Posted by: Scott McCullough | September 26, 2013

NESEA Green Buildings Open House 2013

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This year we have decided to offer our house up as part of the Green Buildings Open House organized by NESEA.  We also hosted last year, though this year with the house complete there will be much more to look at.  And we won’t be as distracted with carpentry work so that we can focus more on providing information to visitors.

The tour is next weekend, Saturday, October 5th from 10:00 to 4:00.  Be sure to check for other projects in the area to visit as well.

We have our tour information listed on Energysage: http://www.energysage.com/project/6250/eagle-pond-house-wilmot-new-hampshire/

Posted by: Scott McCullough | September 19, 2013

Front Door Saga

I described in a previous post the construction of the insulated hemlock board door.  We really liked how it turned out, but unfortunately the western sun got the better of it.  In the spring we noticed some small cracks appearing that we thought were normal, but into May the cracks became caverns.  And soon the hot sun managed to completely buckle the door to the point where it wouldn’t even close.

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Though it would have been nice to have a front door made from our harvested Hemlock, it wasn’t meant to be.  We needed to use lumber that was stable enough to withstand outdoor conditions.

With much of the rest of the carpentry in the house made of plywood, it made sense to build the front door from plywood as well.  We ordered a marine grade plywood for the exterior, and a vertical grain fir for the interior.  The construction was the same as the Hemlock door, with a layer of 1″ insulation between the plywood.

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Seeing it now I actually prefer the new door to the old, as it goes well with other details in the house that are more modern, including the door handle itself.

To add to the story the door handle broke several weeks ago.  It seemingly for no reason stopped engaging the drop bolt and became a large handle with no lock.  The manufacturer Rockwood surprisingly offered a free replacement as the problem is a defect that has occured in other installations.  Within a week we had the new handle installed which functions perfectly.

With the front of the house now stained a dark grey, we stained the door to match.  The clear stained Meranti screen door provides a contrast.

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Posted by: Scott McCullough | August 1, 2013

PHI Tight

Yesterday we received our final Energy Star Certification Report, which includes an air leakage report, a fuel summary, and our HER score.  In all there are very encouraging numbers, and other not so encouraging numbers.

A somewhat disappointing number was our HER score of 44.  This means that our home consumes 44% of what a home built to today’s building code would consume.  This is very different from the unofficial goal that Jess and I have of being net zero while not using fossil fuels on-site.  The fact that all of our appliances are run by electricity including our radiant floor boiler contributed to significant penalties compared to if our appliances were fueled by propane or natural gas.

In reality we will rely much more on our wood stove for heat than the Energy Star software can reflect.  We have radiant heat on our basement and first floors, but we will likely only use the basement at a low setting and use the wood stove for the rest of the house.  We have an electric clothes dryer, but for half of the year we hang our clothes outside on a line to dry.  We have a conventional electric oven in the Kitchen though hope to use our wood stove oven as much as possible.

One encouraging number reported was our air leakage rate of 0.51 ACH @50 pascals, which is 15% tighter than the Passive House Institute standard of 0.60!  As described in previous blog posts, we did use a number of air tight building methods including Zip System sheathing and tape, rubber sill seal, foam seal and rubber gaskets for doors and windows, foam and taping of shell penetrations.  Possibly even more important was that the type of house we built may have ended up having the large role in controlling air leakage that we anticipated.  The timber frame wrapped in multiple layers of continuous insulation created a redundancy where a leak in one layer is covered by the following layer.

Despite the somewhat disappointing HER score we did manage to max out our rebate amount at $4000.  Without the PV system our score would have been 60.  So in addition to the state, federal, and utility rebates we received; at $100 per point we are getting another $1600 for the system.  Total system gross cost $17,719 – state rebate $3,750 – NHEC rebate $2,500 – Federal tax rebate $5,315 – Energy Star bonus $1600 = Total system net cost of $4,554.  At 12.4 cents per kW that is a 7 year payback.

