “oxygen” but I’ll tell you what if it wasn’t for that you probably wouldn’t want them cause like I said they come and go all the time.  Which is fine, we all have relatives like that, but let’s say it’s winter (it is by the way).  Where it gets annoying is the air molecules do very little to warm themselves up.  Look outside, see them all out on your lawn?  Yeah a couple are overachievers letting the sun warm them up but if there’s no sun and the wind is blowing….they say “screw this” and head for your house.  They come in through the cracks in your doors, around your windows, your roof, hell they come through your bathroom vents.  Anywhere you have a hole in your house.  Once inside they sit on your couch, hang out in your pantry, they even snuggle up with you in bed.  And they are super cold.  Cold feet in the morning? It’s the cold ass air molecules, I told you so.

So you try like hell to appease them by cranking up the thermostat, figuring if it’s warm they’ll stop bothering you and your family.  But like any pest this only makes things worse.  See, they come in, you get them warmed up, they drink your beer and then leave basically.  And they tell ALL their friends.  Next thing you know your thermostat’s up to 72 degrees and the wife bitchin’ at you to fire up the wood stove.  Meanwhile all those air molecules are inviting their cousins from Alberta to come down to your place and get warmed up.  Next thing you know you’re essentially operating a welfare state for lazy air molecules.

I’ll be damned if I run a welfare operation for air molecules.  So what we’ve done is first off, made our house super tight.  Now it’s not as tight as it could be but it tighter than probably 95% of other homes out there.  In a perfect world it’d be 100% tight. But then we’d suffocate so as I look out at all the sad, cold air molecules kicking stones in my front drive, pouting cause I won’t let them in, I’m forced to acquiesce and let them in since after all they have the oxygen we so desperately need.  But before I let any of them in there are some ground rules…just like the bouncer at the door to a hot new club.

Outside a big pipe in the side of the house all the air molecules line up, smiles on their faces cause they know I have a warm couch, XBox and beer.  We let them in and they enter the air exchanger.  And they love it ’cause the first thing we do is warm up their little molecule bodies, clean them up and comb their hair.   Then it’s off to the inside of the house, sporting their little fur coats of warmth, leaving the coldness behind outside.  Oh joy, they are so happy you can almost hear them as they run all over the house.  And the furnace easily keeps everyone comfortable ’cause our guests came in warmed up to start with.

Well after a while, you know how it goes, they can’t stay for ever.  They’ve unloaded their oxygen, picked up some CO2 and other foreign air born whatnot….and they’re getting lazy again, except this time it’s on my couch, or my bed or worse yet the bathroom.  Well, “time to go little guys” and the ventilator sucks them all out of the house.  Oh, one thing though, we take their little fur coats before we kick the air molecules to the curb.  There is only so much heat in the world and we can’t afford to have air molecules running around outside with our hard-earned heat.  Wouldn’t look good with the neighbors, people would talk.  And we’re not running a charity here. So the little guys go through the big heat exchanging core again and reluctantly hand off their warm little coats to the new air molecules coming in.  Thus the “exchange” part.  We keep all the heat inside the house…sucking it out of the air leaving and giving it to the air coming in.

Then we dump the stale air molecule asses through a big pipe to the harsh realities of the outside world.  From there we’re more than happy to welcome them back in, but only if they pick up some oxygen first.

I try not to look out the back window lest I see all of the now freezing air molecules looking longingly through the glass into our home.

In the Summer it’s just the opposite, we cool them off before inviting them inside.

Our air exchange ventilator is an 8100 model from Aprilaire.  I just have to clean the filter’s every 6 months and the core every 12 months.  It was a super easy job that took about a half hour.  I just used a shop vac to clean the filters, core (use a brush attachment) and the cavities.  The filters should be oiled as well.  All the directions are right there on the core so there’s no confusion.  Here’s a snippet from their website explaining the advantages:

Is the air your family breathes as fresh and healthy as it can be? An Aprilaire Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) is among the most efficient means of exchanging the air inside your home with fresh outdoor air. In winter months, the exclusive EnergyMax® Transfer Core uses the heat of indoor air to warm the incoming cold fresh air, recovering approximately 77% of the energy.

