Posted by: Scott McCullough | February 24, 2016

Net Zero

We’ve finally been able to make it through an entire year with a negative net usage of electricity. As of right now we have 309 kWh left in our utility ‘bank’ after 12 billing cycles.  Our electric utility New Hampshire Electric Cooperative has some new online electrical usage tracking features.  It has allowed us to review our usage and figure out when higher loads are occurring.

The first major improvement to our electrical usage was the installation of the Nyle Geyser heat pump to provide us with domestic hot water.  We did this back in the summer of 2014, and have had dramatic reduction in electrical usage ever since.

What has also been very helpful was our ability to rely entirely on our woodstove for heat throughout this winter, and avoiding the use of our radiant floors.  It’s been a mild winter here in New Hampshire, and because of that we haven’t even needed to run the woodstove every day.  When the sun comes out for a few hours the house is able to heat up enough and stay comfortable for several hours and sometimes through the night.  During a more severe winter I would anticipate that we could still avoid using the radiant floors and would just need have the woodstove running more consistently.

The one remaining area where we would like to improve is our clothes drying.  We currently have a conventional electric dryer that we use when we can’t use out outdoor clothes line.  Ideally we would purchase a new heat pump dryer.  Unfortunately the prices right now are way higher than we would be willing to pay.  As a bonus a heat pump dryer would allow us to eliminate the 6″ vent hole in our basement, which would help to keep the basement temperature up in the winter.

So we’ll see how the next year goes.  Around the beginning of March we expect to start building up our kWh credits due to longer days and higher sun angles.


Posted by: Scott McCullough | April 6, 2015

We’re in Dwell !

We never thought this would happen, but we are published in the current special issue of Dwell, entitled ‘Your Rooms We Love’!  We’re still waiting for the printed copy in the mail, but I was able to find an online edition.

This was an online request for submissions that we learned about back in January.  Although we thought it was a long shot we figured if we didn’t get chosen at least we would have some nice photos of the house that we could use for other things.  We took the photos ourselves over the course of a weekend and submitted them along with descriptions of the house.

Here’s the link to the entire issue:

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Projects in the publication are from all over the world, so it is nice to see our little town of Wilmot, New Hampshire recognized.

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Posted by: Scott McCullough | November 26, 2014

Tractor Woodshed

Our fall project was to build the tractor/woodshed on the north side of the house.  This would be a huge improvement over the black membrane covering that I have over the tractor now, and the lumber tarps that we have covering our woodpiles.  Especially during the dead of winter when we have to dig through the snow to fetch wood.

The design was a timber frame structure with a shed roof that sat close to the house to divert snow and rain runoff.  The front portion would cover the tractor and the back and lower portion would have cord wood.  It would allow for easy covered access to our wood door where we hand our wood through into the Living Room.


We installed the foundation piers during the summer when we did our deck piers.  Most of the materials for the frame we gathered from what we had leftover from the timber frame for the house.  Fortunately we have a hemlock timber frame (not pine), which would work well for an outdoor structure.  The ground is covered with stone over filter fabric to avoid a muddy mess.


We cut and assembled each frame on the ground, then partially disassembled them to tip up each portion of frame.


We had to purchase the 2×10 roof rafters from a local sawmill.  They were green and very heavy, but Jess and I managed to get them all in place.  You may be able to see the hurricane clips and mid-span block that stabilize the rafters.




The biggest expense for this project was the clear polycarbonate roofing, even though it’s much less expensive then any alternative.  We strapped the roof with 1x hemlock.

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There’s still some cross bracing to add which will stiffen up the frame, also this winter we may be able to get some siding on the reduce snow blowing in.  Not to mention all the cord wood we have left to haul in there.

Posted by: Scott McCullough | October 22, 2014

Photo Roundup

We took some ‘finished’ photos of the house last weekend.



These are the majority of the 44 blueberry bushes that we’ve planted around the property.  In a few years we should be harvesting blueberries throughout the summer.


We seeded and mulched our south facing hillside to help control erosion.








We’re experimenting with some raised bed garden covers.  Pex works well for hoop covers, but not if it’s too tightly wound.


Posted by: Scott McCullough | October 7, 2014

Deck Nearly Done

Minus a few items like a handrail, base trim on the house, and some grading and stonework, we’re basically done with the deck.

