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I Forget: What’s the Opposite of “Start”? April 28, 2007

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Bedroom sheetrockThe latest delay has come to an end. It’s very much a type of incremental torture, where the municipality, the builder, subs, weather and life in general all collaborate to do the one thing you can’t deal with – delay the house. But it’s a funny kind of torture because, while they don’t release you from your bonds, they do occasionally start working productively for periods of time, entertaining you and rebuilding your sense of hope. Before crushing it again.

This time it was the building inspector’s office not inspecting the insulation. Joanne (Ralph’s wife) called for the inspection last Friday. On Thursday afternoon, 6 days later, we still didn’t have either signature or list of required changes. Never mind that the sheetrock was ready on Tuesday and the crew was puttering around, picking up little jobs and just chomping at the bit to come in. Never mind that I’m ready to walk into Town Hall with a massive can of whoop ass. Jerks. Friday morning we got our signature and now we’re rolling again.

And I’ll tell you, when the water stops dripping on your forehead, and instead your torturers start spoon-feeding you strawberries and creme, life is very nice.

Lower wall cabinetsThe other great thing that happened Friday was visiting Gene’s Woodworking and seeing our cabinetry finished and ready to roll! Steve has been one of our greatest subs (Heather found him through a referral from a co-worker) because he or Jeff answers his phone (!) and is always pleasant, humorous, and does great work for great value.

The natural cherry cabinetry looks great! We took a number of Steve’s recommendations in designing the cabinetry. The doors are hinged to open 180 degrees. The cabinet boxes, like all their work, are built solidly and we’re expecting them to work smoothly and endure for years. bookcase cabinetryIn addition to the standard kitchen cabinetry, they built the curved bookcase that’s going to define the outer edge of the kitchen. It looks great and, combined with the pendant , is really going to tie the kitchen/living room together into one space. That’s one piece that I can’t wait to see in place!

Steve also built the vanities for the upstairs bathrooms and the funky custom wood pedestal we found in a design book and modified to fit the downstairs lav. Oven Stack cabinetryYou can see the top and base upside down perched on the cabinetry in the top photo. The question on that piece is whether to top it with granite as we planned or whether to finish the cherry with a more waterproof method and leave it natural. Hmmmm.

Did a door walk-through on Thursday as well, picking out the door types, finishes and swings for the 20ish interior doors in the house. That one went pretty smoothly although there are a couple spots framing is going to make the trim a bit interesting.

Today we get to visit the site with our friends Cy and Gail and hope to see the sheetrock installation having progressed on Friday. If not, we’re still looking to have the plaster done by Friday and hope to start priming/painting next week.


What’s 1/2 Inch Thick and Weighs 10 Tons? April 25, 2007

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Sheetrock deliveredThat’s the sheetrock, baby!  It was a great day on site Tuesday as we moved forward across the board.

The morning started with a visit from Tony, our painter.  Tony and his wife Deb are friends and just had a baby boy named Eamonn a couple weeks ago, so it’s great to see Tony and get ready to get him ready to roll on our house!  He met with Ralph to talk schedule and then walked through the house with me.  Since we chose to purchase the siding unpainted, Tony’s going to get me a quote on painting the exterior as well.

The electrical trench was inspected, approved and filled by 1pm.  Turns out McKenna, the electricians,  had put the panel in place and connected all the wires on Monday when they ran the line from the street.  Now we’re just waiting for National Grid to do their thing at the pole and the house will have power!

Our plumber came by as well to finish off the vents for the bathrooms.  They’re minimizing holes in the room, so are venting everything possible to the eves and the north side of the house.  My networking organization is really looking for a plumber right now, so I’m psyched that Dennis is going to come visit one of our meetings as well.  He’s proved himself to be smart, interesting and reliable thus far – I’d be happy to refer some business his way!

Chucky and another of Ralph’s crew swept up the house and stacked all the spare usable materials in the basement while Ralph and I made a run out to look at tile/slate and talked through all the open issues.

Look!  Sheetrock and Plaster!The day ended with the delivery of the sheetrock.  Given that we now only have a ladder into the house since the stairs were removed for the electrical trench, it’s a very good thing their crane/truck does most of the heavy work for them.  It looked like about 80 double sheets of 4×12 board that they loaded into the house!  That’s about 110 lbs per sheet, so that’s 9 tons of sheetrock and then nearly another 2 tons of plaster doing up in the next few days!  As Mike, our energy auditor pointed point, it’s all part of the thermal mass that helps keep the house comfortable and reduces the heating/cooling costs.  They popped a few windows out to make the drop and it’s a great thing, too.  I can’t imagine trying to carry 8000 lbs. up the stairs to the top floor!

