Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Progress & Green Flooring Options

Believe it or not, our weekend in New Hampshire was ridiculously productive. Well, believe it. Here's a rundown of what we accomplished in a few brief days.

We spent all day Friday with our builder to make the final decisions on all of the exterior options. In no particular order, we will have:
  • HardiePanel Cedarmill® Siding with batten strips in "Heathered Moss”

  • Window, door and roof trim in "Navajo Beige”

  • AZEK decking in "Fawn"

  • Ideal brand Americana series metal roof in "Tan"

We also finalized the location of our sun tunnel in the master bathroom. The rest of the day was spent visiting a lumber yard, flooring showroom and an eco-friendly home store. We are now fairly confident our flooring will consist of:

Living and Dining Room (south facing): Vermont slate (shown below)

Kitchen and First Floor Bedroom: “Mache Style” Cork from Eco Friendly Flooring (shown below)

Stairs, Master Bedroom and Second Floor Bedroom: “Natural Fiberstrand” Bamboo from Eco Friendly Flooring (shown below)

First Floor and Second Floor Bathrooms: Vermont slate

Why are we choosing cork (source: Interiors Green)?
  • It’s natural- Most of the benefits of cork are derived from its specialized cellular structure. Cork has a honeycomb cellular structure and each cubic centimeter contains roughly 40 million hexagonal cells.

  • It’s durable- The softness and give of a cork floor causes less of a grinding action to occur with normal foot traffic than on harder surfaces such as hardwood floors. Cork flooring has a very long life and can be repaired if damaged.

  • It’s soft- The air contained in the millions of cork cells provides a cushioned feel underfoot. It provides noticeable relief for those who stand on their feet for many hours—making it ideal for kitchens.

  • It’s thermally insulated- Cork reduces heat loss in rooms and even body heat loss through the feet. Cork naturally maintains a comfortable median temperature, never getting very hot or very cool. Walk barefoot on a cork floor and the warmth is immediately apparent.

  • It’s anti-allergenic and insect resistant- Bugs, mold, mites and even termites are repelled by cork due to a naturally occurring substance in cork called Suberin. This waxy substance also prevents cork from rotting even when completely submerged under water for long periods of time.

  • Why are we choosing bamboo (source: Interiors Green)?

  • It makes sense. By using bamboo, hardwood forests that have taken decades to mature are not diminished. Bamboo produces new shoots each year and individual stems are harvested from controlled forests every three to five years. If bamboo is not harvested after five years it falls over, unable to continue growing.

  • It’s durable- Bamboo is an average of 13 percent harder than maple. It is 27 percent harder than northern red oak and expands and contracts 50 percent less.

  • It’s made sensibly- After at least three years of growth the bamboo's hollow round shoots are sliced into strips, which are boiled to remove the starch. The strips are dried and laminated into solid boards, which are then milled into flooring boards.

  • I should also mention that I was impressed with both the look and feel of the Vermont slate available at the local flooring store. There was none of the flaking and chipping I’ve seen on the slate at large retail stores. This was a natural, local stone that won’t snag your socks if you walk around shoeless. In winter, thermal mass in the Vermont slate will absorb radiant heat from the sun. During the night, the heat will be gradually released back into the rooms as the air temperature drops, reducing the need for supplementary heating during early evening.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

'Tis the Season for Survival

We’ve been incredibly busy these past few weeks. Who knew building a house (and working a few different jobs) could be so time-consuming? We really started feeling frenzied when our planned meeting with our builder and lender loomed closer and closer. Well, now that that’s behind us, things have calmed down.


Before I give you a detailed account of all we accomplished this past weekend, I’ll give you a peek at some of the life we found surviving despite the wintry temperatures New England is known for this time of year. Enjoy.

Looks like a woodpecker found a nice home!

Beautiful moss covered fallen log.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Progress Report: Spray Foam Insulation

I'm happy to report that things are moving along quite nicely! Presby sent us more pictures last week of our home’s development.

In the picture below you can see our foundation is now standing without help from the preset forms. Click it to make it larger, and you'll see our view to the Southeast: "downtown," Cannon Ski Mountain, and Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette in Franconia Notch State Park.

