New look, New summary information, Updated Architectural Plans

We have made a bunch of updates to the blog:


Infrared photography of our home (2-24-2012)

Last February we had the opportunity to photograph our house with a Fluke infrared camera. For those that don’t know, the infrared spectrum is more commonly known as heat. Thus infrared cameras are very helpful to pinpoint where a building’s heat loss is coming from. The outdoor temperature on this particular day was was around 28 degrees F and the indoor temp was around 65.

Heat loss Infrared images

Our house looks pretty good in the infrared images. As expected, the walls are uniformly reading exterior temperatures. On the left image, one can see a reading of 40.9 d.F. with a streak of heat tailing upward. This is heat loss from the bathroom vent. Overall, I am disappointed in the leakiness on the duct hoods. These are models available through EFI, which ordinarily sells higher quality insulation and building envelope products. I suspect there just aren’t better ones readily available. As to be expected, one can make out a fair bit of heat loss around the windows and doors. The windows on the left image are both triple panes from Serious. The closer one is a single hung unit, the farther a casement. The south-facing glass door in the image on the right shows a fair bit of heat loss. The picture window to the right of the door is a Serious fixed triple pane. The one to the right of the picture window is a double pane, double hung Anderson, and the two above are both Marvin; also double pane double hung. On the right image on the second floor wall one can see the intake and exhaust duct hoods for the HRV. The readings indicate we are taking in 25.4 degree air (the lower hood) and exhausting 30.3 degree air (the upper hood).

North side Neighbors home Infrared image

For contrast, here are a couple of infrared images of our neighbor’s home. One can see a lot of blotchiness in the house indicating heat loss. Framing members are visible, and as are under-insulated wall cavities. The window on the bottom middle of the left image is a single pane only, and is clearly conducting out a lot of heat as it reads almost 45 degrees F.

Ductless minisplit west wall Infrared image

Here is an infrared shot of our Mitsubishi Ductless minisplit. The ambient temperature is around 26 degrees, meanwhile, the minisplit is at 19.1. The 7 degrees of difference represent the heat that is being used to heat our home. It is also interesting to see that the minisplit is creating a localized cold spot on the ground in front of it where the temperature reads almost 4 degrees cooler than ambient.

Floor of mudroom Infrared image

This is the northwest corner of our house. The house is on slab with R20 under it and R32 vertically along the foundation stem wall. The mudroom, which is sealed off from the heated part of the house. Corners are typically the cooler locations in a house.

Secondary bedroom wall corner Infrared image

Another corner of the house. This is the second floor south west corner.

HRV supply register Infrared image

This is one of the air supply registers from the HRV. We saw a 5 degree difference in exterior air temperatures on the HRV, and we are seeing a 13 degree difference on the interior air differences. I am having difficulty thinking about whether or not these differences are supposed to be the same.

Master Bedroom ceiling Infrared image

This is a picture looking up at the cathedral ceiling of the master bedroom. This ceiling is the under side of our parallel chord trusses that are insulated with dense pack cellulose. Interestingly, this is the only place we were able to see hints of the framing. Looking carefully, one can just make out a truss where I put the 61.2 temperature marker. I wonder if the reason why we can make it out at all is due to the fact that the topside of the cellulose is exposed to the ventilation plane under the roof. It isn’t really a concern though, the camera is very sensitive, and the difference in temperature is nominal. The hot spot in the picture is one of our CO/smoke detectors.

Ceiling of mechanical room Infrared image

This is a photograph of where the ceiling of the mechanical room meets the exterior wall. The ceiling is made up of 2×6 T&G floorboards that extend through the wall to a ledger attached to the exterior set of 2×4’s of the double stud wall. The mechanical room can get significantly warmer than the rest of the house due to heat radiation from the solar hot water tank and hot water pipes.

Second floor bathroom (Nov-Dec 2011)

Last November we hired a couple of friends of friends to tile our bathroom shower. With my Sandri Solar hot water job I simply didn’t have time to do it myself. We are really happy with the results. I love being able to just walk right into the shower; no big step; no shower curtain or door. Adam came up with a nice design for the colored tiles we got. The tiles are all seconds from the now defunct Dakor Center. As a result the white tiles are a mix of a few different shade–I actually think it looks better than if they were all one shade of white. I really wish we had curved tiles for all of the inside corners.

Custom tile walk in shower

Custom tile walk in shower

Custom tile walk in shower

If I designed another shower with entrance opposite the shower head, I would put the valving near the entrance. With it right below the shower, one has to cock the head to the side and stand to the other side to avoid the initial cold water.

Although I didn’t have time to do the shower, I did make time to tile the bathroom floor. Amazingly, we retrieved enough slate squares from the same outfit where we got the granite counter top scrap for the first floor floor. The slates are all showroom samples; they had recently decided to stop carrying slate. You can also see the marble sink that we got from Renew before we even broke ground. The base was a Home Depot damaged model so it needed some minor repair. I cut a back splash from some of our 3/4″ granite.

Slate bathroom floor

Slate bathroom floor

Finish carpentry (Dec-Jan 2011-12)

I never did put up any pictures up of the finish carpentry that happened last winter.

