Spray Foam For -15 Days

Winter is kicking the crap out of us. And it’s everything our energy-efficient house can do to keep up. School is cancelled tomorrow because the high is supposed to be around 4 degrees, and lows around -15 degrees.

A weak in our super insulated house that I noticed recently is down in the basement. There are a series of penetrations in the rim joist where various mechanical systems go outside. These include holes for a spigot, the fresh air energy exchanger and what I think is the septic tank.

When they built the house nearly three years ago, the insulation was sprayed first, then the plumber and HVAC guys came in to set up their systems. Well when they did their job, they cut away the insulation but never bothered to spray foam around the pipes. Thus creating a kink in our insulating armor.

Recently when we had the spigot replaced (twice), due to leakage, more foam was removed from that particular hole and not replaced.

When I was finishing off the basement shelves this winter, I noticed I could see cobwebs near the holes blowing in the wind. Air was rushing into the house through the uninsulated penetrations. Because the house is super tight (or is supposed to be), any air penetration is exaggerated. So it was like little jet streams of air pouring in, and recently 0 degree air.

I was going to wait until the weather warmed up to spray some foam into the openings. I’m not sure if the cold air will affect the curing of the foam, as it hardens into an air tight barrier. But with -15 facing us tomorrow I figured I’d better spray today.

I used one can, and sprayed around all the openings. The foam takes a while to expand and harden, so I’ll check progress in the morning, and likely pick up another can to spray. There were a couple other little areas, like where a HVAC register is smack dab against the rim joist, that could use some foam.

When spraying, take your time. These areas are really tight to access, and a flashlight is necessary to be able to see. And don’t be like me: wear gloves. I got the nasty stuff on my hands and in the fur on my arms. It does not come off!

Overall the house has been holding up to winter in terms of keeping us warm. My office area is fairly cold and I’ve taken to plugging in a space heater. I’m also getting old and can’t seem to shake the cold anymore. We’ve been using the pellet fireplace a lot more this winter too. It works like a dream. One other note, the passive solar part of our home building equation definitely works. The kitchen, dining, family room area gets unto 75+ degrees on sunlight alone, which presumably takes some load off of the HVAC system.

I hope you’re all staying as warm as you can. I’m really depressed with the weather we’re having and can not wait for spring to get here as soon as possible.

Here are today’s pics. Peace.

Spray foam comes in a can. It's one time use, so use the whole can.

Spray foam comes in a can. It’s one time use, so use the whole can.

Pipes for the geothermal or septic system. Really tight access to where they penetrate the rim joist.

Pipes for the geothermal or septic system. Really tight access to where they penetrate the rim joist.

The input or output, I forget, for the fresh air heat exchanger. Fairly good access. Note, the laundry room HVAC vent in the adjacent bay is right against the rim joist, and could benefit from some spray foam.

The input or output, I forget, for the fresh air heat exchanger. Fairly good access. Note, the laundry room HVAC vent in the adjacent bay is right against the rim joist, and could benefit from some spray foam.

spray-foam-around-house-penetrations

Basement Project – Insulation

In the past basement insulation was often overlooked. Typically basement walls were cinder blocks and that was it. Now there are so many options from a construction standpoint, you really need to do your homework to see what suits your home building situation. Layer on top of that all the options there are for insulating your basement, and you’ve got your work cut out for you.

Insulating your basement goes a long way to reducing your energy bills, and increasing the comfort of the occupants living inside the home. Even if your basement is a storage catch-all, or a place to sequester unruly family members, there is great value in making your basement warm through the use of insulation.

The main advantage basements have, compared to the rest of the house, is it’s surrounded by soil. And the deeper you go, the more the temperature of the soil levels off around 50-60 degrees. Even at 4′, the temperature starts to hold its own verses air temperature above.

Here is a cross-section of our basement, provided by the wonderful peeps at Ferut Architecture:

Basement wall section courtesy of Ferut Architects. copyright 2014

Basement wall section courtesy of Ferut Architects. copyright 2014

So, taking a look at the diagram, you can see our awesome Superior walls make up our foundation. They’re awesome because they are prefabricated cement and include R-15 of rigid insulation right from the factory. Check out  this post to see how they were installed. It was amazing.

The plan was to add 3″ of sprayed 2 pound insulation to the inside of the Superior walls; adding R-20 to our R-15 walls for a phenomenal R-35 insulation rating to our basement walls. Also note we already have R-20 (4″ of rigid) under the cement floor. The basement would be warm snuggly nest once we were done.

Basement before insulation.

Basement before insulation.

Well turns out due to cost restraints we needed to dial it back a bit. What we did was in all of the areas that were getting drywalled, we had our friends at R-Tek Insulation in sunny Barberton, Ohio, spray 1.5 inches of insulation on just the top 4′ of the 10′ walls. This gives that area an added R-10 of insulation, for a total of R-25. This is better than most foundations, and worlds apart from traditional uninsulated cinder block walls.