How Does It Work?
In the summer, warm fresh air passes near outgoing conditioned air, cooling it down. At no time do the stale and fresh air streams mix, instead they pass each other separated by thin walls that allow only the air’s energy to transfer, cutting your heating and cooling bills. The heart of the ERV is the EnergyMax Transfer Core which uses enthalphic technology enabling the transfer of moisture as well as heat into and out of your home.

The Aprilaire Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) provides a comfortable, healthy, noise-free, and safe means of exchanging stale, polluted indoor air with fresh outdoor air in your entire home year round.

There are numerous benefits to installing an Aprilaire Energy Recovery Ventilator in your home:

  • Installs as part of any central heating and cooling system
  • Provides a constant, controlled supply of fresh air to your home year round
  • Reduces excess indoor humidity levels
  • Reduces unhealthy indoor air pollutants such as formaldehyde, <ahref=”index.php?znfaction=iaqproblems&category=health&problemid=12″>volatile organic compounds (VOCs), radon, carbon dioxide, smoke, odors, dust, bacteria and viruses and more
  • Saves energy by effectively retaining and utilizing the energy value from your indoor air
  • Ventilates homes up to 3,600 sq. ft. in size”

Unless you like throwing money away, or you feel guilty and feel all air molecules in the world should have access to affordable heat coverage, you should seriously look into getting your house sealed up super tight and adding an air exchange ventilator.

Framing Walls (and Installing a Sink !!!)

I spent this weekend working on my office cabinet project.  The goal was to frame the two walls so that I could call the plumber and get the sink pipes extended.  All went well I can safely report tonight.  I even got a bonus project done with my free time on Sunday.  Before I go into the play by play, I’ll share something with you; throughout the process of building the house it seems a lot wasn’t going as well as planned.  As I work on each subsequent project, I have found that if I take my time, think things through and remain calm these projects are going easier.  And they don’t seem to take much longer (compared to just barreling through them), so there is value in taking my time.  Knock on wood of course.

The walls I’m building are add-ons so the first order of business is to get some solid nailing blocks in the existing exterior wall.  If I was smart I’d have had a “pocket” framed into the wall when we were rough framing the house, before the drywall went in, but realistically I wouldn’t have been able to devise where the pocket should be so the chances of getting it right back then are slim.  I spent some time marking out the location of my wall, taking into consideration my already made countertops, cabinets and even factoring in the existing steps in my studio.  Once I was comfortable with my marks on the wall I used my oscillating tool to remove the drywall and create two horizontal openings.  I devised my game plan on the fly and am fairly happy with it, looking back on my handy work.  The plan was to install two 2×6 blocks, anchored between two existing wall studs, to provide  a solid anchoring for my perpendicular wall.  After the drywall was off I scraped away the insulation inside.  Our insulation is made from recycled newspaper that was “damp” blown into the wall cavities.  Suffice to say I had to “scrape” some off to make room for the 2×6 blocks.  I then inserted the blocks and worked them down behind the drywall.  See the pics for my trick on getting a grip on the blocks.  I came up with that after scratching my head trying to figure out how to get the block into position.  The insulation, drywall and studs had a firm grip on my block so snaking it into place was tough, but the trick made it do able.  Once in place I mounted a 1/2″ block which I’d eventually mount the new wall stud to.  Finally I replaced the drywall pieces I’d cut out earlier.  Ha, after about two hours everything looked basically like it did when I had started.  But I knew I could now start building my walls.

