Archive for March, 2010

Clearing and Window Shopping

Quick panoramic shot, looking south from East to West.

Busy weekend! We arrived at the cabin late Friday night. It was too late to check out the house site, so we crashed and looked forward to seeing the site at first light. When we walked up to the site, we were floored! It’s really starting to look like a building site now. There’s still quite a bit more clearing to be done, and we can’t wait to see what it looks like in two more weeks.

On Saturday we took a trip to R.K. Miles in Manchester, Vermont to take a look at windows. They have a great showroom with examples of many types of windows. They carry one of the windows we’ve been considering for our fall back position (Marvin Integrity) if we can’t afford our first option (ThermoTech Fiberglass).

Exterior view. Casement and awning.

Interior view

The Marvin Integrity is actually a fairly high-end, energy-efficient window. It’s fairly good at keeping the cold out, but it also keeps the sun out, which is not good for a northern climate house oriented to take advantage of the sun’s heating capacity. To give you an example, using our current latitude, south orientation and window square footage, the sun can provide almost 13 million BTU’s of free heat in the months September through May if we use a high solar gain window (ThermoTech). If we use the Integrity window, we only get roughly 8 million BTU’s of heat, some 30% less. Look for a more detailed post on window science in the near future.

We also looked some wood stoves on Saturday. We’ve been trying to find a nice, small, modern-looking wood stove. Wood stoves are a bit problematic in a super insulated house, because they give off roughly 30,000 BTUs of heat per hour. On the coldest day of the year, we only need 10,000 BTUs. But we just can’t imagine living on 50 acres of woods without a wood stove. This weekend we saw some beautiful, super-efficient German and  Scandinavian-made models, but they were also outrageously expensive. So the search goes on. We’ll also put together a separate post of wood stove options soon.

We’re still waiting for estimates for the driveway and getting electricity to the site, which are both related. The electric planner came to the site last Thursday and took some measurements. She’ll hopefully get back to us sometime this week with the pricing options for running power above and below ground. If we go below ground,  our excavator will dig the trench, but the electric company lays the line in the trench. If above ground, they have to set poles and run wire. And we would lose a lot more trees. So we wait for the numbers.

Exploratory Digging

This weekend we had our contractor, the excavator, electrician and well driller all out to the site together to finalize where everything will go and start the process of estimating what the site work will cost. We were only missing one person, the planner from electric company.

We have four major items to figure out before we finalize our budget.

1) The house. We know where we would like the house to sit, but there are several issues to consider. Such as, can we get a hole in the ground there? There’s a lot of ledge, and we can’t afford blasting, so we need a relatively soft spot to dig the foundation. And how well does the site drain? After all, we’re trying to build a basement, not a swimming pool. To figure this out we needed to do a bit of exploratory digging. This is where our excavator Joe comes in with the backhoe. To everyone’s amazement, he was able to dig a 9′ deep hole near the back wall of the basement. And to the continued amazement of the crowd, it was dry. So at least for now, the odds are good that we can get a full basement in the ground where we want it. Check.

2) The leech field. This was actually the easiest out of the four. We had a perk test done before we bought the property. I just wanted to make sure we had enough room for it and it was close enough to the house. Check.

3) The electric driveway. Big one. I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights thinking about the driveway. The driveway is not just the access to the site, its also the pathway for the electricity. Unfortunately the planner from the electric company did not show up. They are the ones that determine where the electricity will come onto the site, where the transformer will go and the disconnect. They also give you a price. But fortunately Joe was on the case and mapped out the path of the drive. It pretty much follows an old logging road. But we will have to wait for the planner to bless the path before Joe can start. Tentative check.

4) The well. I wasn’t really sure they would be able to get their truck up the hill, and if so, where they would most likely want to drill the well. But Clarence assured me, this wasn’t the worst site they’ve ever drilled. Even if it meant having a bull dozer pull the truck up the hill. He also suggested a nice easy spot to place the well. Hopefully we won’t have to trench through a lot of ledge to get the water to the house. Check.

I still have a long list of items on my to do list, but we are on our way!

Change in schedule!

Link to first draft of plans (PDF 1.2M)

After a bit of soul searching and with a generous construction loan from a family benefactor, we have decided to start building our house this year. All those decisions yet to be made and posts unwritten, are now upon us. We suddenly have a long list of things to do rather quickly.

One of my first tasks is to finalize the plans. I started working with LayOut, the add-on to SketchUp that lets you easily layout presentation drawings. It’s not really well suited to creating working drawings, but it is easy to learn and not half bad. Click on the image above to view a quick PDF (1.2M) I put together last night to send off to the prospective energy consultants to get their thoughts on what it would take to get us to net zero status.

The plans are important because we need to submit an application for a building permit quickly. They are also used to get estimates and bids on the build components. Luckily I did my own high level estimate using Means data last month, which helped me understand the different components and general costs. Now it’s time to see how close I was.

Other tasks include getting the driveway path, house, well and septic locations surveyed and finalized.

It’s so exciting to get started now, and terrifying. But I don’t think it will really kick in till we see a bulldozer moving dirt around.


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