Sunday, November 29, 2009


Seasons Services sent a crew out yesterday to remove some of the foam board and EIFS around the house. This is where the 2"x12" pressure treated deck ledger board will be connected to the house with Hilti epoxy bolts.

You might be wondering why this wasn't done before the EIFS was installed, right? So were we, but Aaron from Cornerstone told us we could install the ledger board on top of the EIFS. Wrong again! The code doesn't allow that; the ledger board has to flat up against the concrete foundation and then bolted into that.

Seasons Services removed the extruded foam board along three sides of the house and waterproofed the cut area. Jeff Gunther, who will be building the deck for us, will start installing the ledger board this week. After the ledger board is up, Seasons Services will come back to flash around the ledger board and add new foam board and stucco in any gap that's remaining above the ledger board.

If the weather holds out and it doesn't rain, Bernie with Clarke County Plumbing is scheduled to come in the morning to bring the rainwater tank pipe through the house. Then we can schedule final grading, which will be a most wonderful day!

I'm off to Montreal for work for the week, so I won't be able to blog, but Andreas might provide some updates as time permits.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Progress Report

Slow going is all I can say. Andreas worked his tail off in the mud and rain to finish the trenching for the rainwater tank fresh water line to come back to the house. Here are some pictures of his boots, his exhausted face, and the end product.

The next day, the plumber was supposed to come to drill through the foundation to bring the rainwater tank line into the house, but it was raining where he lives (1.5 hours away) so he assumed it was raining where our house is (it wasn't; it was perfectly dry). So he didn't show up. Meanwhile, the banks of the trench caved in and Andreas had to re-dig all of the heavy, water-laden clay out of the trench. I showed up after he had finished and found a wet, unhappy, tired guy who worked hard all day. The plumber is scheduled to come again on Monday and Wednesday. But guess what - rain's in the forecast again, so he probably won't show up.

Meanwhile, the electrician was going to continue on the inside of the house, but he decided he doesn't work during Thanksgiving week. Must be nice.

I spent some time in the basement bathroom working on tile install. The 18" x 18" tiles will be great later on since there will be less grout to clean, but they sure are more difficult to install than the smaller format tiles I have had a lot of experience installing in the past. The new wet saw blade came in handy, but the drill bit I bought from Home Depot probably wouldn't cut through butter, let alone porcelain tile, so I have to find a better option for cutting holes in the tile tomorrow. I hope to finish tiling the basement bathroom tomorrow, then I can move to the guest bathroom upstairs. Here are some pics after I sealed the joints between the Durock sheets, and as I'm installing the tile (which came from Amicus Green Building Center).

We've also worked on other miscellaneous projects, like taping/mudding some drywall in the basement hallway, applying American Clay Earth Plaster around the doors and windows (about 1/4 of the way done with that) and confirming all the details to get the deck started next week.

Any recommendations on a finish carpenter for the trim work? I'm looking for referrals and would love if someone could start soon.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

This Friday - Our House on Planet Green's Renovation Nation

Don't forget to watch the TV show Renovation Nation this Friday, November 20th at 8:00pm EST (check your TV guide for local time/listing). The episode is called "Building Dirt Cheap" and will feature our house.

While the project isn't nearly as cheap as we were led to believe it would be, it sure is environmentally-friendly, which was a primary goal!

If, like us, you don't own a TV, you should be able to purchase this on iTunes to watch on your computer or iPod a week or so after the episode airs.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Amicus, American Clay, Rainwater Tanks, Woodpeckers

What a productive weekend working on the house! Yesterday was gloomy and misty, which provided a nice excuse to pick up our porcelain tile from Amicus Green Building Center. The owner, Jason, was there this weekend so we had a chance to visit with him and bounce ideas off of him. I may have written this before, but it's worth repeating -- before you go to Home Depot or Lowes, check out your local businesses -- especially those specializing in green products -- and support these companies. The knowledge base of the folks at Amicus, complimented by their exceptional customer service is great. But their variety of products and extremely competitive pricing is even better. We've really had great experiences working with Jason and his crew at Amicus, so pay them a visit when you need some supplies.

