Archive for June, 2011

Siding begins

I took a few days off to help Warren get started with the siding. Just wanted to post a quick photo to show our progress. I’ll update with more details later this week.

Bath Time

Last week the plumber roughed in the waste pipes and venting. Soon he’ll begin the hot and cold water supply lines. He asked what faucets we’re using to make sure he has all the right connections, specs, etc. This prompted a mini bath shopping spree, and an opportunity for me to share our bath plans.

Faucets: We really like the old-fashioned cross handles, and starting looking around for an updated, streamline version. We eventually settled on the Grohe Arden line as they are less expensive than similar models from Kohler and Berclay and got great reviews. We ordered the Watersense versions (low-flow 1.5 GPM) in chrome last Friday. Unfortunately it will take 2 weeks for delivery.

Bathtub: We are doing a separate soaking tub and shower. We bought the 6′ Kohler Archer drop-in tub before we closed in the house. Larry started working on the the framing for the tub surround over Memorial Day weekend, and I put a deposit on a Carrara marble slab for the tub surround yesterday.  Once the framing is done, we will make a trip to the stone yard to pick out our slab and the installers will come to the site and create a template. It will take about two weeks to cut, edge and polish the slab after templating. The tub drain was ordered with the faucets, so all the plumbing should be in place before the slab is ready for install.

Shower: We are looking into using the Schluter-Shower System to waterproof the shower area. It’s cool because you install it over regular drywall and it keeps everything water tight. We will be using a frameless glass door instead of a curtain to allow more light and help make the space feel bigger.

Tile: We were originally planning to tile the walls in the bath, but to save money we are now just tiling the shower enclosure and front of the tub surround. We are considering Lucian glass tiles from Ann Sacks and Optix from Waterworks. We have chosen a light gray porcelain tile for the floor and are looking at a flat pebble for the shower floor in either a blue/green mix or white (similar to Carrara.)

Vanity: Next big sale day, we will be ordering the Hutton washstand in dark espresso with Carrara marble top from Restoration Hardware.

Heat: We will be heating the bathroom (and our towels) with a Runtal Radiator Electric Omnipanel.

Attic access detail, the ‘cork’

I started working on the details for our attic hatchway a few months ago. The internet is fairly void of super-insulated air-tight attic hatchways. I found this curious considering all the net zero and Passivhaus work going on to date.

The problem is how to insulate and air seal the attic access to the same standards as the rest of the ceiling. Our ceiling will be insulated with 24 inches of loose cellulose (R-75), so I wanted to make sure the hatchway was at least equal in R value and air tight. The trick was to find a way to achieve this and still be able to open and close the hatchway with relative ease.

Our solution is nicknamed the ‘cork’. Essentially it’s a 24″ deep hatchway filled with 2 insulated components. The first component is air sealed to the interior drywall. It is a piece of plywood screwed to the ceiling within a gasket and 8″ of left over rigid insulation (R-40) glued to the top of it. This is a fairly standard approach to sealing the attic hatch. The second component (the cork) is 14″ of rigid insulation (approx. R-70) held in place by a hinged top plate.

To gain access to the attic we will first remove the lower panel from inside the house, then we pop the top barrier out into the attic. To close the access we reverse the process.

The total insulated value is R-110, but that is misleading. Due to inefficiencies of sealing the insulation to the hatchway, air can circulate inside the hatchway in tiny gaps at the edges and between the two insulated components, so I just tried to cram as much insulation as possible into the hatchway as tightly as possible but still be able to pop the cork to gain access to the attic. Only an inferred camera will tell if my efforts have been successful.

I hope this is helpful to others out there building super insulated houses with attic access from the inside. If you have a simpler detail, please don’t tell me. I feel silly enough spending 2 days building the cork. But please do post your solution to make it easier for the next person.

One last word, the code requires attics be accessible, but I don’t believe it specifies whether it has to be from the inside or outside of the house. Assuming you have an attic that needs access and your local code allows outside access, I would recommend exterior access based on my experience building a super-insulated air-tight attic access hatchway. Interior access can be done, but it’s a lot of tedious work.

Net Meter Installed

It’s official. The power company swapped in our new net meter yesterday. I was at the house working on the siding so we got to watch them make the swap. The new meter was set zero, but not for long. It was a nice sunny day so we powered up the inverter to make sure the new meter was working correctly. After a few minutes the meter flipped back to 99999. By the end of our first day we had generated 12.5 kWh and fed 5 kWh back into the grid. Not bad considering a storm rolled in and pelted us with rain and hail shortly after we switched on the system.

This was a nice milestone for us, but no time to celebrate. It’s time to get the siding installed.


Since we are still having trouble envisioning the final hardscaping around the house we hired a professional landscape architect to draw up some plans. ( Our main goals are to plan circulation routes (parking, entry access, and walkways) and to minimize focus on the basement entry while still allowing access to it for use as a workspace/root cellar/mudroom.  Other considerations are siting a future garage, integrating a vegetable garden utilizing the rainwater cistern for gravity-feed drip irrigation, controlling erosion on the slopes, and locating a possible area for a fire pit and sitting outside.

We are concentrating on finishing the home this year, but may be able to have our excavator do any necessary terrain reshaping while he is working septic/final grading later this summer. We hope to install much of landscape ourselves wherever possible, and plan to phase the work over the next few years.

In the meantime, we are sowing grass seed and putting hay down to prevent erosion. We’re also still cleaning up the trees that had to come down to make way for the power line. We’re hoping some of these logs can be used in landscaping, others will be turned into firewood. The brush pile is growing, and we are looking into either buying/renting a wood chipper to turn it into mulch for future gardening/landscaping projects, or getting the fire department to do a controlled burn.

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