Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Black Friday

Just thought I'd share my thoughts on this Friday's consumer spend-off.

I just watched "The Story of Electronics", another installment from the folks who brought us "The Story of Stuff". If you have a few minutes:

While that video makes me never want to buy anything ever, that just isn't a practical option. I do, however, feel that we can be smart consumers in the midst of this madness. Last year, I picked up a $100 Shop Vac for $20 and got a great deal on a cordless drill set - All stuff I needed and was going to buy anyway.

I know that every thing we buy can't always be made locally or sustainably, and that there will be no revolution to change that overnight. What we can do is to do our best to change our habits, support local business, and steer clear of big box retailers when possible.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bringing this phase to a close

With winter upon us, and a baby around the corner, I'm rushing to get a number of things buttoned up. We didn't get everything done that we planned on this year, but that's the way it usually goes. The back patio cover would have been really nice, but winter barbecues will have to be something to look forward to next year.

The kitchen is one step closer to being done. I was able to finish up the backsplash last night. Just need to caulk it and get a few coats of white paint on, but here it is so far:

You may have noticed we used a knotty pine wainscot for the backsplash even though we're painting it a solid color. The reason for this is that the less expensive MDF (medium density fiberboard) product contains formaldehyde, a toxic chemical that should be kept far from your body while you're alive. Non-toxic particle board and MDF products are becoming more available. The interior shelves in our cabinets, for example, are made of Skyblend, an FSC Certified particle board with no added formaldehyde.

The problem with non-toxic finish materials is that it is often hard to find the right size and profile for your project. For that same reason, we used solid wood baseboard and door trim in the master bedroom:

Moving on, we swapped the tiny shower in the master bathroom with a full tub:

I scored that nice Andersen double hung window from work because they had installed it on a project before realizing it was the wrong one.

Finally, what's behind the mysterious plastic curtain?

A giant hole in the house!

Yes, the downstairs bathroom is gutted. This week, I'll be installing a tankless water heater, removing the old tank, pulling the rest of the sub-floor, shimming the joists to level, and replacing the sub-floor.

The finish work needed to get the inside of the house done is enough that I won't be doing much outside anymore. Now we just need some goats to clean this yard up:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The kitchen gets an extremely awesome makeover

As you may remember, we picked up this amazing vintage range a few months ago:

Yes, it does in fact have a "Grillevator".

If you have two strong friends and a hand truck, I highly suggest picking one up. Modern ranges that will perform at this level are going to set you back $5,000 or more and are likely to make your kitchen look like an operating room. There are a few great looking reproductions out there (Elmira, AGA, etc), but they also start around $5,000.

Anyhow, we decided to model our kitchen around the stove. We weren't going for a strict historic restoration (our house has been reworked too many times in the last 100 years to for that to matter), but we wanted keep bright, mid-century feel. We decided on white cabinets, white appliance, black countertops, and a vibrant wall color. We still haven't picked out floors.

First, we had to gut most of the kitchen. I left some old drywall in place, mostly where the new cabinets would cover it up.

I had to put up a serious plastic barrier around the work zone to keep Annie from being exposed to the dust while she's pregnant. We tested negative for lead paint or asbestos, but it's still best practice not to expose her to some of the fine lung irritants that can be created during major deconstruction.

Before I could take down the wall between the living room and kitchen, I put up a temporary post and beam to support the load from the kitchen ceiling.

After taking down that wall, I put a header up and built a 42" bar in it's place. Since the header ended in the middle of a hallway, it had to be supported on that end by a Simpson top-mount hanger. I had to call all around town and eventually found one at Parr Lumber in Northeast. Everyone else was out of stock or didn't carry them.

I was then able to build the half wall for the bar between the kitchen and living room.

By moving the entrance to the bathroom, and borrowing a few feet from it, we were able to create a cove for a pantry and the refrigerator. This made the kitchen feel twice as big and we are still able to keep the full bath.

