Friday, October 26, 2012

All Buttoned Up

North side on our last day in Wisconsin

Well we're all finished up for the season on our Wisconsin house. We had a blast spending the summer out here building and we're very happy with how everything has come out. There is still a small list of punchlist items and some exterior bits that will have to wait until the warm weather comes back in the spring. But the house is ready for some furniture and some big holiday meals!

East side with the bend.
The Kitchen finishes popped out of nowhere in the last couple days with the walnut doors going on, the countertops sealed and waxed and all the finish tile being set. I think it does just what we wanted by providing a central congregation space that still provides enough room to actually . . . you know . . . cook. The only thing missing from this main space is the stone around the fireplace which the clients want to tackle themselves as a fun summer project next year. 

Kitchen looking north-west (towards the lake)

Kitchen, looking south-east towards living space

Bedroom - all finished and ready for furniture

One of my favorite areas, and honestly a bit of a surprise, was the sleeping loft. The bend in the house gives the space a really unique and dynamic feeling while the big glassed-in gable ends provide tons of fantastic daylight. I think this is going to everyone's favorite hiding place and will provide a great semi-private space during big family events. 

Sleeping loft, top of the stairs 
In the north end of the loft, we built a half-height divider to carve out a 'sleeping nook' which will be semi-sheltered from the rest of the space. The divider shifts from pine paneling into walnut cabinetry and back again as it wraps around the space. And the morning light that comes in from the gable windows is incredible - I'm sure this'll be a great spot to wake up in.

Below you can see one of my favorite spots - the bend and the big north-facing windows with the 'sleeping nook' to the left. Very cool. 

So, overall a big success. The thermal performance and air-sealing strategy is working even better than we imagined, and we all had a blast spending the summer living and working in the beautiful north woods of wisconsin. Everyone at BLDGtyp is incredibly grateful to the owners for being such wonderful people to work with and for everyone else who helped us wrestle this project into shape. We're hopeful that his home will become a much-loved retreat for the family, their children and grandchildren for many many years to come. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Air Sealing: Step 04 - Performance Testing

Blower door in the front door
We did our final Blower-door testing today to verify our air-sealing strategy and the house performed far beyond our best estimates! Very exciting. 

Rich Urban from E3 Home Performance Services was nice enough to come out on a sunday morning to squeeze us in before we all head back to Brooklyn. He was really great to work with and walked us through the whole process and even let me play with his super-expensive IR scanner for a little bit! The Blower-Door is a test where a fan gets installed in an opening (usually a door) and the house is either pressurized or de-pressurized by blowing air in or out. This allows you to measure the amount of air moving through the cracks in the house's envelope, mechanicals and windows and to validate all our air-sealing work. 

Rich Urban, E3 Home Performance Services

Passive House specifies that a certified house should have an Air-Change Rate (how often all the air inside a house is changed to fresh outdoor air) of 0.6 Air-Changes every hour (when measured at 50 Pascals of air-pressure). We figured that since we didn't have Passive House windows and that we had some elements, like a big wood-stove and Range vent, these would make us a little leakier than we'd have liked.

0.6 Air Changes would mean roughly 250 CFM of air infiltration. We figured that we would be somewhere north of that, possible up around 400-500 CFM if there were some spots we really screwed up. But turns out we tested at only 175 CFM! (This was testing only the envelope though - when we opened the HRV ducts and the range vent we bumped up to about 250 CFM). But still a really great performance and a big success for the house. 

174 CFM at pressure
So that was all great news and we're very happy. During the test we walked through with Rich and took a look at all the details with his IR viewer. Since the house was depressurized, infiltration air would come leaking into the house through cracks and since there was a large temperature differential between outside and inside, we were able to see the cold air leaking in pretty well (what tiny amount there was). We could also see any thermal-bridging areas or spots where we had problems (there were only a tiny few).

IR view of a window sill. Black is cold, white is hot. The metal spacers in the Marvin windows show up as the dark line around the window. 