The spray foam provides an air tight and presumably water tight, or at least water-resistant seal on the walls. Once the drywall is on, our basement should prove to be more air tight. The combination of air tightness and increased insulation should lower our HERS rating from its current level at 41. I’m not sure if I’ll get the house tested again. Maybe down the road after I do a few other things (to be determined).

By the way, spray insulation must be covered with sheet rock (drywall) as I do think there are fire concerns with the material when it’s simply exposed. We limited our spray only to those areas where there would be drywall. The storage rooms did not get any additional insulation at this time.

For reference on a scale from 0-150 the average home has a HERS rating of 130. New homes have to have a 100 rating. A zero energy house (which we hope to be someday) is 0. Our house is about 59% more efficient than your typical new house.

The cost for our additional insulation was $2,000. To do the entire top to bottom at R-20 would have likely been $8,000 or more.

Basement after insulation.

Basement after insulation.

The white colored spray foam expands as it dries. It also creates a air tight, water tight barrier.

The white colored spray foam expands as it dries. It also creates a air tight, water tight barrier.

The top 4' are insulated with 1.5" of 2lb. spray insulation (R-10).

The top 4′ are insulated with 1.5″ of 2lb. spray insulation (R-10).

Another option instead of spray insulation would be adding more polystyrene rigid insulation. Check out the Superior website here, for more information. You simply cut and install the rigid, bonding it to the existing rigid in the walls using liquid nails or other non-foam attacking adhesive. In fact this is what I will do for the storage rooms where we won’t have drywall. Because the spray insulation needs to be covered, per code, putting rigid in the storage rooms is my only option really. So strangely enough we will likely get a full R-20 floor to ceiling in the storage rooms because I just have to pay for material. It’s a super simple DIY job that I can do myself – free labor! Actually in hind sight, I should have likely done this everywhere from the get go, but I already had the insulation guys lined up. No worries, I like the spray insulation. And down the road if we really want to I’m sure we can go back in to the exterior walls and spray more (would have to replace drywall though).

One other note, I don’t think you ever want spray paper based insulation in your basement. With all the potential natural moisture issues, like the potential for flooding, in a basement, paper based insulation (like we have upstairs) is a bad idea.

There you have it. Now onto finishing framing and building some storage shelves.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments below.

Basement Planning and Pricing

Before we jump into all the “fun” work I’ve been doing in the basement for the last six weeks, let’s do a post to go over our game plan.

Budget is the biggest driver for the project. We have zero money frankly, but as I said in the last post: we feel strongly that we need the space to be useful, otherwise what’s the point. Before the project the basement was full, no exaggeration, of “stuff”. Furniture, half filled boxes, years worth of stuff that had just been moved from house to house. For example, in our old house we had a library filled with books. There’s nothing like that in the new house, so there are just box after box of books. My wife collects board games and we’ve never once had a place to store and display her very extensive collection. I have every car magazine from 1986 to the early 2000’s. Yes, those can be recycled but I’d like to go through them first. Point is we have more crap than most of you combined.

The basement has to stop being a big catch-all.

Okay, back to design and our plans. Here are the main project areas. I’ll go over them in detail in subsequent posts.

Exterior Walls

When we built the house, you may recall we used Superior Walls for our foundation. The basement walls are prefabricated out of cement and steel, and stand nine feet tall (9′). The walls feature metal stud facings so we can apply drywall directly to the face of them. No need to fir out the walls which saves a lot of time and money. I just need to frame in a few of the corners with drywall nailers. Note, we would also have to frame in for any shelf or cabinet supports ahead of time. Superior walls cannot support a vertical load so don’t go screwing in cabinets into the studs. More info, and to see nailer diagrams, click here.

Insulation

The foundation walls are insulated to R12.5 from that factory with blue rigid insulation. When we installed them I speculated that we would insulate them with another R-20 worth of insulation, which I think is the maximum if we fill the rest of each cavity with sprayed insulation. Well to keep costs down we did two things 1) only insulated the top 4′ of the exterior walls and 2) went to a depth of 1.5″ (R-10). Why? The top half of the wall has the most exposure to outside temperature changes. Once you get beyond 4-5 feet the earth’s temperature is pretty stagnate, something like a constant 50 degrees or something (I’ll let you look it up). By the way, cost to insulate the top 4′ with 1.5″ of 2 lb. spray insulation (R-10): $2,164. Three inches (R-20) would have been $4,040.

Floors

The floors in the basement are cement (over 4″ of rigid foam insulation by the way). Our basement is prone to flooding if the sump pump ever fails, so that drives many of the design decisions we’ve made in regards to our basement project. Long term our plan would be to cover the entire 950 sq. ft. of living space with ceramic or porcelain tile. Short term though we’ll leave it cement. I’ll rent a floor cleaner from Home Depot and clean the cement myself. Not sure if I’ll seal it at this point. I’ll decide when the time comes. We could stain the floor like we did in my studio. That is always an option, in lieu of putting tile down. For now though regular concrete will suffice everywhere, though the bathroom will likely get tile right out of the gate. Cost should just be a few hundred dollars for cleaning and any tile.