I cut a couple treated 2×4’s, covered their underside with adhesive caulk, and fastened them to the studio’s cool cement floor with blue colored masonry screws that I picked up at Lowes.  I then cut all my studs, to about 98″ and mounted the first one to the exterior wall, screwing into the 1/2″ blocks and ultimately the 2×6 blocks I’d hidden behind the wall hours previously.  I used screws and a drill for the entire project.  I don’t have a nail gun and hand nailing is fairly quick but laborious.  Screws seemed to work just fine and I had a lot left over from other projects that I could use on this job.  Once that first stud was up I continued putting up the rest of the studs and finally the top plates.   The design I came up with meant that both walls would stop about a foot or two from the ceiling.  I capped the wall design off at the top of the upper cabinets.  This created that open air space above the  cabinets which will help keep the art studio feeling airy.  One bad thing with the design is that the walls are only attached to the floor and the one exterior wall so they’re prone to wiggling.  I nailed a filler board down low at the end of the one wall, where it meets the steps, and this helped stiffen and level the wall.  Putting in the new floor framing extension would stiffen the walls more.  Finally the drywall, cabinets and shelving should stiffen everything up as well.

One pesky task that I decided to tackle during this project was the “hidden air vent” buried under the office platform.  I knew it was there ’cause I had photos.  From what I remember it was there and no one ever hooked it up during construction.  They just built the platform over the top.  I’m not sure why.  I’m sure it sat there untouched, with some blue foam stuffed in it from when they poured the concrete floor (the foam kept the cement out during pouring). My concern was that the blue foam may have been pushed down into the air duct and was causing blockage, or maybe conditioned air was leaking into the cavity under my office.  Either way I wanted to fix it and possibly route the vent into the floor of my office and finish it off.  I started by prying off the drywall that capped the platform.  The platform is only about 14″ off the ground which meant that the 2×6 joists left only like 9″ of vertical space underneath the platform.  Ugh.  After finding a real flashlight (my boys seemingly steal all of the working flashlights and hoard them in somewhere secret) I peered under to find a mountain of insulation.  I guess when they blew the insulation in the wall cavities a  lot of it exited out down here until the cavities were full.  I chickened out a few times before talking myself into getting under there.  It was the right thing to do.

I crafted a cardboard insulation pusher on a stick and did just that, started pushing the insulation to the far side of the space under the platform.  Based on the pic I shared the other day I thought the vent was way in there.  I glance up at the exposed wall studs and decided to check my photo again; so I’d know how much insulation I’d have to push away. I was pleasantly surprised my sense of scale was off and it turned out the vent was about three feet in instead of eight feet in.  This was great news cause being under there was like being in a coffin.  And I was breathing heavy with the prospect of having to go way back into there.  So I brushed away the insulation and sure enough, there was my vent.

There was no way around it, I had to get in there.  My head barely fit and then my fat gut and waist did not fit.  Talk about hyperventilating…but with a twist I was in.  The wife handed me tools and the vacuum hose like a hygienist helping a dentist.  I pounded away at the cement overhanging the vent and carved away at the blue foam blocks inside.  Pulling the last one out of the metal vent shoot I reached in….and much to my dismay….I found…..all was for nothing.  They never cut the 8″ green air duct open at that vent.  They must have never planned on finishing that vent.  I could have just left it; I didn’t have to get all freaked out by the claustrophobic space, eat insulation or fish around for the vent.  Oh well, knowing that nothing was wrong from an air flow standpoint outweighed any frustration I would have felt going through all these theatrics. Back to the work at hand then.

I wrapped up the framing at this point by roughing in the “floor” extension.  I just used 2×4’s and set it up for a 1/2″ piece of OSB board to cap it off.  This area will just hold up the cabinets and should be plenty strong enough.  I’ll install the OSB and some 1/2″ flooring once the plumber is done extending the pipes.  So that’s it for that project for now.

With an hour to spare I decided to get the sink in Christine’s studio installed so the plumber could hook that up too when he comes out.  We bought a small stainless steel bar sink, that included a faucet and drain for only $109 at Lowes.  It was easy to install. See pics below for step by step.

Ok, I’m exhausted and need my beauty sleep.  Stay tuned, hopefully next weekend I’ll be doing some drywall.



