Archive for September, 2011

Green Building Open House this Saturday

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We announced back in June that we would be participating in the Green Building Open House sponsored by the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA). It’s being held in conjunction with the National Solar Tour this year. This Saturday, October 1st is the big day. We’re opening our doors to the public from 10am to 4pm.

Note to visitors, we’re still under construction. That means you’ll get to see all the duct work, pipes, cellulose insulation, foam, window details and all. It also means be aware of your surroundings at all times. We’re working like mad to make the place presentable but some spaces will be off limits.

And please be careful on the driveway, keep it in 1st gear.

Hope to see you here!

September Updates

Lot’s going on this month. If you follow us on twitter (@uphillhouse) you’ll know that we now have running water! Gould & Sons came out to install the pump and water pressure tank. They drilled the well a little over a year ago in June. See the post, Drill baby, drill!. They set the pump at 300′ which should give us 12-15 gallons per minute.

Last week also saw the installation of sheetrock on the 2nd floor and basement. Taping should be completed by the end of the week in those two areas so we can start priming and painting. As soon as we get the basement primed, we can move all the tools from the first floor to the basement. Then we can finish insulating and sheetrocking the first floor.

This weekend I was able to install the shower pan mortar base and drain. We’ll be using Kerdi-Drain and Kerdi membrane, a waterproofing material from Schluter, to water seal the shower enclosure. I’m hoping to get started with the membrane this week.

We also received several deliveries last week. Our water heater arrived. It’s a 50 gallon Marathon. It’s a very efficient electric water heater and well insulated. We decided not to go with the Hybrid heat pump approach, which is a great idea but not for our cold climate and dry basement. We decided against tankless hot water approaches because we’re all electric. I haven’t done a huge amount of research but it looks like the electric tankless approach is getting better over time. This may be a good approach in the future.

And our gutters finally arrived. Warren started putting up the front side gutters today. I’m working on a post about how we’re connecting the downspouts to the rain filter and cistern under the porch. It has taken quite a bit of research to figure it all out.

Tomorrow the tub surround will be installed. And hopefully the rain will hold off long enough tomorrow to finish installing the gutters and downspouts.

We’re trying to finish as much as we can for the Green Building Open House / National Solar Tour this Saturday. Many thanks to Paul and Joanne Coons from Clifton Parks for stopping by last weekend and dropping off the open house sign. You can find their house and lots of other amazing houses on the tour at the NESEA Green Buildings or the National Solar Tour sites. Stop by to visit.

Attic and 2nd floor insulated

Our insulator, Don Patton, has been blowing cellulose in the attic and second floors for the last 2 days. He’s blown 24 inches in the attic thus far. This will require some topping up a few extra inches to account for settling. We want a settled depth of 24″ for an average value of R-75. He also completed the second floor insulation today. It was a good time to be insulating, considering the temperature this morning dipped into the lower 30′s.

Next items on the schedule, finish sheetrocking the second floor and basement., then the priming begins. The gutters should arrive next week and we have siding to finish on the west, south and east sides. We also had the tub surround template measured this week and the shower base is ready to install.

In addition to all the normally scheduled activities, we’re trying to make the house and site presentable for the October 1st Green Buildings Open House Tour sponsored by the NESEA and the National Solar Tour. You’re all invited.

Shell blower door test results

Today was the big day. Matthew Evans from Newport Ventures came out to the house to conduct our first blower door test, and the results were very encouraging. Our final reading was 159 CFM or 0.56 ACH.

This was the first of two blower door tests. This first test is used to determine the air tightness of the house enclosure or shell. All plumbing vents and air ducts are blocked for this test. Doing this test before the house is fully insulated makes it easier to find and fix any leaks.  The second test is conducted after the house is finished and is considered the official number.

For this first test we were shooting for 200 to 300 CFM (see earlier posts, How tight is tight enough? and The cost of infiltration). Our initial testing over the weekend using a blower door our insulation installer loaned us gave us a reading in the 250 to 300 CFM range. This was helpful because it allowed us to pinpoint a few areas in the shell that we had missed, the connection of the ERV ducts to the exterior and a few other plumbing and electrical penetrations.

The initial reading from Matthew today was 185 CFM. In order to convert that value to air changes per hour (ACH) you multiply the CFM times 60 and divide by the volume of the house. He had calculated the volume of the house as 16,896 ft(32′ * 22′ * 24′). The resulting ACH is 0.66. If you use the PassivHaus definition of volume (at least the best I can understand) then the volume would be 13,697 ft3 and the ACH, 0.81. So we’re very close to one of the tightest standards for residential homes.