Ceiling

There is some debate whether to put in a drywall ceiling or suspended ceiling. Drywall is cleaner and more finished. Suspended ceilings give you access to HVAC, water and electrical. If you think about it, the other floors of the house are covered in drywall with no utility access. So I think drywall is a fine choice. The problem with our ceiling is there are a lot of pipes, ducts and other obstacles that I don’t want to, or can’t, soffit around. We’ll be putting a drop ceiling in all the living areas except the bathroom. Armstrong has a wide selection of ceiling tiles and a lot of inspiration shots on their website. I got a quote for installing a generic Armstrong system: $3,500. I’ll do it myself. Hopefully the material cost will be closer to $1,000-$2,000. We may hold off and do this next year if we can’t afford it.

The yellow areas will likely be drop ceiling.

The yellow areas will likely be drop ceiling.

Interior Wall Framing

Because of the potential for water flooding should the sump pump fail, I was hesitant to use wood framing. If the basement flooded there’s potential for mold to grow in water-logged studs and walls. Regardless always put down pressure treated sole plates, but I didn’t feel like using treated studs. I was curious about metal framing so that’s what I went with. I still used wood for soffits, blocking and ceiling areas. Look for my thoughts on metal framing in a future post. Cost wise we got an estimate for $1,791 to have someone else do the framing. I did it myself, learned a new skill and spent about $750 on materials to partition the basement. By the way, this includes material for desperately needed storage shelves in the storage room.

Electrical

I don’t do electrical so we’ll have to hire a pro. We’re doing the bare minimum. With the drop ceiling and good access from the storage room we can add-on later. For now it’s all switches, outlets, and ceiling cans. I’d like to swing for 4″ cans but may just default to 6″ to save money. Would like to populate them all with LED bulbs though. Cost estimate for electrical parts and labor is at $4,000. Yikes!

Walls

We’ll drywall everything. I may put 12″ of cement board at the bottom of every wall because of the aforementioned water damage potential. Or not. Estimate we got was $3,757. Doing it myself will hopefully save some money. But I don’t have the patience or craftsmanship (or desire) to mud it all so I may have to source that.

$4K electric, $2K insulation, $1K framing, $3K drywall = $10K, then do the ceiling next year or down the road maybe. We’ll see. I just hand over receipts and the wife keeps track and cuts checks.

Stay tuned for future posts on each step of the way. As of this writing I’m wrapping up framing and the insulation is done.

-Chris

 

 

New Year’s Update

The eve of the New Year finds the land covered in a blanket of snow. The boys having gotten sleds from Santa this year finds me with the urge to be a kid again and go sledding. I’m not sure the quality, or quantity, of snow is there yet to go out, but New Year’s Day could prove to be most enjoyable if we find ourselves on a sledding hill. In the meantime I find myself working through a cornucopia of tasks and endeavors, with a fair degree of accomplishment. The ambiguity of my daily life is like waves on the shore; sometimes calm lapping the sand, other times crashing and tumbling. Regardless there’s always another wave which is good.  Here are today’s miscellaneous waves.

Super Food

Okay we got on a kick around Thanksgiving and starting eating kale. I don’t know what prompted this, but we really like it, even the boys. I got ‘Fifty Shades of Kale’ for Christmas, it’s a cookbook with a cute writing style. There are actually only forty-eight varieties, but there are fifty recipes in the book. From the Amazon overview:

Release yourself from the bondage of guilt and start cooking meals with the ingredients you love: meat, cheese, and yes—even butter. Nutrient-rich kale provides essential vitamins and minerals to keep you healthy, happy, and lean—so you can indulge in your most delicious desires. Whether you’re a cooking novice or a real kale submissive, you will undoubtedly succumb to Kale’s charms.

While I haven’t tried any of the recipes yet, it looks like a good cookbook. Yesterday the wife made kale salad for lunch, which is always good. I believe she usually includes kale, balsamic vinegar, pomegranate seeds, lemon….and I think that’s it. Occasionally, like yesterday, she included quinoa, which are little protein thingies that resemble grain but are actually related to spinach. Both kale and quinoa are ‘super foods’ that are super good for you. One plus about kale, we find it doesn’t wilt as fast as lettuce, it’s always firm…albeit sometimes difficult to spear with a fork.  The salad I ate was delicious and infinitely better for me than anything else I could think of to eat for lunch. Kale is going to be one of my ‘vegetables of the year‘ in our garden for 2014. I plan on focusing on growing kale, along with sunflowers in the coming year. Sure we’ll have other veggies (fruits, etc…you know what I mean) that we grow in the estate garden, but we’ll make 2014 the year of kale and sunflowers in our yard. I’m hoping to have enough sunflower seeds to give some away in the fall as gifts.

