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.

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Bird Killer

It’s Sunday night after a long weekend of work.  I got a fair amount accomplished this weekend and have the sore muscles and drooping eyelids to prove it.  Saturday our little guy wasn’t feeling well so instead of visiting relatives down south we stayed at home.  I was happy to have a bonus free and open weekend so I spent Saturday morning finishing up the cabinets in the upstairs art studio.  Photos for all the weekends activities are below, I’ll give you the rundown up here first.  Always seems tough to integrate photos into these WordPress posts and I don’t feel like battling the computer tonight.  So words first then pics.

Friday we fired up the pellet fireplace for the first time.  We watched the Quadrafire DVD that came with our EDGE60 unit and learned how to use the fireplace and thermostat.  Everything worked well enough so we should be all set for when the cold weather hits.  This time of year is great as we haven’t had the heating or cooling on in about three weeks.  The house just hums along at 70 degrees consistently with little or no change.

I started by carving out a rectangular piece of drywall and screwing it over the hole the plumber created to access the pipes we needed to relocate.  I then made a feeble attempt to put drywall “paste” spackle over the seams.  I really hate dry walling…I mean screwing the drywall up is easy enough, though I even screw that up.  Spackling is just plain a pain in the ass and I have no patience for it.  Clearly it’s a task meant to be delegated to others in exchange for currency.  After the hole was patched up I placed the last cabinet and screwed it into place.

Next was installing the long counter top.  I put my Stanley “L” brackets into place, five on each long leg and a couple on the short legs.  Over the open bay where the mini fridge is going I screwed a strip of wood on the wall.  This is to support the counter top over this open area.  Once all the bracket were in place I installed the counter top and using my 3/4″ blocks as spacers, and my family as a weight, I screwed the brackets to the counter tops. Topside I installed two trim pieces on either side of the drop down section.  There was a 1/4″ gap where the counter met the cabinets on either side.  I used the simple 1/4″ half round trim that came the cabinets.  I put adhesive caulk on the back side and pinned it in place with my air nail gun.  The nails shot through into the cabinet walls but they are in a place where they shouldn’t hurt anyone.

Finally I installed the cabinet pulls.  I created a few templates on paper so that I’d consistently drill the mounting holes.  The pulls came with a variety of screw lengths; I measured the thickness of the door and test fit a screw to select the right screw.  The leftover screws are great to have around for future projects or to give to my kid.  It’s really important to get the hole locations right as I struggled a bit and had to over bore some holes to get things to line up.  Lastly I’ll run some clear caulk on the counter edges to close off some of the gaps where the wall waves in and out.  We chose not to install any back splashes on these counters.

Saturday afternoon I attempted to commit suicide by excavating the cistern access and digging a drainage trench.  After thirty minutes I was heaving up specks of lunch and seeing yellow spots.  I muscled through it and was rewarded with just a little bit of chest pain and random anxiety fits.

I went up to Lowes and picked up 50′ of solid plastic pipe material, 4″ in diameter, a couple plastic caps and metal rings which, when all strung together, created a way for water to exit from around the excavated cistern lid area.  I had to dig down far enough to expose two electrical boxes and then trench down enough so the laid pipe would allow the water to travel down hill so to speak.  See, the electrical boxes were allowing water to build up and ultimately travel into our basement.  This little heart and back breaking maneuver I pulled off this weekend should eliminate the water in our basement.  After laying the pipe I covered the one end with stone and the rest of the pipe with the excavated dirt, clay and grass.  I used about ten bags of river pebbles around the lid to make it easy for water to find the drainage pipe.  I’ll pick up some more stone for around the roof washers as well.

I used some of the hand excavated soil in the bed area nearby, as well as wheel barrowing in some from my top soil pile.  Yes the wheel barrow tire is fixed and holding air.  We then spent today planting the rest of the boxwood bushes and relocating some other little plants whose names escapes me at the moment.  I topped everything off with a wee bit of mulch to secure the soil for the winter.

Out back I spread some more mulch around the hydrangea bed.  We picked up two variety of black berry bushes on sale at Lowes for five dollars apiece.  These I planted in our berry bush area, the future pathway that will lead to the veggie garden.  While fixing up the bird netting around the berry bushes I sadly discovered why they call it bird netting, seems I caught and killed a song bird in our netting.  So that puts me at net zero in terms of helping / hurting birds.  In an attempt to improve the situation for our aviary friends I started cutting the netting in half length wise, as I had the excess netting layered over itself which I think made it a trap to animals.  Well laziness is the mother of invention, or at least it is with this Industrial Designer so I just ripped out all the bird netting.  In its place I tied three horizontal strands of yellow twine, about 16″ apart.  I’m pretty sure I saw a TV show where these guys at Penn State said this would stop deer.  Actually they said three strands about 16″ off the ground (spaced apart by 16″ or so with the middle strand a bit higher) would keep dear out.  Something about deer don’t like to step over stuff.  Anyway I did the typical fence thing so we’ll see how that goes.  I did the same around my Arctic Kiwi trees too, which have grown to the exact height they started at six months ago.

