Thursday, April 30, 2009

Run for Cover!!

And that cover could be under the roof of our house! Yes, there's a roof! Amazing!

Wow, what a relief to have a fast, professional crew back on the job! Hector and his framing crew were back on-site today and they have the entire roof decking up! The forecast for rain throughout the day didn't come true - instead we had grey skies, which were perfect for working outside. The crew will continue work early in the morning on some of the clerestory window framing on the South side and then start interior wall framing. 
The doors and windows are scheduled to be delivered and installed tomorrow, so the house will be completely different looking then!

Before work this morning, I talked today with the folks at Piedmont Roofing who have been very helpful as we've worked through the standing seam metal roof color options and different styles for the related metal items, such as the drainspouts. They'll be on-site this Friday as well, to install the tar/felt underlayment on the roof deck.

And it was great to get back in touch with Abdess from the Ferguson Showroom near Dulles Airport. We spent many hours with Abdess last August picking out plumbing fixtures. He will order those for us and we will have them ready for the plumber to install next week when he's on-site to do the rough-in plumbing in the main level.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Shaken, Not Stirred

Bond. Bond Beam's the name. This week marked a significant milestone for the house construction project. The bond beam forms were completed, they passed inspection, and the concrete was delivered/poured. Now the Post & Beam construction of the house, which is the code section that the plans were approved under, is complete. We have concrete columns, a continuous bond beam across the top, and the structure is in place to support the roof. The TerraBricks technically are in-fill for the walls, although they certainly are strong enough to have been a structural component of the house. Obtaining approval for the TerraBricks to be structural would have been a significant hassle and expense, which proved unnecessary with the post & beam option.

Now that the bond beam has been poured, the contractor for the CEBs & pouring of the concrete (Willie is the guy's name) just needs to replace some FSC lumber they used and clean up after themselves. Once that's done, we can settle up and put this contractor experience behind us - for good.

Even though we're a few weeks behind schedule, our primary contractor, Aaron from Cornerstone Building Services, thinks much of that time will be made up on the roof installation. I hope he's right - Mother Nature has other plans as it rained all day today and showers are in the forecast for the next five days.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Falls Church City Green Home Award Program

The City of Falls Church has created a "Green Home Award Program" to highlight residential construction projects that have been monitored by a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Certified Rater and have shown to conform to one of several approved residential green building certification programs. The EarthCraft Virginia program, which we've selected for our house certification, is an approved program.

Rather than re-inventing the green wheel, the City staff smartly decided it would be more effective and efficient to point to other rigorous programs and recognizes those as qualifying for the City's program.
Homeowners and developers who choose to participate in the Falls Church City Green Home Award Program will be awarded for doing something positive to improve the sustainability of the environment and the community. We were the first house to submit an application for this program and we hope our construction pace picks up so we're the first house to be awarded under the program!

The City hasn't yet announced what the award will be. We'd love it if it were exemption from real estate taxes, but that's highly unlikely! From our perspective, we're not doing this for any recognition or award; green construction simply is the right thing to do.

Here's a picture of the City's sign in our front yard.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Interesting, Quick Read Article on Planet Green's Website

I just read an article by Steve Thomas, host of Planet Green channel's Renovation Nation TV show. The article, entitled "Steve Thomas's Five Bubbles of Green Building" is a quick-read and it nicely summarizes the key components of building green. For me, it's yet another good validation that our house is green. Here's the LINK to the article.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dumpster - Recycle

Since this blog is receiving several hundred hits, I thought I'd pose a question to the readers, hoping someone might have some thoughts on this, which you could offer via a comment.

We were trying to avoid getting a dumpster, since we don't want to add to local landfills. However, it seems that this may be inevitable, particularly since we promised the owner of the house next door that we'd clean up her back yard since she allowed us to use it to store the dirt from the basement excavation while we made the TerraBricks. (Thank you again!) The two weeks we anticipated using her back yard is now over two months, so we want to ensure we do a fantastic job cleaning up the lot which includes a whole host of items (junk furniture, a plug-in heater, old paneling) that are sitting behind her house, as well as the dead tree limbs, brush, etc. that's located at the back of the yard.

Here's my question for you: do you know of any company that will drop a dumpster for a few weeks, then haul it away and go through the materials to recycle as much as they can? Or, do you have other thoughts on how we can handle this in an environmentally-friendly manner? Any and all leads are welcome. Obviously we are very price sensitive as this is an item we have not budgeted for.