Kale salad, next to my new kale cook book.

Kale salad, next to my new kale cook book.

Cats

The kitties are all getting along relatively well. I took the two new kittens to the vet yesterday and they checked out fine. They are gaining weight nicely. We’ve taken to calling Dixon “Mr. Goo” as you can feel how much weight he’s put on, though he looks fairly lanky still. My little tuxedo buddy is like glue, always on my lap or curled up in bed. Hey, I guess if  you gotta have a friend in life, there are worse things in life than a cat.

Dixon is trying to warm up Ms. Daphne but she’s still pretty cold to him. He goes up to her and lays on his back but when he goes to pet her with his paw she hisses at him. Typical woman.  Sorry Dix.  I feel your pain friend. One word of advise, It may be because when you finish your tuna to storm over and start eating Daphne’s too….women don’t like that.

Daphne, Daisy and Dixon aka "Mr. Goo" getting along eating tuna.

Daphne, Daisy and Dixon aka “Mr. Goo” getting along eating tuna.

Charging Station

When I was Christmas shopping in Macedonia, Ohio last week I noticed a big tarp “tent” in the parking lot with a ‘Tesla’ logo on it. Too small to be a car dealer I looked up online and found out it’s a Tesla charging station. Go figure an electric car charging station in our neck of the woods. Very, very cool. Kudos to Macedonia leadership for having the foresight to approve construction and welcome the station to their town. We need more of this sort of thing if we are to progress and succeed. I wish I had the means to get an electric car. In theory our garage is ready to go, since we put a separate breaker box in the garage when we built it, so installing a home charging station should be easy.  Someday.

Tesla electric car charging station under construction.

Tesla electric car charging station under construction.

Basement

One project I’d like to start nibbling away at in 2014 is our basement. I realize that we don’t have to get it all done right away, but getting the basement straightened out would be a boon to the rest of the house.

My family (including me) has crap all over the place. I need to get all this crap pushed away into some space that isn’t my family room. The basement will be a great place for the litter boxes, toys, etc.  The kids can go down there and do whatever they darn well please and I can get my family room, dining room and kitchen back, each devoid of toys, inventions and tricycles.

I don’t know when we’ll be able to afford the basement project but I am starting to get pricing to know what we need to save for. First up is insulation. We had our friends at R-Tek Insulation in Barberton, Ohio give us a quote for insulating the basement. If you recall our Superior Walls – Xi basement walls give us an R value of 12.5. Our plans show R-20 worth of closed cell spray insulation in the bays (for a total, floor to ceiling of R-32.5). We got that insulation quoted during construction and it was around $13K, which we can’t really afford. In talking it over with a few professionals the next thought is to insulate the top 4′ of our 10′ walls which will get us below the frost line.  The two options then are to spray 1.5″ or 3″ of foam, which would give us an additional R-10 or R-20 respectively, for a total of R-22.5 or R-32.5.  Cost is around $2K or $4k for each option, which is do-able from a budget standpoint.

One note, for reference, our architect recommends R-40 for exterior walls. So while not quite there, we’ll be close. Even if we just use 1.5″ of foam at the top 4′ of wall, we should improve the comfort of the basement and home enough to make it worth while. Heat loss below the upper 4′ should be minimal. One area we may spray floor to ceiling will be where the basement window is since final grade is pretty low over there.

The closed cell insulation is sprayed on and hardens to provide an air and water tight seal. This is important because we’re trying to make the house as tight as possible, and our basement floods if the sump pump doesn’t work.  If we were to spray floor to ceiling this would be important because if we used fiberglass or cellulose insulation, were the basement to ever flood the insulation would be ruined and have to be replaced.  Important to keep in mind. Spray insulation is well worth any added cost for that reason alone. In our case obviously though we’re just doing the tops of the walls so it’s a relatively moot point.

Therma-Tru Doors

I’m still working on getting the exterior doors sealed up. I can see daylight on the double doors, its been this way since Day 1, so I called my Therma-Tru dealer and they’re going to see if they can have a technician take a look. I know what the problem is, I just don’t know how to fix it. Fingers crossed they can fix the problem.

That’s it for now. Have a safe and happy New Year’s everyone.

-Chris

Random House Repair

Sunday found me tackling a three items on my “honey do” list. Here is how things went or are going:

Repair The Coat Hook Rack In The Foyer

As you may remember, my sister-in-law ripped the coat rack off the wall in a drunken fit of rage on Thanksgiving (okay not really but that sounds better than “my wife and kids overloaded the coat rack, and my sister-in-law’s coat was the last straw”). Well anyway, the coat rack ripped clean out of the wall. My fix is to install a 1×8 poplar board, between the trim of the studio and front doors. I’m actually a huge fan of horizontal trim boards on walls. I think they add a “farm-y” or “craftsman” look to the interior and they are extremely practical, especially for coat racks, shelves or garment pegs. They also add some visual interest as well as make the wall color pop, if the trim is of a contrasting color such as white. If I was a designer, I would put them all over the place.