But there’s more.

We had covered all the plumbing vents and air ducts with plastic and tape, but Matthew found a few holes in our tape and lose plastic fittings. So he plugged the two exterior vents and we re-ran the test. The new blower door reading was 159 CFM or 0.56 ACH. (159 CFM was the average over 10 seconds. At the moment I took the photo above it was registering 158 CFM.) By PassivHaus volume standards this would be 0.7 ACH.

To put it mildly, this was better than we could have imagined.

But there’s no time to celebrate, we’re on a schedule. Tomorrow our insulator is coming back to blow more cellulose on the 2nd floor and in the attic, and we have siding to finish and more sheetrock to hang. Not to mention getting our gutter supplier to ship our order. I’m not having a good customer experience at guttersupply.com.

Bathroom is sheetrocked

It’s the first full room to be sheetrocked. We had to wait till the exterior wall next to the tub was insulated before installing the last pieces of sheetrock. Now we can start some of the more detailed work, like getting the marble slab for the tub surround measured and fitted, and preparing the shower and floor for tile.

Today is forecasted to be the first clear day in a week. So we’re finishing off the roof over the porch. Then hopefully we can finally finish off the siding on the south and west sides.

Cellulose installation in basement

I took a quick run over to the house at lunch today to meet our cellulose installer, Don Patton, and take a few photos of the work in progress. But a quick movie says a thousand pictures right?

They start by netting the walls. They staple the netting on the face of the studs and inset about 1/4″ inside the edge of the stud to tighten the net and make it easier to install the sheetrock later.

First they fill the walls with the bulk hose. This gets a lot of material into the wall quickly.

Then they use a smaller tube and move it around in the wall to add more material and increase the density. They have a roller that helps compress the material and flatten it out.

Don cut a 12″ square hole in the netting to show how dense the cellulose is packed. It really sticks to itself and stays in the wall.

They were on track to finish the basement today and do a small section upstairs in the bathroom behind the tub. We’re trying to close in the bathroom so we can start working on the tub, marble slab, shower tile and plumbing.

Don also has a blower door and is interested in doing a pretest tomorrow to see roughly where we stand before the official test next week. More details on that coming soon.

Air sealing the ceiling

Last week we were able to make progress on a number or fronts. One was foaming the intersection of the walls and ceiling from the attic side. As you can see in the photos above, only the areas that might leak air were foamed, including plumbing vent pipes and electrical boxes for lighting and smoke detectors.

We’re getting very close to being ready for our first blower door test.

Irene

We’re fine, the house is fine and the driveway did remarkably well considering the amount of rain. We didn’t even lose any trees. One of the advantages of being uphill, no flooding rivers to worry about. We’re just glad we didn’t get the high winds.

Others were not so lucky. The photo below was of the Walloomsac river in Bennington, VT near our apartment. Many houses were flooded and buildings and rivers washed away.

More sheetrock: gaskets and taping

Thought I would share a few more sheetrock progress photos. The entire second floor ceiling is now sheetrocked and taped. This means we’re ready to foam the intersection of the walls with the ceiling, from the attic side. Then we just have to install the east door before we’re ready for the blower door test, sometime in the next week or two.

In the meantime I’ve been stapling gaskets to the exterior walls on the 2nd floor. Our primary air seal is at the exterior of the shell, but we’re also trying to seal the interior shell to prevent any warm moist air from circulating near the cellulose. The gaskets are important in 3 areas, ceiling, floor and at the intersections with interior walls.

Ceiling: The ceiling gasket is redundant with the foam that will be applied from the attic space. Basically, I don’t trust the foam or the gasket on their own, but I’m hoping both together will catch any spots we miss.

Bottom: The gasket at the bottom of the wall, together with the gasket under the wall that we installed during framing, keeps interior air from entering the exterior wall space at the intersection with the floor.

Intersection with interior walls: The vertical gasket at the intersection with interior walls keeps interior air from slipping into the exterior wall through the corner stud.

Problem area

The stairwell is adjacent to the north exterior wall and penetrates the floor planes to pass from the basement to the first and second floors. Following the approach described above, I should run gaskets around the exterior wall and at the ceiling and floor, but what about the truss area between the 1st and second floors?

The ceiling over the 1st floor is open all the way to the exterior sheathing, and to the exterior wall behind the stair. I think we’re going to need to block the area at the trusses, so air from the 1st floor ceiling can’t pass into the exterior wall behind the stair.

It’s little details like this that are rarely documented in most air sealing guides (because they are less typical) and easy to miss. I’ve been going back over all our details to make doubly sure we haven’t missed something silly.


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