Ok, that’s more than enough for one weekend.  Here are the pics in no relative order.  Cheers.

 

Biomimicry

On the day before my birthday I had the pleasure of taking a nature walk with the wife and our boys. The nicest thing about our house is the land itself.  As nature takes back over its nice to see all the little plants turning tan dirt into a green carpet. It is so special to just walk around and visually explore.  Our land is basically about a half-dozen meadows visually separated by trees that perfectly frame views.  We’re starting to enter the cool rainy season of Fall here in Ohio.  Summer is finally losing its grip and the plants have run their course. Leaves ease from greens into yellows and browns.  Some are even turning red on certain bushes.  The wild flowers hold on adding spicy blues, pinks and purples to the mix.  It is a most wonderful time of year.  And the cool seventy degree evenings are perfect for taking a walk.

We should get our cedar clear coated yet this Fall and as I said the porches are painted.  I’m going to forego the screens for now and save some money; we’re basically broke for now.  Next week the plumber comes in to straighten the upstairs studio pipes which will allow me to get the task of finishing Christine’s cabinets installed complete.  The garage doors still need their weather-stripping trim caulked and nailed into place.  Plants have been planted, though some boxwoods up front need their bed expanded with top soil before I can plant them…need to remember to do this as they’ve sat patiently for weeks now.  I also need to dig around the cistern and lay some drainage pipe.

With Fall in the air my hibernation instincts are kicking in.  Wrapping up everything outside for the next few months will be good.  Hopefully I can force my ass back into the studio and get painting.  I have dozens of canvases waiting for paint.   I really need to get some paintings done and start whoring my wares to make a few bucks.  We need to refill our coffers before winter….unplanned expenses such as snow removal and putting cleats on the metal roof are looming, not to mention the clear coating of the cedar this year still.  We’ve nixed getting any trees this year including the nine apple trees.

One good thing is that we actually refinanced our mortgage; with rates so low we’re saving  around $150 plus, per month (I have to look).  I highly recommend you look into it yourself. The process was long and drawn out but worth it in the end.  Only down side is the appraisal.  Our banking models are really outdated…their only means of accessing a value on a home is via comparable sales.  Based on their assessment we’ve already lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of value on our property, but I’d contend that the house and property is incomparable to other properties.  The system is set up to evaluate homes in bubble markets in cookie cutter neighborhoods.  It’s really a shame but not surprising when one considers most of our modern business and social models are out of date.  Hopefully our kids will have a better time of it, but I’m not sure how successful our generation will be at changing things.

I went to hear Janine Benyus speak in Akron the other night.  I’ve heard her a few times previously and even met her / sat in on a round table discussion with her before.  Janine literally wrote the book on Biomimicry.  If you don’t know what that is, in a nut shell it’s the science of asking nature how to solve problems.  As we bring biologists to the design table we gain access to a tool box of materials and tactics that can solve the most challenging of problems in an effective and environmentally sustainable manner.  If you want true innovation for business look no further than the 3.8 billion years of R&D that mother nature has performed.  Man has only been around for 200,000 years; to think that we can’t learn something from nature is being just plain stupid.  I was inspired by her talk as I always am.  Ohio is doing a lot of great research in this field and turning out great solutions such as colors that don’t require chemical pigments, super materials made from the same stuff spiders make their webs from and adhesive free tape that is inspired by geckos.

As we live in a world where it is requisite to “heat, beat and treat” everything and dump chemicals all over ourselves until we inexplicably get cancer or our sperm no longer work, it’s refreshing and hope filling to realized there are better ways, that can also benefit our bottom line and leave the world a better place.  For 150 years we’ve been convincing ourselves it’s in our best interest to see how quickly we can kill ourselves and our children by destroying the natural world.  In the end it is so much less expensive to go with the flow of nature than to fight it.  Nature does so many wonderful things with just a small set of tools and operating rules.  I implore you to learn more for your own sanity and to restore some sense of “humanity” back into your soul.  I know it inspires me.  Just two examples of how kickass cool nature is: Nature uses water as a solvent, people have to rely on nasty chemicals.  And nature only uses a handful of the elements on the periodic table to make everything we see around us, man feels the need to use them all (we’re like small children in that regard). One more major fact, in nature there is no concept of waste.