Please comment below. Thanks!

Timeline Until We're Under Roof

I just received an email from our contractor, Aaron Holmes with Cornerstone Building, providing a revised time line to get the house under roof and interior framing completed. I thought I'd share it here:

- Complete stacking of TerraBricks above window and door headers & create Forms for the Bond Beam - this week
- Inspection of Bond Beam by City - Monday morning
- Pour Bond Beam - Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning
- 2 days for bond beam to cure before removing forms
- Framing for Roof & interior first floor - April 30th & May 1st
- WeatherShield Doors & Windows delivered and installed May 1st
- Electrical & Plumbing Rough-ins in first floor - Week of May 4th

As you may recall from the house plan post (see post entitled For Larry M.) there is no second story of the house, so the list above is a substantial amount of work to get the house closed up so interior projects can be initiated. Very exciting! Let's hope everything stays on track!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Earth Day DC

On the eve of Earth Day, I'm catching up on my blog postings. It's been a week since my last posting; a lot has been happening, which you can read about in the new blog entries below.

On Sunday, we enjoyed the morning and early afternoon on the DC Mall attending Earth Day, visiting with exhibitors, including the
Sustainable Design Group - the firm that designed our house. There were a lot of people there by the time we left for the day, which was a good thing.

Forms, Concrete, Oops (I told you so!)

For the most part, this house project has been a positive and rewarding experience. And when we've had minor issues, I've kept a positive tone (well, most of the time). This post isn't one of those times.

The subcontractor whose crew made and stacked the TerraBricks has been challenging to work with (I'm being polite right now). When the owner of the company is there, the crew works quickly, efficiently, effectively. The second he turns his back or leaves the job site, they're the slowest, least motivated people in the entire world! When we all were on-site filming for Renovation Nation on Thursday, they got a ton of work done -- more than three times the amount of work they got done on Wednesday and on Friday put together. The difference? The owner was there and our contractor was there.

For the most part, their quality of work has not been an issue, it's just the speed of their work (or lack thereof) that's been the challenge. That, combined with rain over several days, now has us about two weeks behind schedule. There's a lot of work to do yet on the concrete and TerraBricks before the framers can come back and install the roof, frame the interior of the first floor, and then install the windows and doors.

I wrote above, "For the most part, their quality of work has not been an issue...". Well, on Saturday it became an issue. The crew was late to work in the morning. They were supposed to be on-site by 7:30 to complete their work on the concrete forms. They didn't come until after 8:30 and then several of the guys ate their breakfast before unloading the tools and ramping up to work. The concrete was scheduled to arrive at 9:00am. So they put everything behind schedule. To make up for it, one of the geniuses on the crew decided to take a short-cut with a column and did not use the required wire reinforcement to hold the column forms together. He trusted his 2'x4' external supports that were still resting in settling back-filled clay dirt that people were walking around.

You can just guess what happened! The weight of the concrete busted the form, the supports fell away, and the concrete went all over the outside of the back of the house. They got it cleaned up (in a half-assed sort of way) and now they have to do that work over again. Ugh. It wouldn't be such a big issue, except that puts us further behind schedule and we had a long conversation with the owner of the company about our expectations on the concrete forms and he assured us everything would be done to the highest standard. We knew something like this was going to happen, and it did. While I generally like being right, I would rather have been wrong on this. It's a good thing the work crew was still there when this happened, and it's a good thing the Renovation Nation video crew was not still there, or the end result would have been even messier! You'll see the fouled form in the last pic below.

The crew was able to get most of the concrete work done, but not all of it. They still had some window headers to form and three columns to form, then more concrete to pour.
The only reason they got as far as they did is that Andreas worked his tail off carrying extremely heavy buckets of concrete from the concrete mixer truck to the various parts of the house where the concrete had to be poured. He carried at least 100 buckets - that likely was more than any of the paid crew!

There are several other jobs this crew could do for us on our house, but they won't be given the opportunity. I'm counting the days until they complete their work so we can be gone with them!

Lights, Camera, Action!

They didn't say I couldn't tell people. And I think it's good promo for the show, so hopefully I can post this.

You, my dear readers, are some of the first to know that our home construction will be on TV! Planet Green Channel's show, Renovation Nation, filmed several projects on our site this past Thursday and Saturday.