Adam and I built this railing out for the loft entirely out of red oak milled up from our own trees

Adam and I built this railing out for the loft entirely out of red oak milled up from our own trees. The railing was built on the ground and installed as a unit. Adam’s measurements were, once again, spot on. With a few minor scrapes on the wall, it fit right in.

Our hired finish carpenter Bill

Our hired finish carpenter Bill D.

Master bedroom oak door.

Bill hung all of our interior doors. This one is the master bedroom door. The doors are a mix and match of showroom models that were resold through Renew in Brattleboro.

Working on the finish stairs to the third floor.

The finish stairs to the third floor were also installed by Bill.




Water line leak

A couple of weeks ago we had water bubbling up from the ground where our water line connects to the city line… not a good sign. Luckily this is the town’s responsibility–and as we found out it wasn’t even the connection we put in. The leak was further up the line by a couple of feet. Incidentally this shot shows some of the progress on our front walk. I bought 2 tons of Goshen stone ($75/ton) from, and have been slowly piecing it together. Even if the walk had been finished the DPW was able to dig without disturbing the walk.

Greenfield, MA DPW at work

Greenfield DPW at work fixing the leak

Shiitake mushrooms!

So for those who have followed the blog you know that we inoculated oak logs from the trees we cut down with shiitake mushroom spore (see post from 2010/05/28. What a bumper crop this year! I have been encouraging them to flush by soaking them in lots of water. We inoculated some logs with chicken of the woods and maitake, but neither seems to have taken. The log pictured below is our prize winner. I counted 33 mushrooms on it!

Shitake mushroom log

Shiitake mushrooms!

Our custom, indoor, built-in, clothes line drying system

Okay, so the title is a little over-the-top, but I am super-proud of the clothes line that I designed and built for our house. The lines reside in the overlook from the first to second floors taking advantage of the natural air flow there. I had its location and design in mind from the very beginning. Hannah was skeptical at first that we could get along without a dryer, but she is a convert now. It has worked beautifully. If the clothes aren’t drying fast enough, which happens when it is humid, we turn on the ceiling fan above the clothes line.

Built in clothes line

The clothes has six 7′ lines each. One side uses the railing for support, while the other uses a scrap piece of railing stock suspended in air by braided cable with crimp stops.

Built in clothes line

View from the landing. Note the fan above.


Hannah hanging clothes on indoor clothes line

One of the unexpected benefits of the design is that it puts the clothes all at waist level, where they are easy to hang up and take off. Ordinarily, clothes lines have to be more around head height so that the clothes don’t touch the ground.


indoor clothes line system abstract perspective art

Looking up from below offers a very artsy cool view.

Energy Star Approved Home

Last December we had an Energy Star rater come from CET to do the final inspection. This included a blower door, volumeter, tests. Although this is old news now, I am very happy to report we received a 5 stars plus rating (the highest from energy star). We performed extremely well on our blower door test: .54 ACH50 (54% of the air in the house changes out every hour if it is under 50 pascals of air pressure (50 pascals is like 20 mph wind) (Passive House standard is .6 ACH50). Taking all of our insulation into account, our appliances, the solar hot water system, and our U values for the windows, we received a HERS rating of 37.  Aside from comparing various homes HERS ratings, we can say that we are 63% more energy efficient than standard new construction (100-37=63)

Go team!

Volumeter test for HRV ventilation ductwork energy audit

In this picture, our CET auditor is testing the supply airflow from the HRV to ensure that we are getting enough healthy air in our super-tight house.

Front stoop rock

So a lot has happened since December of 2011 here at the house. Most importantly we have a new family member: Max, who was born January 31st. In an amazing coincidence we got our temporary occupancy permit on the same day! As to be expected, putting the finishing touches on the house has been a very slow endeavor. Hannah has coined a new term: slowductivity – the decreased rate at which work is done when having a new born. Cellular blinds have been installed, a porch swing has been hung, an awesome built in clothes drying rack resides over the stairwell.  The mudroom has hooks for coats and bags, and the piles of rock sand and compost have been distributed appropriately around the yard or removed. One other reason more hasn’t been accomplished around the house is that Adam purchased his own home just down the street. I have been helping him as much as I am able in an effort to repay his amazing generosity and support in building my own home.

The most recent project on our house has been to install the rock we brought back from Vermont for our front stoop and make a front walk leading to it. The stoop rock needed to be cut first, for which I rented a 12″ angle grinder equipped with a base and a diamond blade. Then Dan F. and I rolled it into place using scrap ABS pipe.

Spartan ready to cut the rock with a 12" grinder

Spartan ready to cut the rock with a 12″ grinder. I tried hooking up the Festool shop vac to collect the dust, but it didn’t really work. Not visible in the picture is the cardboard template for the cuts that I traced onto the rock with a lumber crayon.

Stoop rock being moved into place

Positioning the stoop rock into place was only a little challenging. Some sweat, grunts and a few whacks with a rock hammer and it fit right in. We then used thin pieces of rock to shim it to level; followed by stuffing and packing in gravel around the sides.

Arts and crafts front entrance

Our arts and crafts front entrance finally looks complete with the installation of the stoop rock.

It was really rewarding getting this rock into place. I can’t believe we had it before we even broke ground on the site. Here is a link to the blog post about when we got it up in Vermont.