We had to postpone cabinet installation for a week because of various hang ups on plumbing, electrical, etc. Once that was done, we could finally start putting our kitchen stuff back and get the counters on.

We hired Solid Craft to fab the Paperstone counters and they did an wonderful job. Installation was a breeze; Just a few passes with a random orbital and two coats of Osmo Top Oil, a natural, food safe finish.

That's all for now. We'll be done soon and I'll post before and after shots.

The WaterShed

A few months ago, I hired David Bonn to do some load calculations and a set of addition plans for us. David was one of my class mates in the Sustainable Homes Professional course at Earth Advantage. David is a great designer who was just finishing up work on the notable Juneberry Lane development, a local land trust project that is offering 12 LEED Platinum homes starting at $115,000.

When he arrived at the house to meet me for the first time, he came armed with literature on his latest invention, the "WaterShed". He went on to explain that the WaterShed is a freestanding rainwater harvester that captures, stores, and distributes it's own rainwater without using any existing building's runoff. The design was a simple garden shed which housed an above-ground tank and had a roof large enough to completely fill that tank during each rainy season. A solar panel on the roof would keep a battery charged to run the water pump and some lighting inside the shed. Since the tank only took up half the space, the front half of the shed could be used, well, as a shed.

Annie and I talked it over, and we decided to invest in the project. David, his son Noah, and I formed WaterShed Designs, LLC. We built the prototype in our backyard. Since our garden is about 250 square feet, we built a 10x12 shed, which has a 2,600 gallon storage capacity. A basic irrigation needs analysis tells us that we need about 10 gallons of water, per square foot of garden, per growing season.

Since this is our showpiece, we tricked it out with Hardie siding and a cedar gable. I then styled it further by adding the iron downpipes to the overflow valve which will drip into the two retired whiskey barrels. I planted some succulents that my Mom had given me a few months ago in the barrels and then found a home for a cow skull from Mexico, a deer jaw from Austin, and some random rusted metal items we borrowed from an abandoned building in Marfa.

Since I'm sitting at a coffee shop waiting for my truck canopy to be installed, I'll have to leave you with the only picture I remembered to upload last night. I'll do another post soon with more details and pictures.

What you see here is the finished product; a standalone outbuilding with a 2,600 gallon storage capacity. By the beginning of the Spring growing season, the tank will be full of clean Oregon rainwater. When you turn the valve, pressurized water comes from the hose. Since the pump and lighting are solar powered, this unit would perform the same in the middle of nowhere as it does in my back yard,but more on that plan later…

Monday, November 8, 2010

It's coming together!

Ok, as promised (maybe a few days late), I have a ton of updates... Here we go.

Before I left for Alaska, Chance and I built the concrete form for our back patio. Him and another friend of mine did the concrete work while I was gone.

Alaska was amazing as usual. My Dad and I went to visit my brother and go on one last fishing trip before he sold his boat. I managed to get a good video clip of some Dall's Porpoise playing around the boat.

In September, Annie took a trip to New York and I took the opportunity to get our bedroom painted and install the floors.

The floors are FSC Certified Tigerwood and we absolutely love them.

I finally replaced the back door and got the rest of the framing around it repaired. Since the walls are eventually coming out another 1.5", I cut away some extra siding and furred out the old studs with 2x2's. This way, I could install the door flush where it will sit when we redo the siding.

Stay tuned for updates on the kitchen. It's nearly done and we're really excited to finally be able to cook again.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I'm back

Sorry about the long delay. I went to Alaska and then got a job and have been working on the house in all of my spare time. I'll have a new post up this week with a lot of updated house pictures.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

What makes THIS a green building project? PART 2 - Energy efficiency through passive design

As I mentioned before, a lot of proper green building is based on advanced design and construction methods. To keep things simple, I've spread those points out into my plan instead of devoting a section to them. You'll find most of them in this section. Once again, I'm referring to the building formula I set out in this post.

