Friday, February 28, 2014

Soffits and Sheetrock

Inside The New House Next Door work is moving along. Sheetrock was delivered and is starting to be hung. Soffits have been framed above the spots for kitchen cabinets and the shower. Baseboard radiator pipes were moved over in the walk in closet to allow for the desired furniture placement. The dryer vent, and other wall penetrations are being installed. Light fixtures are being selected by the owners.

Sheetrock delivery

Soffits over kitchen cabinets

Soffit (with light) Above Shower

And outside the carpenters keep working on the clapboard siding, giving the house it's outer clothing, so to speak. The "Iron Grey" color looks very striking against the white trim; I love it!

North Side Elevation
Also note: The decorative oval window has been installed - it is located at the landing 2/3 of the way up the staircase, and the G.C. waited until the shop drawings for the stair were finalized before he cut the hole and installed it to be sure it was at the correct height. Since this is the north elevation (always in shade) it has minimal windows, especially as compared with the sunny south-side elevation that I often photograph. The north side is where the bathrooms are located - those two smaller stacked windows, and, like I said, the stair is along the north wall. The double window is in the artist's studio. Steady (not direct, glaring light) north light is always desired by artists for their work spaces. Lastly, the large first floor windows are in the living room, which also has windows facing west and is open to the dining area with the bay window facing south, so it has lot's of what we call "borrowed" light from that south bay.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Coloring Inside the Lines

Figuring out corner trim around porch roof
While all the insulation work has been going on inside, the carpenters have continued working outside in the frigid cold temperatures. They finished installing the white corner trim and started on the clapboard siding today.

When I was a child, I had a friend who was really neat when she colored in her coloring books. I remember her first outlining each area with the color she wanted, then after a crisp line covered the picture's printed line, she would color inside the outline - all in parallel strokes - to infill the shape. Her colored pictures looked so professional!

Watching the exterior finishes go onto the house reminds me of that. First they did all the outlines, and now they are filling in the color.

"Coloring In" the Porch Ceiling (applying bead-board)

 The clapboards being applied to The New House Next Door are not wood like the casing and trim. They are made of a cementitious material and are a popular siding choice for new residential construction. It is more durable and rot resistant than wood, but carpenters can cut and fasten it like wood - and it is fire resistant. (for this reason some cities and villages require it). I have specified horizontal clapboards for the rectangular area of walls, and a shingle up in the triangular gables. What until you see how professional my coloring is going to look!

North Elevation gets clapboard siding installed 

Insulation Phase 2

Spray Foam in Attic, Fiberglass Batts in the Walls
 The insulation contractors came back and finished up foaming, sealing,caulking and insulating the entire building envelope.You can see all aspects of the hybrid approach I took to insulating/air sealing "The New House Next Door" in the photo below. Spray foam above the top plate, sealant at potential gaps between wood members, insulated headers over windows, spray foam around window frames, and fiberglass batts between wall studs.(It might have been better if the batts were face stapled, rather than inset stapled, but...)

Hybrid Insulation - interior view

 The house is tightening up! And speaking of tightening up, the door hardware was installed today. Now that the house can be locked, deliveries of fixtures, finishes, mechanical equipment, cabinets, etc. can be scheduled.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The New Garage Next Door

Ah - the garage - I think America is in love with this giant room for their car(s). If detached from the home, it can look like a charming outbuilding or barn set back on the property and be built quickly and easily. The Tivoli Pattern Book (and general good zoning and planning) require that the garage be detached (or semi-attached with a "breezeway") and set back behind the house. Thoughtful siting like this that places the car in a secondary location, allows the house to be primary. It creates a traditional pedestrian friendly layout, which is appropriate for our walkable village. (refer to "Site Plan" Post from the fall)

I know many suburban homes have the garage attached to the home for convenience, but this can be a dangerous and smelly room and once attached, insulating and air sealing the habitable space of the house becomes more difficult to do correctly. On the aesthetic side of the argument, this room for cars is required to be so large, that it completely changes the massing of the house and often puts the primary focus of the building and site design on the car, instead of the people.