Look beneath this paragraph to see our foundation coated with two inches of spray foam insulation. Spray foam is able to fill the tiniest cavities—giving it twice the R-value per inch than traditional batt insulation. Our two-inch insulation will provide us with an additional R14 value. Our interior basement walls will be framed and insulated as well. (For those who don’t know, the higher the R-value, the greater the insulating effectiveness.)

Friday, November 13, 2009

What Is A Passive Solar Design?

See that list on the right? The one titled, About Our Home? It’s pretty much the essential aspects we’ve chosen to make our home considerably more environmentally friendly than the average newly-constructed home. And I haven’t addressed anything on that list in detail yet. But that’s changing with this post. I think it’s important for you all to know a little bit more about each of these features, why we chose them and how they work to “green” our home. So, I plan on working my way down that list.

We are building based on a passive solar design, which means we kept the sun in mind at all times when planning our home. Our home is rectangular in shape and its long axis runs east/west. Our long wall will face within 30 degrees of due south. We will maximize the glass area on this south-facing wall to take advantage of the sun. Why?

Because sunlight offers us natural light. With our passive solar design, we’ll be able to rely entirely on sunlight in certain rooms for interior lighting during the day. The large, south-facing windows will allow a generous amount of light into our living and dining room. With our open floor plan, our kitchen should also receive ample daylight.

Because sunlight offers us natural heat. Solar radiation can directly penetrate our home via our south-facing windows and store within our living space (direct gain). It can also collect, store and distribute by way of a thermal mass (indirect gain). Thermal mass—or carefully-chosen materials that store heat—are key to a passive solar design. An example of thermal mass will be our flooring. A natural stone floor, such as slate, will be warmed passively by the sun during the day. At night, heat that is stored in the floor will be released back into the interior.

Because sunlight offers us natural cooling. The sun rises higher in the summer than in the winter; therefore, properly-sized window overhangs can create shading during warmer months and help to cool our home. (These overhangs are angled to permit sunlight through the windows in the winter.) Opening upper-level windows should allow naturally-rising warm air to escape as well. These elements, along with opening windows at night to let in cooler air, and closing the shades during the day, will reduce the need for supplemental cooling. In fact, we don’t plan on having a mechanical cooling system (or the energy bills that come from operating one!).

Here’s a quick run-down of passive solar design strategies (to maximize solar heat gain in winter and minimize it in summer) from the U.S. Department of Energy:

✓Start by using energy-efficient design strategies.
✓Orient the house with the long axis running east/west.
✓Select, orient and size glass to optimize winter heat gain and minimize summer heat gain for the specific climate.
✓Consider selecting different window sizes for different sides of the house (exposures.
✓Size south-facing overhangs to shade windows in summer and allow solar gain in winter.
✓Add thermal mass in walls or floors for heat storage.
✓Use natural ventilation to reduce or eliminate cooling needs.
✓Use daylight to provide natural lighting.

It takes a lot more thought to design with the sun. While our home design itself isn’t complex, it’s smart—and we owe it all to the experts. Our architects. Their knowledge of local climate, solar geometry and window technology, among other things, was mind-blowing. We learned so much just by talking with them. And I’m sure their wisdom stretches far beyond our conversations. We are forever thankful for their imparted knowledge and advice.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Progress Report: Pouring Foundation

Last week, Presby made giant leaps with our home construction. Say goodbye to our vacant "camping spot" and hello to our future basement walls!

Since our lot is steeply sloped, the week started with building a ramp for the concrete trucks to sit on while they poured the concrete.

On Friday, concrete was poured into the forms that were set earlier in the week.

Below, the Presby crew supervises the concrete as it travels down the trough into the preset forms. The line you see off to the left side of the photo will be the height of our first floor, deck and a majority of windows that will capture the low-hanging winter sun.

In the pictures below, the crew is moving the concrete down the wall in the forms as far as they can.

Once the foundation is poured, the exterior walls will have spray foam applied--the first step to making our home super-insulated.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

First-Time Homebuyer Credit – EXTENDED!

Last Friday, Nov. 6, 2009, President Obama signed into law the Worker, Homeownership and Business Assistance Act of 2009. This extended the deadline to take advantage of the first-time homebuyer credit—to April 30, 2010! Under the previous Act, homebuyers had to close on their home before December 1, 2009 to be eligible for the $8,000 tax credit.