All in all - a big success.  Lately its been getting down into the 20s at night up here, but the house was always 55 when we came into work - even without any heat at all. So we certainly knew the house was performing very well, but it is still really exciting to see that proven by the test.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Concrete Countertops and Kitchen Finishes

concrete counter poured in a melamine form.
Its the last big weekend here. We've got a lot left to finish up - but we should be on schedule to be able to cook an inaugural dinner in the new house this sunday! Over the last couple weeks, we've been making our own custom concrete countertops for use in the kitchen, hearth and bathroom. After a bit of testing and planning we ended up pouring all the tops upside-down in melamine forms in order to give us a nice smooth finish. 

Above you can see Jason and Carrie vibrating a table full of the forms, we just used our cordless sawzalls without blades to get a constant vibration. The mix was a bit too dry in the end - so even with the vibration we still had some pockets and voids - but mostly it all worked really well.  

Carrie - troweling off one of the countertops

Kitchen counter, just after setting.
In addition to the kitchen and bathroom counters - there is a large built-in bench under the fireplace. This is made of a single huge concrete slab which sits on walnut fins. Below the gang is lifting it into place.

Jeremy, making nice on the bench right after pouring

To deal with the irregularities and voids, Carrie mixed up some special sauce and spent some time patching it up. Looks really nice now though. The first coat of sealer went on today - and over the next few days we'll apply a couple coats of beeswax finish and buff it to a beautiful sheen. 

Carrie finishing up the kitchen island.

Concrete counters on either side of the big farmhouse sink.

Besides the concrete, the kitchen Walnut paneling and doors are almost all on. It looks amazing contrasting with the pale pine walls and ceiling. Really dramatic, but still natural and together with the concrete it makes for a very strong looking kitchen.

Walnut panel

Installing cabinet doors

So, some more doors in the kitchen, a few more spots of pine on the walls, the bathroom door to install once the floor grout is done, and then after a bit of handle-installing and some baseboard we're just about wrapped up. Only 22 weeks in the making.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Somedays Construction is a Lot of Fun . . .

 . . . and somedays you are putting up siding outside in the snow.


Its been a pretty rough week: from digging holes for deck footings, to hauling concrete in 10 gallon buckets, to dealing with all the site garbage, shoveling dirt, then sanding 10,000LF of interior wood (including ceilings up over head) and staining said 10,000LF of interior wood (anyone who know me knows I HATE painting and staining), its pretty much been one bummer of a job after another. All, of course, capped off by this weekend of hanging siding on the garage in the snow on a day when the temperature barely got out of the 30s. Oh well - house building can't be all puppy-dogs ands rainbows after all. 

BUT things are really coming along. Only another week or so to go. We're outside this weekend because the last coat of Poly is drying on the new floors. The site work is all done, the decks and steps are all in, the floors and walls / ceilings are done and looking great. This week is tile, finish the kitchen cabinetry and add railings / handrails. Then punchlist and hopefully by next monday we're packing up to head back to brooklyn! Exciting. 

South Side deck. The hole is for a metal grate. Cuts down on leaks from snow buildup.

Mostly though its actually been incredibly beautiful here. Full fall fun. But right now I need to get to work, so I'll just leave you with some photos and a promise I'll add more soon. 

South side from the road. 
After site work, brought up the soil 14" all the way around. Looks much better now.

And all the lights are done inside. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Interior Trim and Woodwork

Window trim and interior wood

I'm terribly sorry for the big delay between posts. Time is getting short here so we've been pushing hard to finish everything up. The last few weeks have seen some big changes to the house. All the interior finish is going up, the bathroom and kitchen are getting paint and cabinetry, and the trim is going in all around. Very exciting!

The pine interior paneling is almost all up. I just have the south end to finish up over the next couple days, then lots of sanding and finishing all around. All the pine is laid up tight, without any trim or extra layers. It adds a lot of character and light to the interior and I'm very happy with it all around. 

kitchen and loft above

In the living room - looking back at the kitchen

Sleeping loft - there will be a half-height divider to make a 'bedroom' area to the left

In addition - almost all the window trim is in a finished. We added 1x8 Douglas Fir extension jambs to the windows (Doug-Fir frames) to cap the super-thick wall. The interior paneling dies into it at a small reveal. This detail is certainly challenging - everything has to be pretty much perfect all around to make it work, so it has certainly taken to time to get just right. 