As I think about Biomimicry, I naturally think about our house and land.  Our house in some regards is virtually invisible to nature.  For example, as I listen to the rain outside…we collect nearly all the water that hits impervious surfaces on our property.  What we “keep” or “use” goes into the cistern or rain barrel.  What we don’t harvest goes through pipes and they empty out into a series of pools where nature naturally filters the water through native grasses and plants.  The water we harvest is filtered, albeit with help of chlorine and a filter to make it potable, and then we use it.  We drink some and use some for washing.  We’re working towards using natural soaps and detergents, but regardless because of the septic we’re not using anything too too bad.  The water goes through our washers and showers and us and it all goes into the septic system.  The septic is a man-made way to treat the water, with forced micro organisms, so it’s not really too natural but it is treatment no less.  The treated stuff is then pumped up to the leech field where it bubbles up and returns to nature as water and treated by products that in turn nourish the north meadow.  So it’s pretty neat that our water “cycle” literally can be seen completely if you stand in the yard of our house.  All of the water that hits our property nourishes us but more importantly is dealt with on site.  This is the polar opposite to how it is typically handled in this region, state and country.  It amazes me and I find it to be one of the neatest aspects of the house.  Water is handled in a very natural way, and in the end it really doesn’t cost any more than the typical way, or at least all the costs are accounted for on site, not hidden somewhere in the form of environmental degradation or social inequality.

If you want to know more, read the book or stop on out here and let talk and go for a walk, I’ve got a dozen other examples for you on site I bet.

Here are today’s pics, enjoy and do something remarkable this week.

December 1st Update

Just a quick update; it’s been a quiet week.  We’re waiting to get some electrical work outside approved and get the permanent electrical meter installed.  Once that happens the temp furnace can be fired up to get the house up to temperature for the first time.  In a way it’s like dropping a ship out of dry dock so it can finish being out-fitted.  I don’t think I’ll crack champagne over anything, though the thought of drinking alcohol appeals to me on a daily basis, so there’s that….but I digress.

My architect and EnergyStar rater are reviewing the preliminary blower test numbers.  While the numbers are good (better than any “normal” house), and the house still has to be sealed up a fair bit, the numbers aren’t as good as we hoped.  Right now the weak link in the system is the kneewall areas of our cape cod style house.  The roof areas are insulated and lined with plastic vapor barrier, but we’d like to see a more rigid material in these areas.  I’ll go in and probably remove the plastic barrier and then either drywall or use fanboard under the roof rafters.  Then tape all the seams.  Getting rid of the plastic will lessen the chance of heat from the HVAC ducts creating condensation on the back side of the plastic.  The rigid material will provide an airtight seal but not collect condensation I believe.  We’ll see how this goes, as of right now it’s difficult to get material in the kneewall spaces as everything will pass through the small access panels; lest I open up larger openings.  There’s a good chance I won’t do any of this until we move in.  Here’s a primer on blower test’s by the way.

 We’re around 3.0 ACH50 now I believe.  Good but not very good for everything we’ve put into the house.  Should improve once we seal up the areas we’ve already identified.  If I were building a new house I’d probably design it slightly differently to avoid some of the issues arising from the kneewall areas.  The issues were compounded by all the HVAC ducts running through them.  Oh well. We’ll figure it out.  It will be fine in the end.

I did get some cistern install pics from the excavator.  As usual, anytime a crane is involved, it looks kick ass.  Wish I was there.  Basically looks like a cement vault came in on a crane truck and was lowered into the hole.  Too cool.

10,000 gallon cistern being lowered into the hole.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Today I picked up the last window.  This is the 3’x3′ garage window I’d initially forgot to order.  The Rabbit and I rolled out to pick it up at the freight company that was holding it.  It was in a crate so I had to bust out my hammer and dispose of said crate.  No way it’d fit in the hatchback.  I had to be back across town so I made quick work of the crate and stashed the window in back.  The Rabbit then scampered out of the parking lot and lept across town; the two of us jamming to Twisted Sister holiday tunes the whole way.
 
Upon getting home I was met by our excavator and his father to even up on a bill and bid goodbye for the winter.  Jonathon is on his way out west to work.  His dad will wrap things up including the septic system and final grading.  Some items will now have to wait until spring as the weather in Northeast Ohio has gotten too bad to do much of anything outside of value.
 
The coming week should pick up in terms of what’s going on out at the site.  We’re also busy picking out more of the finishes including the garage doors.  I’ll keep you posted.

Thanksgiving

Board and batten siding on north wing of house.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 I’m thankful for them all.

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

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

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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