There’s an acute sense of urgency resounding in my bones.  The new reality of global warming means we went straight from 90 degree days to 30 degree nights in just a matter of about four weeks.  What this means for me, besides the fact that we are pretty much screwed in the long-term, is that I need to wrap up whatever needs to be done outside.  This morning I awoke to a hard frost, so our growing season here in the valley is officially over in my book. Less daylight after five means I don’t have much time during the week to get anything done after work.  Tonight I planted all the mums that were in pots.  I just randomly selected a few spots in the yard near wild trees and a couple random bushes by the driveway.  I’m not a big mum fan but they were free.  I think the deer eat them but I’m hoping they will be fine where I put them.

We’re still waiting on our bushes from Tennessee.  The should have arrived by now but today was a holiday so no mail service. Hopefully tomorrow so I can get them in the ground.  After I plant those, I just have a few random plants that mom gave us and then that’s it for planting this year.  This weekend will be for bringing in porch cushions and cleaning out the garage to fit another car.

Outside the painters are finishing the clear coat on the cedar.  It darkened it up a bit but it still looks amazing and if anything the white trim pops more now.  I’m in the process of getting quotes for the Sno-Gem snow guards on the roof.  We’re not sure if we want the bar or the little glue on tab style.  This will keep snow off the gutters and should run about $4,000.  I’m on the fence as to which style I, we, prefer.  I’ll look at the cost and go from there.

Fall really is my favorite time of year.  I really like driving, even if it’s to run an errand, during sun set time.  I think what makes Fall unique is that it is the one time of year where to really enjoy a sunset one shouldn’t necessarily look at the sun.  Rather one should turn themselves around 180 degrees and look at the eye-popping canvas that has been bestowed upon us on a daily basis.  I think the low angle this time of year makes sun sets last a lot longer and the way the light reflects around opaque slate clouds, filters through thinning tree canopies and saturates across dried out corn rows is just breathtaking.  It’s amazing that nature spends all spring and summer sequestering all that carbon and creating all that life, only to have it undone in the turning of a calendar page.  By time the sewn Halloween costumes are tucked away in a memory bin, the show will be over for all intents and purposes.  The greens, oranges, browns and reds are well adapted to reminding one of the sense of place and mortality that runs through all of our veins on an innate plane.  For the sake of my sanity, or insanity as it may well be, I certainly could never imagine living in a place that didn’t go through such a reflective process every year.  I suppose each place is unique but I’ll take a midwest autumn any day of the week.

Back inside we’re starting to use the fireplace more regularly.  My competitive streak now has a new contest which is see how long we can go without a furnace.  We’ve made it about four weeks so far without A/C or the furnace on.  I think the filter and air exchanger run and that’s about it.  We’d been oscillating between 68 and 70 degrees daily, but after a weekend away and thirty degree nights the temp dropped down to 67 yesterday, inside the house.  The fireplace heats up the family room to a balmy 75 degrees at will with little fanfare.  Once marvelous discovery tonight was we noticed Joe’s design for the staircase works exquisitely.  The open tread, open staircase funnels warm air upstairs.  You literally can feel a temperature change when you get on the staircase.  Places like my studio are a little chilly but not anything that would warrant the furnace.  And the warm air lazily cyclone-ing up the staircase is just fantastic.

Once in hibernation mode my attention can shift to finishing indoor projects and working on art.  My goal is to sell about hundred grand in art in the foreseeable so we’ve got our work cut out for us.  It’s doable, just takes some time, effort and of course people who want to buy art. If you know anyone….

I’ll try to get some nice fall pics for you soon.  I plan on doing a Fall “photo walk” so maybe then I’ll have something to share.  In the meantime get out there and enjoy the best season of the year.

Screen Porch Construction

Construction on the screen porch is underway.  So far our two amish workers have successfully covered all the previously exposed blue foam under the porches and they have also wrapped the columns.  The front columns need to be rewrapped as they were originally wrapped to be just 6×6 and we need them to be 10×10.  The larger size wrap will be appropriate with the scale of the house.  The back porch columns are wrapped and they look great.  The frame work for the screen system is going in place as well.