It was a fantastic experience - the crew was a lot of fun and very talented, and the show's host, Steve Thomas, was super nice and great to interact with. The three projects they filmed included:
- Making & stacking of the TerraBricks - Forming and pouring concrete columns - installing the EIFS system on the outside of the house The first two were real projects. The third was a bit early in our construction sequence, but we had the sub-contractors who will be installing our EIFS system come early to demonstrate, on our house, how it's done. That told the whole story of how the TerraBrick wall system works in the Virginia climate.

In addition to interviewing Andreas and me, our architect John Spears, our contractor Aaron Holmes, the concrete sub-contractor Andy Bartley, and a whole host of other folks who have been instrumental in our house's design and construction success thus far may appear on the show too!

And as you'll see in the next post(s), some work actually got done while the show was being filmed, which is a good thing!

The show was a great experience and we look forward to our house being on TV this summer. I'll certainly post here when we know which date it will be on so you can tune in to Planet Green channel to see for yourself.

In the mean time, if anyone has any contacts at Dwell Magazine, please let me know. In all the years I've been reading Dwell, I can't recall their publishing a Compressed Earth Block house and I would be very interested in their publishing our house (after the construction is completed, of course).

Here are some photos from the Renovation Nation video shoot.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Light at the End of the Tunnel....

....was a close-out sale at Amicus Green Building Center in Kensington, MD.

We spent many hours on Friday searching for energy-efficient lighting at Dominion Electric in Arlington, VA and at IKEA in College Park, MD. With the exception of IKEA, contemporary-styled energy efficient lighting is not easy to come by -- at least not on a budget. In particular, we were shopping for recessed LED lights and LED "step lights" to go on the exterior of the house, in the interior hallways, and lighting the stairs into the basement. We received preliminary pricing from Dominion on several products -- none were the LED lighting we had hoped for as that was all too expensive or the sales rep felt the light would not be bright enough. They had none of the product in stock, it all would be special order, so we had to take her word for it. We had compared prices on-line, letting the Dominion rep know that we were "educated" customers and while we'd like to give our business to a local company, we are very cost conscious. By the end of the day on Friday, we were exhausted and feeling like we were compromising on design and, to some extent, energy efficiency, in order to accommodate our budget constraints. But we had narrowed down our choices and we were prepared to move forward with those options. Dominion offered us a contractor's discount and the pricing on the lights were more competitive than what we could find on-line. Stay tuned for more on the lighting.

Before meeting a friend for dinner, we went to the lot to sweep and tidy things up. Andreas also wanted to ensure the contractors who are doing the CEB walls plugged the extension cord back into the sump pump, since the weather forecast overnight and on Saturday morning was for thunderstorms, high winds, and heavy rain. There's one extension cord from the temporary power to the house and the crew has been using that instead of the generator to power their miter saw. It's a good thing we went to the lot -- we discovered that they not only didn't plug the cord back in, but they took the extension cord with them when they left for the weekend. I ran to Home Depot to buy a new extension cord while Andreas swept the dust from the basement.

As predicted, Saturday morning was wet and rainy in DC. We stopped by the lot to ensure the sump pump did it's magic (it did!) and the only water in the basement was what was dripping through the first floor decking. (We can't wait until the house is under roof!) From there, we went to Amicus Green Building Center since they were offering free workshops on sustainable landscape/gardening practices, which featured their own in-house expert and a representative from the National Wildlife Federation. The classes were interesting, Andreas won a door prize (The Best of Backyard Habitat - from the Animal Planet) and we spent much of the afternoon speaking with the owner of Amicus about various needs we had. Well, as it turned out, he had many FANTASTIC lighting options, including the exact step lights we wanted -- and they were LED!!! Even better, they were on close-out sale, substantially less money than the list price, and almost 40% lower than the non-LED, less desirable option we settled on at Dominion. We bought most of what they had left in stock. Amicus also stocks LED recessed lights, which we'll buy there, as they were at a very attractive price as compared to Dominion.

All in all it was a wonderful Easter weekend!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Last Photos for Today

More Photos

Some Photos

The TerraBrick/CEB manufacture should be complete now; the crew will be placing the door and window bucks and continue stacking bricks. I've been out of town for most of the past three weeks, hence the infrequent postings, but here are some picks I took with my iPhone on Monday on my way to Dulles Airport to catch my flight to Denver.