As of today, I’ve got the poplar trim board installed and painted. I’m trying to decide how best to install the coat rack. I’m leery to just screw it to the board, as I don’t want the screws to rip out of the poplar board. No worries about the board coming off the wall, it’s fastened with eight (8) SPAX screws so the board is going nowhere; just that the coat rack may still pull off under load if I don’t attach it properly.

Here’s the progress so far:

The coat rack ripped right out of the wall under load.

The coat rack ripped right out of the wall under load.

I cut away the damaged drywall.

I cut away the damaged drywall.

I spackled / mudded over the holes to repair them.

I spackled / mudded over the holes to repair them.

I pinned the 1x8 poplar board in place using my nail gun and small trim nails.

I pinned the 1×8 poplar board in place using my nail gun and small trim nails.

I used awesome 2-1/2" SPAX wood screws to attach the board to the studs, countersinking the heads.

I used awesome 2-1/2″ SPAX wood screws to attach the board to the studs, countersinking the heads.

I used spackle to cover up the nail holes. I then painted the trim generic white.

I used spackle to cover up the nail holes. I then painted the trim generic white.

Therma-Tru Door Corner Pads

For 18 months now I’ve needed to install the little “L” shaped pads in the lower corners of our Therma-Tru doors. We could see daylight in the corners which means we were leaking warm air outside all winter. I simply followed the directions that were included with the pads. It was super easy.

  1. adjust the threshold plate so the seal under the door fits snuggly
  2. caulk the seam where the plate meets the door frame
  3. install the wedge-shaped pads in the lower corners, tucking the “L” part behind the vertical seal on the door frame. I put the “L” part up. I think that was right.
You can see daylight before the pads were installed.

You can see daylight before the pads were installed.

Here are the parts and directions from Therma-Tru for the corner pads. They sent these to me for free after I sobbed that I didn't have any and could see daylight in the corners of my exterior doors.

Here are the parts and directions from Therma-Tru for the corner pads. They sent these to me for free after I sobbed that I didn’t have any and could see daylight in the corners of my exterior doors.

I caulked the plate after adjusting it vertically to fit snugly against the door's lower seal.

I caulked the plate after adjusting it vertically to fit snugly against the door’s lower seal.

The pad installed. Now we can't see daylight. Not sure if the house is any warmer.

The pad installed. Now we can’t see daylight. Not sure if the house is any warmer.

Laundry Room Drywall Repair

When we moved the water hook ups for the washer and dryer the plumber left a huge hole in the wall of our Laundry Room.  With two new cats exploring, the last thing I need is a cat, or kid, winding up behind the drywall meowing (yes my kids meow too, on occasion).

While the Cleveland Browns were blowing yet another football game I was in my studio cutting drywall. I attempted to cut it out of one piece and install it as such, which I was fairly successful at doing. The problem I ran into was for whatever reason the planes of the new drywall and old drywall already on the wall, didn’t really match up. Well let’s just say I didn’t let that dissuade me from making a mockery of the art of drywalling.  I proceeded to slather mud on the wall and squish tape into the joints. I pretty much hate drywalling.

Most “handy” people would look at something a homeowner does and give them pointers….”do this” or “try that“.  They would encourage and empower that person to do it themselves. They’d even make you feel bad if you called an electrician or plumber. ‘Cause after all, we’re all innately born with the ability to do simple house repair.

If a handyman saw how I do drywall they would say “You really should have hired someone to do that for you.

To say the drywall repair behind the washer and dryer is bad, is a gross understatement. It’s so bad, I CAN’T EVEN THINK OF A SNARKY ANALOGY! Just be glad I don’t make airplanes, condoms or lentil soup.

I put the second coat of mud on today. I’m thinking 32 more coats and everything should be evened out. The tape over some of the joints wasn’t sticking so I pulled it off and just slathered mud over those joints. It’ll be fine (no it won’t).  In the end, aren’t we just gonna tile over it all anyway?

The hole in the wall; a result of moving the water connection up in the Laundry Room.

The hole in the wall; a result of moving the water connection up in the Laundry Room.

On the right I screwed a piece of particle board in place so I'd have something to screw the drywall to.

On the right I screwed a piece of particle board in place so I’d have something to screw the drywall to.

This is where is started to go wrong. Once in place none of the drywall was on the same plane. Instead of fixing I figured mud could cover everything up. Frankly I'm not sure how I woulda fixed it anyway. What the hell, just "do it" baby!

This is where is started to go wrong. Once in place none of the drywall was on the same plane. Instead of fixing I figured mud could cover everything up. Frankly I’m not sure how I woulda fixed it anyway. What the hell, just “do it” baby!

After the first coat of mud.  Eeek!

After the first coat of mud. Eeek!

After the second coat of mud.  Looks better, kind of like having beer goggles on, and drinking your second beer.

After the second coat of mud. Looks better, kind of like having beer goggles on, and drinking your second beer.