Every new home should be seeking Energy Star Certification.  As long as your not cutting corners, meeting the requirements is easy and the amount of documentation needed is minimal as compared to other certifications such as LEED.  And compared to other certification programs, Energy Star pays you and not the other way around.

Posted by: Scott McCullough | June 14, 2013

Kitchen

The Kitchen cabinetry took us around 3 weeks to build with most of the work being done at night and on the weekends.  As compared to a conventional cabinetry shop where the construction can typically take more than a month with several days for installation.  Our details are simplified and pretty utilitarian, and we’re very happy with the outcome.  It’s a unique Kitchen that you can’t pick out of a catalog.

The island countertop is made of local maple.  Jess’s father gave us the material that he has had stored in his barn for years under piles of hay.  Months ago we asked him to feed out the hay from on top of the maple so that we could get to it when the time came.  We had a local cabinet maker pick up the boards to work on at his shop in Danbury.  A few weeks later we picked up the finished butcher block, it was as smooth and handsome as we could have hoped for.

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First we applied two coats of Boos Block Oil.  After the cooktop was cutout we could put on a final coat of wax.

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The perimeter countertops are soapstone that we purchased from Shaker Hill Granite.  This material is most definitely not local, so it’s breaking some rules but we couldn’t resist the look and feel of natural soapstone.

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Our Kitchen ceiling was a bit of an experiment.  We had the 6×8 timbers to mount the ceiling to and the plumbing supply and waste pipes, electrical conduit and ventilation tubing that had to be disguised.  A standard solution would have been to install drywall with plaster or a solid wood ceiling like v-groove pine.  That seemed to be a little illogical to us, because we wanted to be able to access the utilities if anything were to go wrong.  All along we wanted to have a transparent ceiling of some sort so that the lighting would filter through.  So we started making a wood slatted ceiling, similar in feeling to the slatted wood that we have around the stairway and catwalk.

The ceiling is about 12 feet long and 16 feet across.  I ripped down some 1x pine and assembled sections of ceiling that could easily be installed with screws and pulled down when necessary.

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Our appliances we ordered online and were delivered several days later than scheduled which was pretty frustrating.  We bought a 28″ wide Summit refrigerator bottom freezer, a Bosch dishwasher, and a Bosch convection wall oven.  The GE induction cooktop is an auction purchase from about a year or so ago.

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Although the lighting is screened by the ceiling, it provides enough light to work at the island.  We considered cutting square holes where each light is located to get more light down, but we don’t think it’s necessary.  The globe light over the Dining Room table is an antique that was given to us.  We painted the mounting plate and down rod, otherwise it was in great shape.

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The large bank of drawers below the cooktop we use to store pots and pans, and other cooking items.  Turns out we have more storage space than we’ve been able to fill up.

I’ve probably mentioned before that the door and drawer fronts are all pine veneer plywood with a white stain.  And we used either fir or birch veneer plywood for the cabinet boxes, depending on the application.  The drawer slides are all Knape & Vogt full extension slides.

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Posted by: Scott McCullough | June 11, 2013

Master Bedroom & Bath

It’s tough to share pictures of seemingly finished rooms when I know there are a bunch of things that still need to be done. Most of those things aren’t really noticeable, so I figured I would post Master Bedroom and Bathroom since those spaces are very close to being completely finished.

These pictures were taken at night to help show the lighting.  The Master Bathroom felt very different after having the shower glass installed.

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We used LeGrand’s Adorne light switches and outlets in a few different parts of the house.  The covers are larger but they have a more streamlined look than the typical cover plates.  The black circle on the right is a ‘Wave’ switch.  It’s basically a motion sensor with a range of about an inch, so you motion like your turning a switch and the light comes on.

The square panel in the upper left of the photo is one of the ventilation system controls.  It runs on a battery and sends radio signals back to the main controller, so it can be moved easily without messing with wires.

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We found the tub on Craigslist for $100.  All it needed was a coat of paint on the outside.  This is in our bedroom underneath the large awning window.