Initially, the first-time homebuyer credit was what motivated us to start making our dream home a reality. We were at the appropriate age and point in our lives where buying our first home was feasible. Plus—who could pass up $8,000? (Unlike previous years, this tax credit does not have to be repaid!)

At the beginning of this past year, we started taking steps to make it happen, namely driving through areas of the state we found appealing and stopping at lots that were for sale. We also signed on with a realtor to help us search for land. Around the same time, we met with our architect for the first time. Even though we requested our house plans to be finished on an accelerated timeline (which ended up being four months start to finish), we started sweating the Nov. 30 deadline. We still needed to research, meet with and get quotes from builders, and visit banks that had the best construction loan rates. Mind you, these sources were in New Hampshire. And we weren’t.

It was late September before we chose our builder. We knew the Nov. 30 deadline wasn’t feasible and were given a March 1st end date. We chose to look at this “setback” positively. We’d be able to save more money before our house was built.

Needless to say, we are beyond thrilled with this new law. We’ll be able to both continue saving money and take advantage of the tax credit—the same credit that encouraged us to stop dreaming and start building!

P.S. In case you were wondering, new construction homes are eligible for the tax credit, just as if you bought any other home. From the IRS:
Instead of buying a new home from a home builder, I hired a contractor to construct a home on a lot that I already own. Do I still qualify for the tax credit?
Yes. For the purposes of the home buyer tax credit, a principal residence that is constructed by the home owner is treated by the tax code as having been “purchased” on the date the owner first occupies the house. In this situation, the date of first occupancy must be on or after January 1, 2009 and on or before April 30, 2010 (or by June 30, 2010, provided a binding sales contract was in force by April, 30, 2010).

In contrast, for newly-constructed homes bought from a home builder, eligibility for the tax credit is determined by the settlement date.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Progress Report: It's a Dirty Job

More progress on the home front! We received a few pictures from Presby detailing the work that has been done so far. Some of the ledgerock has been removed and they started to rough out the foundation area.

Did I mention our lot was a little rocky? The two pictures below are of the hammered-out rock.

And take look at this—it’s the perfect camping spot!

Sometimes I find myself in disbelief that someone somewhere is building our home. It’s been a fantasy for so long that, at times, it’s difficult to comprehend our home will one day exist outside our dreams. Pictures like these are a reality check.

It may be real. But we’re still on cloud nine.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Green Siding Options

Lately, we’ve found ourselves scouring the web for eco-friendly siding options for our home. Our original plans call for eastern white cedar siding with a clear protective finish. We’ve come to learn that solid wood siding requires frequent maintenance…and it’s not exactly green. Well, it can be if it’s FSC-certified or made from recycled wood.

Unfortunately, this gets expensive. And we are limited by our budget. Yet again. We can’t have our pretty wood siding and certify it too. And call it a hunch, but I don’t think we can meet the expense of a whole house swathed in repurposed wood siding.

During our research, we stumbled across fiber-cement siding. It’s a material that looks just like wood, but is composed of cement and wood fibers. The leading supplier of this type of siding is James Hardie. It’s durable—the site notes its ability to resist “impact damage from wind and hail…and cold windy climates…” It’s relatively inexpensive. And many siding options come with notable warranties. Though the wood fibers are obtained overseas, many green builders are using James Hardie fiber-cement because of its reasonable price and expected lifespan.

I think this option makes the most sense for us, given our expected harsh climate and our budget. The vertical siding—which we love—is protected by James Hardie's "strongest warranty ever"—a 30-year nonprorated, transferable, limited warranty.

I think we're sold on the HardiePanel Cedarmill® Siding in “Heathered Moss.” A color that, unfortunately, looked more gray than green when posted here. This photo (below) shows the design. Not the color of choice.

We’re hoping to achieve a traditional board-and-batten look like this when it’s all said and done.

Imagine that—our “green” home will likely end up being green in color too!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

New England Foliage

We received an updated photo of the mountains last week—taken from our driveway. (Yep, they are dusted with snow already!)

I hope Monday mornings aren't so difficult when you wake up to this view!