I leave you with a picture of our new cats. Both of whom are driving me insane. They have to be sequestered in my studio indefinitely and cabin fever is forcing them to go insane to. I may have kitten fur mittens by Christmas.

cats-in-studio

OMG Where Hath The Time Gone?

I don’t even remember when I posted on this blog last. It’s only Tuesday, I think, and suddenly this week is turning into a string of 10 hour days of design work. Any hopes of getting anything accomplished outside of paying work have fallen by the wayside. In all fairness though I still find time to talk incoherently to the wife, mumbling every third syllable, just to test our marriage and make sure she’s still interested. I bet it can go either way, really.

Seriously though, I figured I owe it to my blog reader to post an update on what we’ve been up to. Even though I worked all day and it’s 10 o’clock, I have grabbed the wife’s unopened bottle of chardonnay out of the fridge, unscrewed the top and poured myself a glass all the way up to the top (after all Daddy doesn’t get his recommended daily serving of fruits by just filling it halfway right?). Besides, what else am I going to do on a Tuesday night? Sit alone in the family room with the lights off, drinking wine and listening to ‘Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain’?  C’mon…I said it’s Tuesday, not Thursday.

So I settle into my hateful folding office chair and hope the wine quickly numbs my aching back and neck as I share more of my existence with you, in hopes that at least one of us will get put to sleep…I mean like you’d fall asleep reading (or writing if it’s me that falls asleep)…not that you’ll be euthanized. Which makes me think, if I fall asleep while writing it’d be pretty cool if I landed on my keyboard with my nose on the ‘z’ key…then you’d know I fell asleep cause you’d see a sting of ‘zzzzzzzzzz’…. (that makes me laugh….I really find myself funny).

Anyway I digress.

What have we been doing?

  • Covered the play set area in weed fabric and then new playground mulch. It looks awesome. The kids are loving it and hopefully I won’t have to mow the mulch anymore this year. I’ve got a load of mulch waiting for the front beds too in preparation for the big cookout in a couple weeks.  We’re going to weed, lay more fabric and spread mulch.
  • I got to use a chainsaw on tree branches that fell from the neighbors tree onto the drive during a storm.  I still have all my fingers and toes.
  • Went to the Greenfield Berry Farm with our friends and picked a bunch of blueberries. It’s right here in town and even had live music, ironically enough this Saturday featured our friend Brent Kirby playing with his band Hey Mavis. The kids enjoyed picking berries and the weather was warm and sunny. Later in the month the farm should have ripe blackberries hopefully. Suffice to say we had blueberry pancakes the next morning for breakfast.
  • Added fighting yellow jackets to my to do list. There’s a section of the house that wasn’t sealed up properly when it was built. Previously the ants had been getting in there. Then the yellow jackets came and kept the ants out. But now we saw the yellow jackets hauling off our blue foam!!!! Piece by piece, presumably to make a large nest in our walls. So I sprayed something nasty in there and now I have to figure out how to seal it up.
  • Started making a list of stuff we’d change or will change once we have any money. The latest is the master shower. The wife is now making me squeegee the floor after EVERY shower as the water doesn’t drain towards the center.  The grout on the shelf is falling out too. We’re thinking of ripping it all out and starting over someday. I’ve given up on squeegeeing….I’d rather rip out $2,000 the shower.
  • I’m trying to grow two baby apple trees from the branches the deer ripped off. So far the hot humid weather I think has been good. There are still leaves on them.

Oh, and you’re probably wondering about the bees. Here’s the lowdown: we checked them last week with our bee keeping friend and we’ve lost our queen. There are a ton of queen cells that have hatched but still no queen so we’re giving it a week. If the hive doesn’t create a new queen by time we check it next we’ll go buy a new one.  Otherwise the hive looks awesome and seems healthy. We checked for mites and no signs of mites yet. By the way, to check for mites our friend showed us how to jab a toothpick into the unborn drones and pull their little unborn bodies out of the cells to see if there are any little grain of sand sized mites on them. Guess who will get that job in the future? Probably not the gal who has a spider box to release house spider alive into the wild.

Okay, I’m tired and my wine glass is empty.  Here are this weeks pictures.

Corylus americana

Landscaping has yet to begin, but my boy and I continued our quest to plant our little trees.  Today we planted four American Hazelnut trees.  In order to stay tick free we picked out a spot along in the back yard, near where the excavated soil ends; keeping us safely out of the long grass. This area gets full sun which should make our nut trees happy.

seedlings are less than a foot tall. They and the house are the same age. They can celebrate birthdays together. I’m marking each with a labeled stake.

 

 

We planted four hazelnut saplings / seedlings. We spaced them apart so they could reach their full width but close enough that they can “mate”, therefore producing actual hazelnuts.