At the New House Next Door, the garage is designed for two cars - really it will house one car and a lawn tractor and stuff- and it is just a few steps from the back porch. It is built on what is called a floating slab, which means that the concrete footings do not reach down into the ground to the frost line, like the footings for the house do. The 6" thick reinforced slab has haunched or thickened edges that help anchor it down. The square building has walls with windows and doors and a gable roof built of wood trusses so that the 22' span doesn't require any interior columns. The exterior will have clapboard siding like the house, but the interior of the walls will have no finish, saving a bit of money and allowing my father-in-law to hang all sorts of tools and items easily inside. (Side Note: Attached garages need to be finished inside with fire-rated sheet-rock and a self-closing fire-door, to meet code, and cannot have open storage space above)

The builders have been building the garage as they've been building the New House Next Door. I will post photos of it from start to finish when it is all done, because I think it will be neat to see a small, simple building be built "right before your eyes" all in one post.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Insulation Phase 1

The (official) insulation contractors arrived today along with all the materials. I say "official" because you will recall, the design for the New House Next Door called for a hybrid approach and the exterior continuous rigid insulation has already been installed. See previous posts from November: Foundation Insulation and December: Rigid Exterior Wall Insulation

First of all, let's talk about energy use and sustainability. One of the best ways to be "green" is to have a super tight "building envelope" (the line between inside and outside) and therefore minimize the resources needed to heat and cool your house. Insulation -or R-value- is not the whole story; air sealing is actually even more important.

Spray Foam @ Crawlspace Box Beam

The energy code allows designers a few different methods for achieving the minimum requirements. Because this is a small house, (Sizing a house appropriately/modestly is the single-most important way to build green) I could use the prescriptive method. I followed Energy Star Standards, meaning the walls have that continuous rigid insulation (CI) everywhere, in addition to the cavity insulation between studs. And because we have the high efficiency CI on the walls, I used plain, old (inexpensive) fiberglass batts in the wall cavities. Then where it really counts, I specified spray foam (a more expensive insulating material, because it is also an excellent air-sealer) for the roof and at each of the floor lines (called the "box beam"). And the roof trusses we designed/installed to allow for full depth insulation over top of the walls- read more about this at the post about the trusses:

Spray Foam @ Underside of Roof

The last item to mention is the location of the building envelope. Many existing houses have insulation in the ceiling of the top floor and between the floor joists of the bottom floor. This was common practice, at least here in the NE... But building science has taught us that rather than having an un-insulated, un-conditioned attic and basement, it is more efficient to condition those spaces and have the exterior surfaces (roof plane, foundation wall) create the building envelope. Different... If you want to learn more, check out: They have an amazing amount of information.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Getting Ready for Insulation

main electrical panel (on right)

The electrician finished most of the rough in work today, including installing the electrical panel. The electrician also installed the cable/internet/phone wires for the house. All the recessed "cans" are in the kitchen ceiling, and all the electrical boxes are attached to framing in the walls.

The plumbers have installed the  vents through the roof and finished installing any pipes that are located in exterior walls. (This is only the kitchen sink drain - many of us prefer to look out a window while washing dishes- but by design we usually keep plumbing out of exterior walls, so those walls can be full of insulation instead)

With all the "stuff" that needs to go inside the exterior walls installed, The New House Next Door is ready for insulation!

Plumbing vents through the roof

Electrical boxes for ceiling lights and smoke detectors

Monday, February 17, 2014


The next exterior job for the carpenters in order to close off the inside from the outside is to finish the soffits. This is the underside of the roof overhang and can take on many different looks, depending on the design. You can see bungalow style houses with open rafter tails; you can see existing houses with vented soffits to allow air-flow under the roof deck. The New House Next Door has an "un-vented" roof system, because the building envelope includes the attic spaces, meaning they are also insulated and therefore not vented to the outdoors. The soffits are solid exterior plywood, painted white to match the rest of the trim. Some are angled (at gable roofs, like the main roof and screened porch) and some are flat (at hip roofs, like the front porch and kitchen/eating one story area)
Closed, angled soffits on gable roofs

Closed, flat soffits on hip roofs

Friday, February 7, 2014


MEP stands for Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing.

Electrical wiring for outlets in bedrooms
 Now that the building's frame is complete, the roof is on, and the windows and doors are beginning to successfully isolate the interior space from the great outdoors, the mechanical and electrical contractors can install their materials.

The electrician did a walk-through with the clients to verify all light/outlet/switch locations and styles. Then he cab run many linear feet of wire through holes drilled in the framing. This is called the "rough in" for the electrical.

The plumber will install the pipes for the HRV in the attic space and duct it to the back gable wall. This will actively vent each of the bathrooms out and supply fresh air in at the second floor hall. Mechanical ventilation like this is required when construction is air sealed and well insulated. (ie. There is not enough passive air exchange with the outdoors through leaky walls, roofs and windows, like in my 1890s constructed home.) He also piped into each room with supply lines for baseboard radiators and installed drains for the bathrooms and kitchen.

Drains for bathrooms & supplies for baseboard heat

MEP is vital in a modern home for comfort and to be responsible and economical with natural resources. MEP can sometimes be ugly, especially if not thought through; it pays to plan early in the design process where vents, ducts, and mechanicals will go so they can integrate more seamlessly with the overall design. We want these amazing technological inventions to help make our lives better, but we don't necessarily want to see them.