I’ll install a Screen Tight system on our porch.

(Ugh, I hate WordPress at times, just lost my post for tonight.  When I insert pics they sometimes are missing their caption, then when I goto fix them the blog part disappears. Alas it’s too late for me to re-write so I’ll share my gallery for now and tell you more about the porch construction during my travels in the coming days.  Sorry.  Boo WordPress).

July 27th – Alright quick add on for this post regarding the porch. The carpenters removed several floor boards and put cement board over the blue foam that is insulating the rim joists of the house.  Since the boards were removed I crawled down there to caulk the fireplace base area once and for all.  You’ll remember that I had icicles growing in my fireplace cause super cold air was shooting between the cracks and freezing the warm interior air.  This caulking should fix it up just right.  Of course in trying to do so all I had been about 6″-8″ of vertical space.  This coupled with all the spiders, alive and dead, all over me and the dirt in my ear made this about as enjoyable as icing a cake in hell.  I think I got it all sealed up.

What else?  Trying to remember….inside the screen porch the top of the columns are larger than the skinny 4″ headers, so they’ll drop in a false header to visually beef things up.  Once it’s all done I’ll get it painted and then I’ll throw in the screen system myself.

Check Out Our New Pad

Today we actually saw some progress on the home front.  I stopped out after work and happy to see all the carpet padding was installed throughout the house.  Tomorrow we get the carpet.  After that it’s “shoes off” for everyone working out there, as far as I’m concerned. 

Squishy carpet padding is everywhere now, along with tack strips - ouch.

I’m not sure of the brand name of the carpet pad, I suspect it’s the typical stuff that goes in a cookie cutter house.  I did ask the guys over at Carpet Warehouse to air out the padding and carpet before they install it so that any harmful chemicals will offgas before the material enters our home.  I could still smell some “stuff” but we should survive.  The carpet is supposedly good stuff made partially from corn.  On Wednesday it’s supposed to be 58 degrees outside, so I asked my brother to open up the windows while they work.  That should air out the place and get rid of some of the chemical trace from the various materials that are off gassing in the house.

The carpet padding in the Master suite.

In addition to the padding, several other trades were busy today.  I noticed the painters touched up a bunch of stuff including some ceiling areas in the boys bath where we’d put down our first coat of green paint.  Tony also touched up the drywall in the boys bath, leveling out a corner and making it look a lot better than it did yesterday.  Elsewhere he also hung all of the doors.  They had been taken off for painting.  I suspect tomorrow he’ll put on the door knobs.  I had wanted to help do this but I won’t make it out to the site this week I don’t think.  No sense waiting for me.

Doors are installed.

The most interesting thing the painters painted today were the steel i-beams in the kitchen.  These beams actually aren’t load bearing, but we felt they lent an industrial feel to our contemporary kitchen and helped delineate the space from its surroundings.  The beams were painted a flat black color.  I think they were painted with something nasty because I could smell the paint, but hopefully this will offgas when we open the windows.  We had a 2×6 placed on each beam to provide a shadow line and to visually beef them up vertically without specifying a taller beam.  Once we move in I may put a faux finish on the beams.  We’ll see.

I-beams in Kitchen are now painted black.

The HVAC guys have been busy too.  I noticed the register vents are installed on all the walls.  The Aprilaire Energy Recovery Ventilator is fully installed too.  This unit is a must have for our tight house.  It preheat fresh air with warm air that is being exhausted.  This should keep our energy bills lower while providing a steady supply of fresh air.  In a perfectly tight house this would  be the only source of fresh air.  Regular houses have enough gaps and holes that the whole house “breathes”.  Ours shouldn’t breathe at all if all goes according to plan. 

All my incandescent bulbs in the basement are burnt out so I can only show you a picture of the box our ERV came in. James can turn this into a fort.


When these bad boys get installed, you know you're near the end of your project.