 To plant I dug up and loosened a foot diameter hole and dropped in our baby tree.  We then placed some of our handy-dandy top soil, from the house excavation, into the hole and surrounded the tree’s roots.  American Hazelnut trees grow upto 18′ tall and have a 12′ spread.  They’ll actually be more shrub like or small tree like, not towering like an oak.  The nuts should attract deer, squirrels and woodpeckers.  Just the other day we had a woodpecker working one of our free-standing dead trees.  And we’ve seen lots of deer on a daily basis.  I’m looking forward to seeing what our small hazelnut orchard attracts over the years.  Speaking of critters, I did spread some organic materials around each tree to dissuade small and medium critters from eating the baby trees.  We’ll see how that goes.

Inside the house we found an ant which tells me the house isn’t as tight as we would have liked.  Outside the ants are loving the porch areas where the workers failed to protect the blue insulating foam.  I’ll need to get out there and address the situation myself with a permanent solution in the coming weeks.  In the meantime I’ll resort to harmful chemicals or other methods to combat the ants before they have a chance to completely decimate our insulation from the outside in.  This is one instance where it would have paid to have experienced professionals on site during installation.  Nature will find the weak spots every single time. 

We’re also dealing with several gremlins including an ice maker that doesn’t work and random dead phone lines here and there.  Despite the ever-growing “to do” list, it was nice to sit down and have a “normal” family dinner tonight though.  We’re slowly easing into normalcy.  I’ll have to get my studio up and running to so I can focus on painting and less on fixing our new house.

 

Tar and Feather

I awoke to a relatively meager 3″ of snow on the ground this morning.  After some running around with kids and wife dropping off the car at the repair shop, I hopped in the Jeep; throwing the half bath vanity and the replacement light pharmacy sconce for the master bedroom inside before boarding.

As luck would have it Tony and my brother were freezing their asses off installing the porch columns that I would have had to help install, were I not so tardy this fine Saturday morning.  Approaching the house, after proudly parking the Jeep in front of my studio, I noticed all the breezeway columns were installed.  It appeared that the threaded bolts in the cement footers lined up fairly well with the corresponding headers running the length of the breezeway, from house to garage.  We used simple pressure treated 4×4’s for the columns or posts.  Each will be trimmed out in cedar to give the look of a 10×10 or 12×12 column.  By trimming the narrow dimension posts with large dimension “one by” cedar, we’ll be able to camouflage any inconsistencies or misalignment in the posts.

After a brief joke about letting all the hot air out of the house (the porch door was cracked open to allow hoses and cords outside) to the guys installing posts in the screen porch area, I stepped back inside; relieved that I’d missed that task.  Asking my other brother what I could do he mentioned I could work on the couple of items I’d mentioned the other day.  One was replacing the attic window panes with tempered panes.  A mis-measurement long ago lead to non-tempered panes being installed.  These would have to be fixed before we move in, otherwise the windows would need unsightly railings in front of them.  The other task was to investigate the draft mentioned by my brother.  He had experienced it coming from under the fireplace when they were installing the hardwood flooring.

Laying down some cardboard on the wood floor I got down on my belly and peered into the 8″ tall gun slit below the fireplace. Sure enough I could feel cold air.  And not just a little, actually quite a bit.  I was a fair bit alarmed because the whole premise of the house was that it was air tight and super insulated.  We had identified some problem areas when we did the blower test but the fireplace wasn’t really one of them from what I remember.  I reached into the cavity below the fireplace.  Quickly, for reference, the fireplace unit sits on a cement board and 2×4 platform about 8″ off the first floor deck.  The back of the fireplace juts out into the screen porch several inches.  You may remember, Eric and I built a 2×6 plywood box (or chase) to house everything.  The exterior of the chase has house wrap, 4″ rigid and cedar siding.  The inside has pink or blown insulation with a foil face for fire proofing. We insulated under the fireplace by installing pressure treated 2×10’s to form boxes, then we filled the boxes with 10″ of rigid insulation.  At the time I think we mentioned we should have installed the rigid horizontally, but alas we did 4″ blocks vertically.  We thought we had caulked everything up good.  apparently not, for as I stretched and dipped my hand I could feel a slight draft of cold air.

Slit near floor, below fireplace and to the left of Tony is where we had an air leak. It's about 8" which is just enough to make you think you can do productive work under there.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
“Hmmmm…..okay here…..I can feel the draft here”, I think to myself.
Sure enough coming up between the seem in two of the vertically install blocks of, our friend, blue foam.  Mind you, at this point I’m belly down and up to my arm pit in fireplace goodness.  I’m clawing around at loose insulation, made from recycled newspaper, that had fallen down; grabbing handfuls and setting it aside.  I can taste the fiber like grit of insulation in my mouth.  Yummy. 
 
Then my hand reaches way back and the cheapo pink insulation feels cold….but not really, cause what it feels like is not cold but rather cold and wet……what the?  Slowly the fiber like dust settles enough and I gaze into the dark cave under my fireplace.  Scanning right to left I do a double take, not sure what I’m looking at.  At first I think its expanded foam shooting skyward from between the blue foam blocks.  It literally takes five to seven seconds for my brain to comprehend what I’m seeing.  In disbelief I force my hand to continue panning right to left and grip the, literally, ice-cold stalagmite protruding upward.
 