While picking up the tile, we also stocked up on American Clay Earth Plaster, since we ran out applying it in the guest bedroom and hallway. We had bought a relatively small amount initially, and now we needed more. So we picked up 10 bags of American Clay Loma for the base coat.

After we got to the house, we unloaded the tile and the 50 lb. bags of clay, and then I mixed up four buckets of clay for use this week. Andreas spent time digging a trench by the rainwater tanks for the freshwater pipe to come into the house. It's tough work and slow going.

We were on a tight schedule, since our friends Chris and Greg invited us over to dinner, so we couldn't work through the evening. (The dinner was wonderfully delicious, and it was great to have a fun, enjoyable evening off.)

Sunday was extremely productive. Andreas continued digging the trench and got the PVC piping for the rainwater tanks mostly set up. I worked inside on the American Clay installation. While applying the clay, I was listening to music on my iPod and heard a beat that wasn't consistent with the music. At first, I thought Andreas was attacking the dirt with his shovel. Then I had images of Woodpeckers flashing through my mind. I went to the North side to see if the woodpecker was back. No sign of it. But I head the noise again. I banged on the stucco and, sure enough, the woodpecker flew away from the back of the house. To make a long story short, we now have three holes in the stucco from that stupid woodpecker. It's not wood, there's nothing there for him, why is he doing this? I tried scaring him away, which seemed to work for the rest of today, at least.

Back to plastering -- I should tell you that we've had a change of heart with regard to the color for our walls. The drywall walls (i.e., the interior framed walls) will remain as bright white painted walls. The exterior walls (i.e., the compressed earth block walls) that I'm covering with American Clay, will just be tan -- the natural color of the clay -- which is called Snow Canyon. When I'm applying the plaster, it reminds me of chocolate icing my Mom used to put on cupcakes. When that dries, it turn much lighter and looks like a suede jacket. It's warm, inviting, and masculine. And it goes great with the stained concrete floors, the kitchen cabinets, and the white walls and ceiling. So rather than trying to lighten that clay through expensive additives, we're going to stick with the natural snow canyon look. The basement clay application will be lighter, though, since I already have a 50 lb bag of the final coat of plaster mixed with the white additive.

By the end of the evening, the application of American Clay was completed in the entire great room. Tomorrow night, I'll apply it in the master bathroom and start on the master bedroom. Hopefully by Wednesday the entire main level of the house will be covered in clay - in a good way. Then I can move on to bathroom tile installation!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Our Erdhaus Featured in Washington Business Journal Daily Update

I opened today's Daily Update from the Washington Business Journal and scanned the headlines to see what stories were worth a quick read. Story #2 sounded interesting, and I thought it was another house the article was referring to. I was excited that it's actually our house featured in the story! The article is mostly right, but it over-represents the house a bit since we won't have solar panels (initially, at least, unless someone donates them or I win the lottery). The story quotes the house designer, John Spears, with Sustainable Design Group. It was fun to read about our house in a journal I regularly read. After the house is done, hopefully Dwell magazine will profile it -- then I'll be super excited!

Click on the link for the full story.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

IKEA's Cool, but American Clay's Cooler

Last week, Andreas and I spent two evenings starting to put together our kitchen cabinets from IKEA. I finished most of the cabinet building today. Originally, we planned to get some awesome eco-friendly cabinets from Amicus Green Building Center, but we'll save those for some time in the future when we have more money. For now, we're on an IKEA budget. I'm pleased with the quality of their cabinets. They are an extremely good value and they'll look great after we measure out the exact location for the cabinets and set them in place, add the plinth block to hide the adjustable cabinet feet, and put the "perfekt" finishing pieces on the ends and along the back of the island to give it a finished look. The big cabinet in the middle is where the sink will be and to the right of that is where the dishwasher will go.

Speaking of dishwashers, Lowe's was re-scheduled to deliver our new appliances tomorrow (Monday). But when I got off the plane returning home from Tampa last night (where I presented on business aviation to the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association aviation summit), I had a voice mail from Lowe's stating they'd be at the house on Sunday to deliver the appliances. So I skipped church to ensure I was at the house for the delivery, and then got a call from the delivery driver telling me he was going to deliver the refrigerator. But what about the other appliances? Well, it seems they screwed it up a bit and didn't have everything together on one truck. So no delivery today - all the appliances now will come tomorrow. This will be their third attempt, so hopefully the third time is the charm.