I know my brother was busy in his shop today fabricating countertops, so those should be going in too.  The material for the quartz counters should arrive at the fabricator tomorrow.  I think within one week most everything should be complete and ready for inspection.  Fingers crossed.
– Chris

First Snow……man

We made our first snow man last weekend. 

Our first snowman.

The snow that would go on to wreak havoc on our schedule during the work week, was perfectly benign and conducive to making a little snowman before we departed on Sunday.  To top him off we added clay eyes and twigs for arms.  James was a bit pokey getting his twig so ultimately it ended up as a “horn” on the snowman’s head.  It was about as much fun as I’ve had out there so far.  This place is going to be a perfectly good time for all, year round.
Painting has been dominating the house this week.  Other trades are trying to wrap up as well.  We have less than two weeks to complete everything and I honestly don’t know how it will all get done.  Because the painters have basically take over the place with all their masking and spraying it makes it impossible to get much else done in the main house.

The entire house is masked off for the spray painting of the trim

All the trim is being painted white.  The painters mask all the floors, walls and ceilings to prevent overspray.  Everything should be done painting wise by end of day tomorrow hopefully, so about 3-4 days total to finish sanding, mask and paint everything inside.  As you know, the outside doesn’t get painted until Spring when it warms up.
On the outside the excavator finished hooking up the septic system.  We’ll get a sink and toilet installed so we can get the system inspected next week.  We had a back up system installed for the sump pump as well.  As you know, and especially now, there is a lot of surface water the seeps down into the soil and eventually into the basement.  The back up sump pump is battery operated and will kick on in case of electrical failure.  It should also kick on if the primary pump stops working.  This will give us peace of mind in the long run that we’ve done everything we could to prevent flooding in the basement.  Of note, once the gutters are in they’ll divert most of the water that would currently be getting into the basement.  Landscaping and settling soil in the yard will also help to divert and keep water away.

We went with the heavier duty battery back up for our sump pump. It includes a back up pump, battery which should run the pump for up to 12 continuous hours and a trickle charger for the battery

Also the final hookups for the cistern were made this week and paperwork submitted for the final inspection as well.
In the basement it’s exciting to see the furnace installed now.  The geothermal lines are run from the foundation wall to the unit and each is fully insulated.  The “water furnace” is a hybrid system that includes a 95% efficient natural gas furnace as well as a geothermal system.  I’ll follow-up with more detailed info, but for now I believe the geo thermal system runs most of the time and the gas kicks on when it’s really cold out.  Very similar in principle to a hybrid car motor / engine.  The geo system also provides summer cooling so we don’t need an air conditioner condenser outside the house, for better aesthetics.

Water furnace unit installed. Large tank to the left is actually part of the drinking water supply.

Finish wise, the only thing going on this week has been installation of the 3×6 glass subway tiles in the Master Bathroom.  There are about 800 tiles that need to be installed.  So far it’s been two days.  I estimate another 1-2 days to finish being installed.  They look really nice and my brother has been very kind not to complain about what is surely a tedious chore, installing each tile individually.  We chose a staggered pattern.  The tiles are real glass with a white background.  The diamond grout has flecks of glass in it and casts a nice shadow line across each tile; providing a great deal of visual depth and interest to the shower.
Some of the electrical fixtures are going in as well.  I’m really happy with the lights I picked out for the Master Bathroom.  My goal for the bathroom was to give it a hotel feel so that in a way everyday would be like being on vacation at a really nice hotel.  The lights are retro art deco units from Restoration Hardware.  And the aforementioned glass tiles add a real touch of something special. 

Glass subway tile being installed.



Master Bath lights and cabinets, sans sinks and mirrors.

Beyond this, we’re just wrapping up some odds and ends.  I was going to work on the fireplace tomorrow but the painters need the house for another day.  Fortunately the snow is gone, so while we won’t be making any more snowmen for a while, at least tradesman can get to the house and work.  Goodbye for now.

Gallery wall upstairs has gotten its primer coat.