It took several weeks to install the Garapa decking since because we used hidden biscuit fasteners.  We did the same type of install on the front porch, but with such a large area for the deck it took a very long time to get it all finished.  Not to mention working with the angle of the deck off of the house.  On the north edge of the deck we set some stones to step off onto which will need some adjusting on one end.  The lower step extends out as a bench to the corner.



With the amount of afternoon sun the space gets we plan on installing a sunshade that will cover a portion of deck.

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The trusses left large openings to fall through.  We looked at several different metal wire options and settled on this 2″ x 4″ galvanized wire fencing.  It came in a 36″ roll so it worked well to roll it out and screw it to the frame.  After we get the handrail attached the end opening by the Living Room door will have something to cover the top of the wire.




Off of the northeast corner of the house we built a fire pit area, with boulder seating.  We still need to get sand, mulch and stone to cover and stabilize the dirt.  I’ll post better pictures of all that when it’s done.


Next big project is the wood/tractor shed.  I’m hoping it won’t take nearly as long to build as the deck did, especially as snowfall isn’t too far away.  In the meantime I’ll work on a post for the Nyle heat pump water heater that we purchased and installed.

Posted by: Scott McCullough | August 12, 2014

Deck Framing

Jess and I had always talked about building our deck with the image of a steel pedestrian bridge in mind.  We liked the idea that the structure doubles as a guardrail. A great example is the one in Bristol, NH that we’ve driven by a few times.


The industrial look worked well with our house, but we never really figured out how to fabricate it on a low budget.  But some things just seem to work out.  At a family gathering last summer, Jess’s uncle had a stack of 4’x16′ steel trusses sitting on a trailer in the driveway.  He had acquired them from a nearby big box store whose logo has a bright orange background.  As with most family transactions, we worked out a lopsided deal that he couldn’t refuse and we hauled them over to our house.

The deck shape didn’t have to change much to accommodate the trusses, we just had to adjust some of the concrete pier locations and figure out how to get it all connected together.

First step was to weld small steel angle onto the trusses that would support the 2×10 ledger boards.


Orange wasn’t quite right for us, so we got a coat of black spray paint onto everything.


The metal prep work was happening when we weren’t getting the rest of the deck ready.  We had an excavator come over for a weekend to get all the piers dug out and placed.  We poured  seven 10″ sono tubes where needed and also used two precast piers we had made from the house foundation work three years ago.

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The concrete mixer made filling the tubes pretty easy, it took about 1/2 day.  After the piers were done we laid down a layer of filter fabric and crushed stone to help prevent any plant growth.


It took some time for us to figure out how to get things lined up and square.  The deck is a rectangle, but it’s at about a 7 degree angle to the house.  We used a string line on the long end as a reference line and measured off of that.


We installed two pressure treated beams holding up the short side of the deck, the steel trusses would go on the long side.


Two people could carry a truss around, but three or four were needed to get each one up off the ground and onto the 6×6 posts.



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Although I welded the small tabs onto the trusses, I wasn’t about to trust my welds for the more important structural connections.  We hired a professional.



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In order to avoid a post in front of the basement door or window we held the 3×5 steel post back by the retaining wall and cantilevered the truss about 8′.



Those stairs are temporary at best.  The permanent stairs will be on the right and land on the large stone that we had placed next to the house.  The area off to the left will have the grade a bit higher for a seating area and fire pit.  That work will likely happen around Labor Day.

Jess’s uncle brought an extra piece of steel to cap off the end of one of the trusses as we may need that for a future railing attachment.  The obvious thing that we will be getting soon is something to prevent falling through the truss and down to the ground below.  It will likely be a steel mesh similar to a fencing or lathe, we’re doing some research for that.



The angled joists shown above tie back into the house, the one here in the foreground is held with a Simpson DTT2 lateral load connection.  The one further back runs along the gable end of the house and is bolted in.


We will be starting to install the deck boards this week.  The outside face of the pressure treated lumber will be painted or stained to match with the black truss.  And we’re going to enclose the open end by the door that you see above.



Posted by: Scott McCullough | April 28, 2014

More to Come

Sadly It’s’ been about 7 months since we’ve done a blog update.  Mostly because our house projects this winter had more to do with plowing snow, and hauling cordwood than designing and building.  But this spring and summer we have tons to do including the construction of a wood/tractor shed, and a large deck. I’ll be posting design images as well as construction progress when things get underway.

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Posted by: Scott McCullough | September 26, 2013

NESEA Green Buildings Open House 2013


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:

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.




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.



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.



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.

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