Saturday, June 27, 2009

EIFS, Act 4

The final EIFS coat arrived by surprise. I went to the lot today to check on the sump pump, and Claudia's crew must have worked today, Saturday, to apply the final EIFS coat. Here is what it looks like:

EIFS, Act 3

This is what the next stage in the EIFS process looks like. The styrofoam is covered with a base coat that has a nylon mesh embedded in it. This already looks pretty close to the final product - the final coat (with color premixed into it) now goes on top of that.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Our neighbors, our heroes

Just a brief post to say thank you to all our neighbors. For being so accommodating with a construction project that is, sometimes quite literally, in their backyards; for their advice and support; for recommendations for qualified subcontractors; for letting us borrow their water connections; for helping us clean the street; for keeping a watchful eye on our home; and for chasing away those people that are attempting to illegally dump their trash in our recycling dumpster.

Without you, our neighbors, this would not be the neighborhood we'd want to live in. Thank you!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tight as ... Tupperware

Back in the late 1970s, my mother hosted at least one Tupperware party that I remember. The advantage of Tupperware is the airtight seal. Little did I know then that you want the same thing from a house.

I've been spending a few days on and off over the last few weeks airsealing around the house: mostly where the concrete meets the mud sill, and where the CEB wall meets the top plate. All you need is a caulk gun, a LOT of caulk (I used a GE product, Silicone I, but any silicone-based caulk will work well), and off you go. Believe it or not, this is one of the most energy efficient things you can do to your house (move over, replacement windows!) - so efficient in fact, that EarthCraft standards mandate airsealing in lots of places. Most of them I've covered now - for the rest of the airsealing (and firestopping), the professionals from Southland Insulators will take over before they apply sprayfoam insulation to our roof, the clerestory window area, and the bandjoist. More on that in a future post.

For now, just a picture of a nice, thick, bead of Silicone caulk between the top of the CEB wall and the top plate. Often under-appreciated, but such an important component of building green.

EIFS, Act 2

I'm blogging today instead of Mike - he's away.

Claudia and her EIFS crew wrapped the house in extruded styrofoam today. (Yes, there are different kinds of styrofoam: expanded - the white, bubbles-pressed-together looking kind; and extruded - which is much smoother in texture.) The advantage of extruded styrofoam is that (a) it has a greater R-value (R-5 per inch ... we have three inches, so a total of R-15) and (b) it is a water barrier (by contrast, expanded styrofoam is about as permeable as a sieve).

For now, the house looks like a big freezer box. The next few steps are to sand the styrofoam smooth; embed a nylon mesh in another scratchcoat, and then to apply the final EIFS coat. In a week, weather permitting, we should have the final product.

Monday, June 22, 2009

EIFS and Window Framing Progress

It's wonderful to stop by the lot after a long day at work and see that some progress was made on the house! I had a big smile on my face tonight. It was starting to get dark, so the pictures aren't the best, but they show the EIFS scratch coat that is being applied to the Compressed Earth Blocks and a few shots to show the new, corrected framing for the windows.

We've been struggling to get a plumber out to the lot to do the rough in plumbing and arrange for the sewer/water hook up with the street. The plumber we plan(ned) to use (that's still TBD depending how some open issues get resolved) was unavailable for an extended period of time, so we tried to get quotes from three other companies. One provided a high quote with no supporting detail. Despite multiple requests, they never provided any detail so, for all we know, they just picked a number out of the air. Two other companies came by and promised quotes quickly. Despite multiple follow-up phone calls, and even paging one of them after hours, not a single return call or quote has come our way. Last I checked we were in a recession of biblical proportions and people were desperate work. Guess that's not true for plumbers. Or it is true and none of them are good business people. Any thoughts on that readers?

The EIFS crew dropped their scaffolding off on Friday, the extruded foam board arrived today, and they applied their scratch coat to three sides of the house - West, North and East. They have only enough scaffolding for those sides, so they'll get to the Southern side later this week as they work their way around the house. Tomorrow they'll apply the foam board and the two coats of synthetic stucco follow.

The framers came back late this afternoon to complete what they couldn't last week because of the thunderstorms. They completed the framing so the 22 clerestory windows can be installed when they arrive. Our Construction Manager has left multiple messages for Jay at Quality Window and Door to get a status report on the windows, so Aaron can schedule the crew to come to install them. The new/correct windows supposedly were ordered on May 28 and would take 4-6 weeks for delivery. So that means late this week or sometime within the next two weeks we should receive those. It sure would be nice to get that status report. Maybe Jay's related to the plumbers? Just kidding - he probably is waiting to return Aaron's call until he has an update from the factory.