So what’s up now?  We’re hoping the insulation got it’s final inspection late yesterday and if so the board crew should be hanging sheetrock now.  I’ll be heading over at 3pm to check it out and to meet with Mike Berry, our Energy Star coordinator.  We’re looking to finish the plaster by next Tuesday and then we’ll take a bit of time looking at paint samples as we enter the phase of painting, floors and painted trim.  The natural trim, cabinetry and finish plumbing/electrical come last.  We still have a bunch of little bits like the fireplace/kitchen vent ducts that have to be installed, but hopefully that won’t hold up the process too much…

Finally, Some Sweat Equity! April 24, 2007

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How not to insulateFor a do-it-yourselfer, hiring a builder isn’t an easy move.  In my case, it’s a smart move though!  I’ve got no problem with a set of shelves being a little bit squidgy, but I’m really fond of the idea that our new house is going to be a rock.  So this last week was a special one.  I actually got to put 3 days of work into the house, improving the insulation!  It was all wrapped up by Friday.  All the compression removed, all the gaps filled, all the thermal bypass areas filled (other than the ones that will be filled with wallboard or How TO insulateaccessible from the attic.)  The photo on the right is how the insulation was installed in the upstairs bathroom.  It was squeezed behind the pipe and wires, resulting in the 5 1/2 inch think R-21 batt being compressed down to about 1 1/2 inches.  On the right is the wall done correctly (I hope!)  The batt was split around both the pipe and wires so that the bay is completely filled with 5 1/2 inches of insulation.  The pipe, obviously, still takes up it’s space and the wires take up an inch of thickness – can’t help that!  But the paper’s pulled tight and stapled to the front of the studs to prevent compression and hopefully this wall will keep the bathroom toasty!  When it was all done, I walked through the house, taking “after” photos which will be submitted with our Energy Star application.  The big hurdle on the application now is reducing the leaks in the downstairs ventilation ducts, but either I or the geothermal crew will be applying more mastic to that end pretty soon.  We need to insulate the ducts in the basement better as well, but that’s space that will remain open – we have a couple months to get that done!

Driveway electrical trenchWhat else?  The soffit over the front door was finished around the recessed lights.  The trench was dug to run the electrical from the pole to the house.  This involved a bunch of hammering with a rented excavator w/hydraulic hammer.  Luckily we got double use out of it when the site crew spent a while breaking up some of the larger rocks on property so we can use them in walls far more easily.  The electrical was supposedly installed yesterday and I’m hoping it’s been inspected now.

The weather’s turned beautiful here.  The spring peepers made themselves heard this past week and between them and the bird calls, it’s going to be a wonderful chorus to listen to for years to come!  John Wadsworth, our architect, came out to visit on Friday and very much liked what he saw.  Now he’s just waiting for our wicked kegga and pahty to come visit again!

Today’s a big day.  I’m meeting with our painter on site to get an estimate on painting the outside of the house from him and he’s meeting with Ralph to get a timeline on doing the interior work.  Hopefully the electrical trench is being filled and we’re getting the board dropped off this afternoon.  And I’m supposed to finally be checking out slate/tile with Ralph ’cause that’s one decision that Heather and I have been having trouble with.

We’ve lost 10 days on the schedule this month due to weather and delays and, if we don’t kick it into high gear immediately, I’m going to owe my friend Joe a case of beer.  We need to get our occupancy permit by the end of June or else!!!

Insulation continues April 17, 2007

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Some cool stuff today on site with Mike, using his toys to measure the tightness of the HVAC ducts and then blowing hot air through the ducts and checking out the results with his infrared camera!  The great news is that we’re looking really good on getting tax incentives.  We’ll have to do some duct sealing, duct insulation, and continue our insulation improvements to get Energy Star certification, but it looks like we’re going to be able to do that as well.

So we’re heading back to the site tomorrow for the afternoon and perhaps the evening to try to finish the insulation improvements.  No word from Ralph for a few days, but hopefully we can get the wall board up starting Thursday or Friday.  We’re running an extra week behind every two weeks right now!