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The wall sconces aren’t this bright in reality.  And these are temporary CFL bulbs, which we will replace with LED bulbs.  We intended to put Switch bulbs here, but the ones we ordered are extremely bright.  Bright enough that it’s painful to look at the light source.  They make a frosted bulb that we might try at a lower wattage.

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This is the Artemide Tolomeo swing arm over our bed.  The bulb is a Philips 8W LED soft white, which is equivalent to a 40 watt.

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This is the pendant light in the Guest Bedroom that Jess found on Etsy.  It was a little difficult to photograph, but these shots seem to represent it pretty accurately.  Originally we planned on a sconce with an armature to be mounted to the wall that you can’t see in these photos.  After we found this light we had to think of a way to get the pendant to hang out off of the wall.  So we anchored a stainless cable to the wall above the window and looped it back to the pendant cord.

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Posted by: Scott McCullough | May 30, 2013

Zehnder Commissioning & Blower Door Test

During the past week or two we have been getting the last few things completed that relate to the blower door test that would be done by Horizon Residential Energy Services on May 29th. One major part of that was getting the ventilation system commissioned by the engineer from Zehnder.

Since we installed the system ourselves I would be the only one to blame if something wasn’t installed correctly.  Fortunately everything looked fine minus a few minor adjustments.  Commissioning the system is primarily dealing with balancing the flow of the air throughout the house.  Aubrey uses a flow meter at each supply and return to make sure each has the appropriate cubic feet per minute flowing for each level of ventilation.  The whole system is controlled by a digital display that we installed discretely in our Kitchen pantry where it’s convenient to the cooktop.  Each bathroom has a wireless controller where the ventilation level can be changed.

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The process took about an hour and a half.  I’ll probably mess around with the programming features to vary the ventilation to fit our work schedules.  The commissioning included a report showing a summary of measured flow rates:

3-0174-02.13 McCullough Residence Zehnder Commissioning Report

Before our blower door test we went around the house and addressed any air leaks that we hadn’t filled already.  We have a cord wood door that I added rubber weather sealing to.  Jess spray foamed where ventilation duct-work and hosebibs exited the house.  And although I closed the dampers on our woodstove, I knew that it would be a source of air leakage for the test.

Kevin and Andy from Horizon arrived and set up on the basement door, which was a bit of a curveball.  I was hoping they would use the front door that hadn’t been weather sealed yet, but it is too large for their blower door equipment.  But they allowed me to tape off the front door, I’ll send them pictures of the double layered rubber sealing that I’ll install later.

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As the fan got going reducer rings were added which was a good sign.  The final reading came to 490 CFM, or .98 ACH at 50 pascals.  Not Passive House, but we were pretty satisfied with the number.  I think that if we did not have the woodstove we would have done better.  But if we were to do it again we would still have the woodstove.  The endless supply of free heat is not something to eliminate just for a better leakage rate.

Kevin walked around with his thermal imager to see how the envelope looked.  This is something I would have liked to spend more time on as we could have found where we had weak spots in our insulation.  The imager did show the obvious difference in temperature between the double pane and triple pane windows which was good to see.

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In a few weeks we will have our final Energy Star Rating and we will also know how much of a rebate we can expect from our utility.

Posted by: Scott McCullough | May 7, 2013

Cabinets and Finishes

We’ve been a little delinquent on blog posts lately. Mostly because we haven’t had time as we’re scrambling to get everything finished.  Last weekend we and all of our stuff moved out of our place in Danbury, and are waiting to move into the new house. We’re staying at a friends in the meantime.  Mostly it’s the shower and toilets that we’re waiting to get installed before we move in, but it would be nice to have lights as well.

The Kitchen cabinets are nearly done, we need to finish up some faces, some staining and hardware installation.  Countertops are due this week and next.  Appliances are coming today or tomorrow.  The cabinet boxes are made of 3/4″ birch and fir plywood, the door and drawer faces are 3/4″ pine veneer plywood, stained to match the rest of the pine in the house.  We had everything made on site, including the drawer boxes.  There is no face frame or face banding, we like the utilitarian look of the plywood edges.