Energy - Passive Design

Modern technology up to this point has succeeded in setting passive energy design back hundreds, even thousands of years. Why worry about solar orientation or proper insulation when we can slap on a huge air conditioners and furnaces? When resources were cheaper and no one was worried about depleting them or their effect on our environment, proper design was all but lost. In my opinion, History's most respectable architects existed before technology, before oil, before natural gas, etc.

The point is, before worrying about how big a furnace or air conditioner to install, the first step is to design to reduce or eliminate the demand for resource consumption. We didn't have the luxury of designing this particular house, so we had to look for one with an existing, workable design. The solar orientation of this home played a huge factor in our buying decision:

December 21st at Noon. The south facing windows are completely exposed to the sun, allowing for solar heat gain in the winter.

June 21st at Noon. The south facing windows are mostly shaded from the sun, reducing solar heat gain in the summer. When we redo the siding and windows, the big one on the right will be replaced by a few that sit higher up, out of the sun.

With the southern exposure properly shaded in the summer, we'll have to be careful to pick out windows that allow the sun to create heat in the home in the winter. If we pick the most highly coated windows on the market, we will be working against ourselves. They must allow the solar rays in, but keep the infrared energy from leaving. This is done by using the proper Low-E glass. The NFRC rating label describes each window's property and helps in picking the right ones.

The winter sun is heating the home, while the Low-E glass is reflecting interior energy off the inside pane, keeping the heat in.

The next point to tackle is insulation. If I were building a brand new home, I'd start with at least an 8" wall, but we have to work with what we have, which is a 4" wall with R-13 insulation. They look something like this:

The problem is, the R-13 insulation value is only in between the studs. The 2x4" stud only has an R-Value of about 4. Using a formula to factor in the wall framing, or cheating and using this calculator, I can see that I really only have an effective R-Value of about 10, maybe less depending on how well it was all installed.

Using a thermal camera, you can see how much heat transfer goes through the wood framing

In essence, this is what the 3D image of my walls should really look like:

Heat is lost rapidly due to thermal bridging through wood, or other materials that are good conductors.

Our plan is to tear off the siding and install horizontal 2x2" battens.

Now the walls are 6" deep and are ready to be further insulated.

Through this method, thermal bridging is drastically eliminated.

The only thermal bridge points now are where a the battens cross the studs.

The final step is to install rigid foam insulation in between the battens. This would give us another R-10, bringing the walls up to R-23 with an effective R-value much closer to 23 than it was to 13.

Ceilings are the key spot for insulation and ours are going to be difficult. They are vaulted throughout most of the house and the rafters are anywhere from 6" - 10" deep. Since we are trying to avoid demolishing the interior walls, we're going to have to tear off the roofing material along with the plywood to open up to the framing. At this point, all of the framing will be brought up to 10", maybe even 12" deep and insulated using spray foam. Spray foam has some pros and cons, but I feel it's a great choice for our situation.

Spray foam cons

  • The most proven, time tested foams are petroleum based.
  • Spray foam is one of the highest priced options.

    Spray foam pros

  • The R-value of spray foam is 5 - 6 per inch. That means with 12" rafters, we could get to R-60 or more.
  • The foam fills the cavity entirely and eliminates the need for ventilation in the roof assembly.

    Spray foam fills the entire framing cavities, leaving no room for condensation inside the assembly

    Overall, it's widely agreed upon between sustainable building professionals that the environmental impact of petroleum insulation products will be greatly offset by the energy they save in their lifetime. My job is to research and pick one with the smallest impact so that the offset can be achieved in a fairly short time.

    The floor will need to be re-insulated as well, but I haven't spent enough time under the house looking at it to determine what it needs yet.

    As we get closer to doing the exterior wall changes, we will plan on doing the windows at the same time. At this point, we will take a look at typical wind direction in the summer and engineer a way to take advantage of cross breezes through the house to help cool it on those few hot days we get each year.

    Once these passive design features are in place, we will have eliminated the need for air conditioning all together and significantly reduced our heating demand.

    The next post will be about energy efficiency through active systems.