Window in the bedroom hallway. 
Douglas Fir for window trim
Now that all the insulation is finished (a big success btw!) - John has been working on getting the Doug -Fir flooring installed. Before the finished floor goes down we have to seal all the subfloor seams as this is the last bit of our air-barrier. Below you can see the tape going down just before the floor.  Should be another week or so of interior work and we'll be just about all wrapped up with the major woodwork.

Bedroom subfloor being taped. This is our air-barrier on the floor under the wood flooring.
Doug-Fir flooring. Looks real darn nice.

looking back towards the kitchen and island - loft up above

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

White Pine all Around

Well, September is here at last: the leaves are changing, its cooling down a bit, and you can tell the birds are starting to think about heading for greener pastures. But for us, Sept. means we're getting down to the wire on our schedule and we're going to really have to hustle if we're going to get everything done by the end of the month. 

I finished up the last of the exterior woodwork on the north side the other day. Now all that's left is the top of the gable end on the south side, and a couple bits of trim and decks. Very exciting! Next week we'll do some site-work and bring the soil level up, then we'll be able to finish up the decks and really call the exterior finished.

North side all buttoned up. Now just site-work and decks. 

But, even better: the gang has been getting a lot of the interior white-pine paneling up on the inside of the house. They finished both the big loft ceiling and the low kitchen ceiling, and this week we'll get started on the walls. Below, you can see the view from the entry-way with the ceiling boards bending to follow the crook of the house and lead you into the main-space. The slots you see are spaces for recessed lights - LED strips that will be mounted up in the slot, with a white pine valence covering them. Should look like a piece of the ceiling has 'popped' out and light will be spilling out behind. (ala the Parsons/SIT Solar-Decathlon exterior lighting designed by Chris Steffens)

view from the front door looking south
The interior pine is a center-match profile that we had a local lumber yard mill up for us. It has a nice tight face without any V-groove, but has a micro-bevel to give the individual panels definition (and make it more forgiving to lay-up) Below you can see the lumber close up - its all No. 2 or better - pretty nice stuff so far. 
White Pine interior paneling
These next few weeks will be great as things start to get closed-up, with the house's finishes and details beginning to take shape. We've got a lot of woodwork ahead of us over the next little bit - but that's the fun part after all.

Kid's sleeping loft, looking north. The strips left out are to allow insulation to be blown in behind it.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

White Pine Siding Going Up

white pine to concrete bloc foundation

I've spent the last little bit finally putting up the white-pine siding on the exterior of the house. I've gotten almost all of the low parts done and hopefully will be getting the gable ends done soon. I think its looking pretty good - the stain will change color a lot as the sun bleaches it out of course, but I like the dark brown and the rustic texture quite a lot. 

north face

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the siding is applied on top of battens, leaving an air-space behind it. This allows air to flow around all 6 sides, making sure we don't get any captured wetness and rotting and prolonging the life of the siding significantly. 

Below you can see the north west side with the siding up on the right and battens showing on the left. 

Siding over vertical and horizontal battens.

The exterior window trim is super clean and without any fussy bits or extra pieces, just deep extension jambs, and the siding cut tight to fit. Takes a bit more time, but is a nice clean detail which juxtaposes interestingly against the textured siding. This combination of contemporary details with traditional materials was one of our core concepts early on and its great to see it finally getting played out in the finishes on site. 

Ext window detail, 2x8 jambs and vertical siding

North side, battened and ready for siding
All in all - its going up pretty quickly and easily. There are some funny spots (like at the entry and south  overhangs), but mostly its smooth sailing so far. 

Inside, things are progressing nicely as well, the windows are all all air-sealed and the gang has even started to lay up some of the interior pine paneling! Can't wait to see it all start to get sealed up. I'll make sure to post more interior shots soon I promise.

windows, nicely and taped and all air-sealed
Loft looking north, pine paneling starting to go up!