What’s Energy Star? Something You should know before building. April 15, 2007

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Most of us have watched incredulously as the cigarette industry pays for advertisements that publicly humiliate it and clearly are intended to destroy it. For those of us with at least a foot in the marketing world, it’s incomprehensible, despite our understanding of the the legal, health and business history perspective. It’s been going on for years now and we all know about it.

Dining room insulationWell, they’re not the only company playing the business/legal game of forced change. Your local utility’s playing it too! We’ve also heard of the ‘free energy audits’ offered by your local electrical/gas utilities where the auditor will come to your house and tell you how to save energy, thus costing her/his company revenue. Ever done it? I’ve been too weirded out by the concept and that’s my loss. Now I know more about the game, thanks to our friend Mike.

Mike’s an energy auditor and home inspector and has really helped us out over the past 10 days. He’s done more than explain the game to us. He’s also improved our house, taught our builder some new tricks and put us in possible range of some tax incentives from the Energy Star program.

That’s a name you know, eh? Energy Star? They’re the ones who certify that your new appliances are more efficient than your old ones and maybe you get a tax credit out of the deal? Well, that’s the same program that your utilities have been paying your money into for years to pay the salaries of the energy auditors! Does that close the loop for you? It sure did for me! The government mandates the improvements, the utilities pay for their monopoly by paying into the program, the auditors are paid for by you and the utility and help you save energy by making the improvements. Don’t worry about the utility too much – they’ll find a way to make money. Monopolies do tend to help in that regard.

The windowSo let’s get back to Mike. He convinced us to boost our exterior insulation from R-19 to R-21 for about $550. His explanation that the R-19 is 6 1/4 inches thick and the R-21 is 5 1/2 inches thick was the turning point, because it explains why the R-19, when crushed into the 5 1/2 inch thickness of the exterior wall, really functions as R-17 or so. The higher density R-21 certainly is worth more money when you see it with that comparison in mind. In addition, Mike explained that using cellulose insulation in the attic would be another good $550 investment. In addition to boosting us from R-30 to R-38, it’d also fill the air gaps between the ceiling board and the attic joists caused by the furring strips. This really helps the insulation value and greatly decreases the chances of moisture issues – the biggest trouble in the insulation world.

So our house now costs $1100 more. Mike rough modeled the house and estimated the changes will pay for themselves in about 7 years. On top of that, we’re hopeful that we’ll qualify for Energy Star certification and get tax credits to help pay for some of the additional insulation, but that’s only a possibility right now. Why?

Because it’s a bloody little secret that the Energy Star program is trying to recruit and educate builders to build more energy efficient homes!

Heather and I are pretty environmentally conscious. We’ve been in the process for building this house for over 2 years now. And Mike’s the first person to tell us that Energy Star will pay for the auditor to work with us from Planning to Designing to Building to Certifying the house in order to make it more energy efficient!!! Our house is now better insulated, so why do we care? Well, only the insulation got boosted. Our well-insulated ducts are still in unconditioned space, so we may not get certified and the hundreds or thousands of dollars in tax credits. On top of that, our southern windows, while very nice, may not be the ideal windows to capture the southern light since the solar heat gain cooefficient isn’t as high as it could be! Ralph did a nice job picking out nice, well-insulated windows. But he’s not a solar planner and Mike tells us that we may receive a fair bit less solar gain than we should because the SHGC of the windows means they’re reflecting a lot of the energy instead of letting us capture it! A free energy auditor could have taken care of that bit of information!


Don’t get me wrong. It’s a kick-@$$ house. And between the geothermal heating/cooling system, the semi-passive solar design and the high-efficiency wood fireplace, boosted by the added insulation, we’re expecting to pay well under $1000 per year to heat/cool the joint. But I’m a big fan of doing it right – and I really would have wanted to know about this program in advance.

If I’m confused on some of the details, please comment and let me know what I’ve gotten wrong!

In the meantime, the insulation is about 70% in place. The board is slated to go up next week and it’s going to start looking like a finished house very shortly!

Insulation April 13, 2007

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InsulationLong time no post – and now just a quick one!  Things are rolling forward.  The septic’s complete and leveled, the driveway and front yard improvements continue.  The bulkhead’s in place in the basement and rough inspections are complete.  Except for the plumbing inspection, but that’s another story.

Big news is that insulation is nearly complete and we’re on track to get the walls boarded next week.  I’ll post more soon…