Neighbors from across the street, Helen and Jeff, stopped by to visit and check on our progress. Falls Church is such a nice place and our neighbors are wonderful and enjoyable people. It was nice to visit with them.

After I finished putting the cabinets together, I loaded the truck with the cardboard from the IKEA flat-pack boxes and was about to head to the city recycling bin to drop the cardboard off. But I got a better offer! Sarah from next door invited me over to their place for some homemade soup her husband had prepared. I enjoyed a bowl of delicious soup with kale, potato, and sausage, as well as some yummy chicken barbecue. We visited for a while after I ate and I enjoyed watching their daughter, Ellie, play as only a careless toddler can do. To be so young with so few worries again.... :-)

With a full tummy, I went back to work and primed some of the exterior walls with the American Clay Sanded Primer. It is what it sounds like - primer with sand in it. I applied that to smooth areas of the walls (e.g., where the drywall met the earth block wall, the drywall installers feathered joint compound onto the earth block wall to ensure a smooth seam at the corner). The primer seals that joint compound and the sand gives it grit so the American Clay Earth Plaster sticks to it.

While plastering, I had another nice diversion when my sister, Jessica, called. We hadn't talked in a while so it was nice to catch up and hear about the good things happening in her life. I wrapped up plastering after I ran out of plaster in the one bucket I had carried upstairs. I'm taking Monday off, so I'll bring a second bucket up then and continue plastering the guest bedroom. Scheduled interruptions tomorrow will be the appliance delivery and Ferguson dropping off the toilet bowls, sinks, faucets, etc. And I'll drop that cardboard off for recycling, before it rains later this week.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Project Update

Sorry for the infrequent posts. Lest anyone think we've given up on the house, nothing could be further from the truth. We have been making progress, which is refreshing!

What's really great is that the passive solar design of the house and the TerraBrick wall construction with concrete floors as thermal masses really work! It's been sunny, but relatively cool, all week, and the nighttime temps have been in the 30s/40s. We've been working in the house very comfortably without coats/jackets or any supplemental heat -- just the sun during the day heating up the bricks/floor which emit the heat at night when it's cold outside.

Here's a quick snapshot of what we've been busy with:

  • The main level interior walls are painted with American Pride paint from Amicus Green Building Center. One of the neighbor's children said we should paint the walls green, since it's a green house. Her sister insisted we should paint the house as tie-dye and get bean bag chairs for furniture. Also a cool idea. But we opted for white interior walls and ceilings to keep things bright.
  • The Modern Fan Company ceiling fans arrived from YLighting yesterday, and the extensions arrived today, so we will install those next week when we install the recessed LED lights in the ceiling. We've been coordinating with Tom the electrician to schedule a time for him to install the outlets and light switches.
  • The concrete floors have been stained (two coats) and sealed (two coats) and they look magnificent!
  • The main level building envelop TerraBrick walls mostly have been prepped for American Clay Earth Plaster application. I need to finish that work in the guest bedroom, and then will be able to start applying the plaster - that should be a fun, but time-consuming, project.
  • When Steve Clark's crew came for the drywall install, we told him the only rooms in the basement to get drywall were the bedroom and bathroom. We forgot about the ceiling over the stair landing and the hallway to the basement bathroom and bedroom. With German precision, Andreas cut the drywall and we screwed the drywall boards into the joists; now we need to tape, mud and paint that.
  • We have been putting together our kitchen cabinets from IKEA after dinner each night this week. I know, they're not the greenest choice in the world, but they're better than many other options that are available to us. The decision to go with IKEA was budgetary, but the quality actually is pretty darn good. It just takes time to put the cabinets together, and the instructions are not the best.
  • With the exception of some PVC piping we need to purchase yet, Andreas now has all of the parts required to finish the rainwater capture system installation. But since he'll be traveling for a bit for work, it'll be tough to get that done as quickly as we'd like.
  • We're working through some deck installation questions and getting quotes for the deck. The quotes have been all across the board in cost and time to complete.
Lots of other small details are being tended to, such as meeting with potential subcontractors to get quotes to finish up certain projects, etc.