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Most of the Kitchen ceiling will have wood screening to hide the plumbing and ductwork.  Though the ceiling bay on each end of the Kitchen will remain open.

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The Master Bathroom and Closet are close to being completed.  The granite shower curbing from Shaker Hill Granite is installed.  It’ll be a few weeks before the glass shower doors are in.  The plumbing wall will be covered in cedar to match the rest of the Bathroom.

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Our vanity top is soapstone.  There are a number of items in the finishes department that we splurged on.

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The Master Closet is part of the bathroom.  There are 4 drawers and 4 doors still to add.  Each large pine door has hanging storage behind them.

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A few weekends ago we finished the bedroom floors with the same finish as we have on the walls.  Rubio Monocoat is actually intended to be used as a floor finish.  Being the amateurs that we are, it took a trial and error to realize how much the floors should have been sanded before applying the stain.  Without the proper amount of sanding the stain finds and highlights any scuff marks or swirls left behind by the floor sander.  Fortunately we only stained a portion of the Master Bedroom before realizing what was going on.  After going back over all the floors with finer and finer grit paper the scuff marks went away and we applied the stain with better success.

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Posted by: Scott McCullough | April 8, 2013

First Floor Slab and Cookstove

Getting the first floor slab poured is one of the bigger milestones of the project. It has taken a lot of planning and preparation to get everything ready.  It’s not the sort of thing we wanted to screw up, so we were being extra careful to make sure it went smoothly.  Though it wasn’t made easier by the fact that we hadn’t worked on a job with an exposed concrete radiant thin slab, and neither had our installers, or really anyone we tried to get advice from.

We already had our perimeter trim installed 1 1/2″ tall by 2 1/2″ wide hemlock.  So the basic plan would be to lay down 6 mil poly directly onto the plywood subfloor, tape over the hemlock trim, and run plastic about 36″ up the walls.  The radiant tubing would go down onto the plastic as in a typical install.

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The most tedious part of this was getting the plastic and tape set flat onto all the edges.  One type of tape we used wasn’t working which we had to remove and re-tape.  Eventually we got it right.

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In all we had to install five 300 foot loops of radiant tubing, spaced 8″ apart.

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To help control some of the inevitable cracking we added strips of hemlock trim at different places in the slab that would be flush with the floor surface.

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It took us two days to go from plywood to ready for concrete.  The logistics forced us to make a rush to prep everything in two days.  Being mud season we had to ask permission from the road agent to get a concrete truck into the site on any given day.  Since the road agent will only give permission a day or two ahead of time, we had to wait for the forecast to show favorable conditions, get the permission from the road agent, then scramble to get the floor prepped before the truck shows up.  I’m glad we gave ourselves two days, I don’t think we could have done it any quicker.

The concrete pour went well, all done by Kearsarge Concrete.  The spec was a standard concrete mix with 3/8″ pea stone, and the color dye that we selected.

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After the slab had setup for a couple days we had to remove all the plastic, grind the edges, and scrape away the concrete that was over the floor trim.  Because the floor had to be smoothed with a power trowel, the trim pieces that ran across the floor were covered with a very thin layer of concrete.  In the end we decided to paint the trim pieces.  The process of removing the concrete and the tape roughed up the hemlock quite a bit, which the grey paint helped to hide.

After the slab looked good and was cleaned up we started applying two layers of ‘Polyseal WB’.  This would keep the slab protected from staining.  The first coat we applied had some visible streaking after it was dry so we rented a floor sander/buffer and sanded out the streaking as best we could.  Before the second coat we buffed the whole floor which made for a very smooth surface.

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We’re very happy with how the floor turned out.  It’s smooth, durable and will soak up the winter sun nicely.

Our wood fired cookstove was delivered on Friday.  As soon as the slab was finished we set it in place.  It’s made by Sopka.  It weighs about 500 pounds, and seems to be pretty solid.