And maybe the best news of the day - the sump pump was plugged in tonight when I checked, and the basement was drying out nicely.

Thanks, Jeff!

On Saturday, the rain continued for most of the day. It's good to have a stream at the back of the lot for the water to flow away. Here's a pic I snapped.

Our friend Jeff offered to help with anything that needed to be done on the lot on Sunday afternoon. I said the only thing that was on my immediate to-do list was manually moving the heavy, wet clay (dirt) behind the tree preservation fence. No machines can go back there to grade, so everything has to be done by hand. Jeff agreed to help with that back-breaking work. I had a dinner plans with another good friend, Quay, who was in DC from Colorado on business, so we stopped working after a few hours and noticed that it hardly looks like anything was done. There's a lot more dirt left to move. But my muscles are sore today to prove I worked! The photo below doesn't do a great job showing the pile of dirt that remains to be moved.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Wrong Windows Removed, More Flooding

At long last, our construction manager, Aaron with Cornerstone Building Services, finally had a framing crew out to remove the wrong clerestory windows and prepare the framing for the new, correct, windows. Well, the day they finally came to work it rained (they were supposed to start last Friday, then delayed to Monday, then delayed to Tuesday, then delayed get the point - they finally came on Thursday to work). And it poured. And there was a huge thunderstorm. The lot was a complete mud pit (as you see in another post) and that made it very challenging work for the crew. But all of the windows appear to have been successfully and safely removed. However, during the process, they clearly were not being careful enough, as there was some damage to one of our sliding doors on the south side. The picture isn't clear, but there's a dent in the metal frame. Ugh. 

To add insult to injury, during our early morning call with Aaron, Andreas gave explicit instructions that the crew needed to be 100% certain that the sump pump was plugged in before they left. You guessed it - they didn't ensure it was plugged in. I know it was plugged in last time we left the lot, so someone from that crew must have unplugged it (either intentionally or unintentionally does not matter as they had instructions to ensure it was plugged in). So the basement completely flooded again. Hours and hours of cleaning up dirt from the last flood was completely wasted by simple laziness, idiocy, or both. I was not happy when I discovered that on Thursday evening and I'm still unhappy about it. The last picture below shows the water draining from the basement several minutes after I plugged the sump pump back in.

Puddles, Puddles everywhere

This rain is driving me nuts! Bartley returned on Tuesday with the repaired machine to continue the grading work. The clay dirt was too wet for them to complete the job, so they'll have to come back again after 4-5 days of no rain, which will give the dirt time to dry out. At this rate, I don't think we'll ever have that kind of dry spell! 

While doing the grading, the guy from Bartley drove right into the corner of our house, completely destroying three of the extruded foam board panels. Hopefully when the EIFS installers come, they will be able to easily add new foam board there and make it like new. You can see the foam board we cut away in the fourth picture below. 

On Thursday, when I was in an important all-day meeting, I received an email from my neighbor to the South stating that our silt fence needed attention. You will see in the final picture where the torrential rain storms that afternoon, following days of steady rain, were just too much for any silt fence to handle. I went that night and put up an extra layer of new silt fencing, hoping that holds in the future. Once the grading is complete, hopefully this won't occur again. If it does, we might be forced to incur even more water mitigation expenses (which we cannot afford) in terms of draintile to prevent water run-off. 

Prepping for EIFS Installation

In order to secure the best possible price for the EIFS installation (that's the extruded foam board and synthetic stucco system on the exterior of the house), we agreed to attach the basement extruded foam board to the house using TapCon concrete screws. That saved time for the installers, which saved us money. Andreas did the work, which took a few hours, about 100 TapCon screws with large washers, and five concrete drill bits to pre-drill the screw hole. Doesn't it look great? Now the EIFS installers will be able to nicely match their foam board with ours for a professional installation.

The bottom foam board will be a dark grey and the top foam board will be a very light grey, kind of like concrete. The clerestory part of the house (above the CEB wall) will have beautiful stained shiplap cedar siding.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Grading in Progress

When I was a kid, like most boys, I enjoyed playing in the back yard with big toy trucks, pushing earth around, and having a gay old time getting dirty. Well, I would have loved to have been on-site yesterday as the crew starting moving piles of dirt around as they started on the final grading for the lot.