It’s a god damn upside down icicle in the middle of my house.
 
I think to myself, as a form of diversion, “which is it, stalactite or stalagmite?  Those things in caves?”
 
Seriously?!
 
Continuing in disbelief I think to myself “Enough of this” and I break the f-er off at the base.  Damn thing is easily four or five inches long. “How does an icicle even from upside down?”  I peer in again looking for its counterpart on the “ceiling” of the fireplace slit.  Nothing there.  Getting to my feet my mind races.
 
The whole philosophical foundation of this house was that it would be airtight, super insulated and energy-efficient.  And looking down in my hand I’m seeing just the opposite of everything we’ve done for seven months.  Imagine you went out and laid down money for a Lamborghini. On your way home you decide to open it up a bit on the freeway only to find that you’re being passed by mid-90’s Chevy Cavaliers.  You pull over, pop the carbon fiber hatch and find the automotive equivalent of a friggin’ upside down icicle in your engine bay. (Chris, they’re call stalagmites btw).
 
Are you f-ing kidding me?  I’m sweating to death cause the house is so hot everywhere else, yet it is cold enough to form an icicle in the open space under the fireplace.  It’s 70 degrees inside the house yet I can see my breath under the fireplace.
 

This was living under my fireplace inside my super tight insulated house. Trust me, the irony that it looks like a certain body part in my hand was not lost on me in the least. Very apropos all things considered. Basically the energy efficiency gods having a laugh at my expense.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
As best I can tell, the air infiltrated our 2×10 box through a uncaulked seam.  The narrowness of the seam accelerated the super cold air.  As soon as that cold air hit the warmth of the house it condensed on contact and created a micro climate under the fireplace.  The insulation got damp and the area where the air penetration was built up this kick butt stalactite or stalagmite or whatever the heck it’s called.  I spent easily the next twenty minutes trying to figure out a fix.  Looking outside I could see there could be some improvement sealing out there but it’d have to wait til spring or summer.  Just too tight and cold to crawl under the deck today.
 

Fuzzy pic but you can see how tight it is under the fireplace. Just tall enough though to think you can be productive. Just short enough to eliminate any success at doing anything worthwhile.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I decided I’d cover the whole surface of the blue board with a cocktail of expanding and non-expanding foam.  On top of that I’d place a cement board panel.  I’d then caulk all the seams.  Running up to Terry Lumber I picked up the two types of spray foam.  I started with the non-expanding type, spraying the perimeter and dumping the rest of the can as best I could on top.  The close quarters made 80% of this work a guessing game.  Next I used most of a can of expanding foam, jamming the nozzle down into the cavity where the icicle was.  I had previously beat the base of the icicle to break up the ice as best I could.  The conditions were not optimal, temperature wise, according to the can but I couldn’t wait til July in Cleveland to do the job.  Once all the foam was down I squished my cement board panel down into the foam.  Securing the panel with screws or even a nail was impossible….believe me I tried.  So I held the panel in place with some cut 2×4’s, applying pressure between the panel and the fireplace “ceiling” above (the platform for the fireplace).  I then caulked all the seams I could see, including some that probably made no difference.  Into other voids I saw, I sprayed expanding foam to seal everything up real tight.  I then tossed the loose cellulose insulation back into the chase bays in the areas that the pink insulation was lacking.  The pink insulation was still a tad wet but I fluffed it up and it should dry out now.
 
Throughout the process I essentially rolled around in spray foam, caulk and cellulose insulation.  My hands looked like I made love to an unwilling bird.  Pulling the dried caulk from my fingers tested my hand’s ability to retain skin to flesh.  I’m pretty sure I inhaled enough chemicals and insulation to obliterate any hope of not dying of cancer. I basically, figuratively….slightly literally, tarred and feathered myself over the course of an hour.
 
It was not a text-book operation by any scope of the imagination, but I will say, our little cavity under the fireplace did start to warm up after a while.  And I couldn’t feel any direct cold air anymore.  After that was done we started to skin the fireplace with 1/2″ OSB.  Upon that will go chicken wire and our masonry stone.
 
Elsewhere in the house Eric is continuing to work on trimming out the doors.  The three panel doors look really nice in person.  Tony and I trimmed out the top of the master closet with 1/4″ luan plywood and some left over 1x scrap we had lying around. The coming week should include kitchen cabinets and baseboards starting to go in. 
 
‘Til next time, stay warm. 

Trimming closet top in 1/4" plywood

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Using left over 1x2 rips to trim top of closet

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Trimming out the interior of the porch door

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Pantry pocket door with trim.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

If you're doing this at home, start with the top piece then do the sides. Our casing is about 3.5" wide. Base board will be about 5" tall.

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).

Insulation

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.