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Posted by: Scott McCullough | March 13, 2013

HRV

With the electrical and plumbing work going on we’ve been working on getting the HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilator) equipment and ducts installed.  We settled on Zehnder, who have a rep in Greenland, NH.  Initially we weren’t sure if it would be affordable for us, but since their system seemed to be fairly easy to install there would be significant savings if we did it ourselves.  The pricing for the parts came to equal the parts and labor of a Lifebreath system with conventional metal duct work.  But in the end by putting in our own labor to install the Zehnder system, we would benefit from the most efficient and reliable ventilation system available.

My father and uncle were generous enough to come up north with a cargo van and drop everything off from their warehouse in Haverhill, MA.

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I got familiar with the parts and started by installing the register boxes throughout the house in their appropriate locations.  There were instructions on how to install the HRV itself and the controls, but virtually nothing to show how to connect all the pieces and parts together.  But thankfully there were installation videos showing how the Zehnder HRV is installed with the Comfosystem distribution system.

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The Comfotubes are what make the install so simple as compared to conventional rigid metal duct work.  They are similar to vacuum hoses except a bit larger at just under 3″ in diameter.

Above you see the silencer boxes which collect all the tubes into one plenum that would be attached to the HRV itself.

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After the registers were all installed, all necessary holes were drilled through framing and floors, and the HRV was hung in the basement along with the silencer boxes, we started running the tubing throughout the house.  It started out as a wrestling match to get the tubing to cooperate with the turns we were trying to make.  After some practice we got the hang of it and were making progress.  Each register has either one, two or three tubes going into it depending on the required CFM.  And they are all homeruns, meaning there are no main lines or branch lines.  So in the end we had a good sized web of tubes in the basement that we eventually organized.

The install videos made it all look pretty easy which makes sense since they are professional Zehnder installers.  And once I got going it was, though inserting the tubes into each register box was frustrating every time and never got easier as I went.  I lubricated the tube with the o-ring and the receiver just like the videos recommended, but I always had to haul on the tube as hard as I could to budge the o-ring the tiniest bit.  I understand an air tight fit is necessary, but we’re not in outer space.

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It’s a little tight in that corner of the mechanical room, but that’s just how things had to be.  The radiant heat system takes up some room so the HRV got squished into the corner.  I still need to get the exhaust and intake ducts to the exterior and get power to the HRV, but that can wait a little while.  With the tubes in, we can go ahead with getting wall boards installed on the second floor.

Overall I would not discourage anyone from installing a Zehnder/Comfosystem ventilation system themselves.  Just make sure to do the proper planning in getting the tubes throughout the house, especially if you are working with a timber frame.

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Our curious pup was checking things out on Sunday!

Posted by: Scott McCullough | March 9, 2013

Spinning Backwards

After some delay our solar installers were able to complete the photo-voltaic panel installation this week.  Before the work started our installers HB Plumbing and Heating came out and gave us an idea of which trees we had to remove to get the best solar exposure on the roof.  We scheduled our logger to come in quickly and remove what was needed.  They dropped off the panels and other equipment late last week and got started setting up scaffolding the beginning of this week.

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We will have 14 Helios panels for 4.2 kW.  A separate meter was installed at the remote pedestal through an empty underground conduit that runs out from the mechanical room.  HB gave them selves a deadline of Friday at 2:00 to have the system complete, when a representative from New Hampshire Electric Coop would come by and confirm our qualification for a rebate.

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It isn’t easy to see the panels from the ground, though with the trees taken down, it’s easier now to walk down the hill and look back up at the house.

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It was a little painful to see the trees down, but it is necessary to get optimal production from the panels.  We’ll plant some apple trees and blueberry bushes among other things now that we have ample sunlight.

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So our electric meter is now officially ‘spinning backwards’, at least for now when we’re not using much electricity.  It’ll be interesting to see how well we do with our usage when we move in and if we use less than we produce.

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