Bartley Corporation is doing the grading for us. They brought a Bobcat like machine, but one that has rubber treads, instead of metal treads, due to the rain and wetness of the dirt. Unfortunately, they didn't get very far when the rubber tread ripped and the machine became disabled. The machine still sits at the back of the house, waiting to be towed away. It's questionable as to when they'll be able to get a truck back there since the lot is a mud pit right now. At least the grading is now going away from the house which should prevent some of the water from coming in the basement. I checked the basement tonight, after last night's rain, and while it's still a bit damp in the basement, I didn't see any new water. That's a very good thing.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Those reading the blog in the DC area probably have figured out already that the final grading has not been done, since we've had too much rain each day this week. The folks from Bartley were set to do the job, but it is not ideal to grade our clay soil when it's wet. So we're waiting until we have a dry spell - perhaps Monday morning. I know I'll feel better about the house project when the lot starts to look much better. I am fully aware that we've probably overstayed our welcome using the back yard of the house next door (that's on the market for sale) to store a lot of the soil that was excavated. I'm in a hurry to get our grading done and her yard cleaned up!

We're receiving quotes for ceiling and wall insulation (the wood-framed clerestory wall, not the Terrabrick wall). Closed cell spray foam is the best choice, but it's the most expensive by far. So we're considering a hybrid which will be a closed cell spray foam application that would be about 2-3" thick and then a zero formaldehyde blown in fiber (it's called the spider system, since a web holds it all in). Combined, we will have an R50 insulation value for the ceiling and R23 for the clerestory walls. That option is several thousand dollars less expensive than 100% closed cell spray foam, which would give us about an R41 insulation value. We're still receiving quotes, so if anyone has a good company that's experienced in spray-foam insulation, please let us know.

Importantly, all of the quotes we received also include a foam sealant or high-grade caulking to seal all penetrations in the thermal envelope. This will be a very tight house!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Welcome Back Aaron

Our contractor, Aaron Holmes, was on vacation over the past week. We'll be glad to have him back so construction picks up pace. Last week we expected the plumber to come to start rough-in plumbing work. No show. The good folks at Bartley were going to do the final grading. Rain prevented that. Andreas was able to caulk the interior edge of the sill plate, which sits on the foundation, to prevent air flow. We cleaned around the house/lot as well. Other than that and the shopping mentioned below, it seems like there isn't any noticeable progress, but we certainly worked on various aspects of the house each day. 

With Aaron back in town, hopefully he brings good weather with him since Bartley will be on-site Wednesday morning to start the final grading. We also will sit down with Aaron to review the next details of the construction, to ensure everyone's on the same page, and we will go through the EarthCraft Virginia green building worksheet to verify that we're meeting the required sections and earning points as we planned at our first meeting with Chris Conway, our EarthCraft Technical Advisor. It's better to spend time reviewing the standard/requirements on a regular basis than to miss something and not get certified as a result. Details, details, details!

We enjoyed meeting a few folks on the lot in the past week as well. Jes and Jody are using the same house designer for a planned renovation of their home in Arlington, so we showed them our house and exchanged war stories. Chris Conway came by yesterday morning with some folks from the Environmental Protection Agency who are involved in developing the EPA's new green home program focusing on indoor air quality. It was great to get their perspective on the house. 

Shopping Spree

If you're ever in need of plumbing fixtures, just give a call to Abdess Fedlan at Ferguson in Chantilly, VA.  We first met Abdess last August as we were preparing our preliminary budget for the house. We picked out some super high-end items as a bit of a splurge. Then the reality of construction costs set in. We refused to settle for "builder grade" plumbing fixtures so we sought advice from Abdess who graciously guided us through their gorgeous showroom and several catalogs. We shaved our plumbing fixtures budget by about 35% while maintaining a high-caliber selection of fixtures from Duravit, Hansgrohe, and Kohler. Thanks, Abdess, for your guidance and patience with us! 703-375-5800 is Abdess's phone number.

We're now searching for a kitchen range hood. This needs to be purchased soon, in order for the subcontractors to prepare the venting and for Piedmont Roofing to come back to bring that venting through our beautiful standing seam metal roof. Andreas spent a good part of the day seeking range hoods that strike a balance between effectiveness (exhaust in CFMs) and quietness (as measured in SONs or decibels). Oh, and price too. We considered Miele (super expensive but beautiful and they are quiet by reputation), KitchenAid, and others. It's amazing how expensive good quality range hoods are.  We think we've narrowed the brand choices to Haefele or Kobe. Does anyone have any experience with these?

On a related note, the folks at Wittus in Connecticut have loaded our Bodart & Gonay Optifire fireplace on a truck and it is headed our way. The fireplace chimney also will need to go through the roof. 

We also did some more research on wood choices for the exterior clerestory area siding, and the interior ceiling. We dropped by T.W. Perry in Leesburg since we weren't far away and got some ideas there. More fun to come!