Saturday, March 24, 2012

Certificate of Occupancy and Answer to Garage Door question

This week was a good week - we raced to get things set for the final inspection like making sure the deck railing was complete (cable installed and tight) and installing the inside handrail for the stairs as well as a couple minor electrical tweaks.  On Wednesday the county inspector came in the afternoon and did his final inspection. The comments he made were "this should be easy" and "schedule the moving trucks." We had him visit the site any time we had questions regarding code requirements and that helped make sure we were ready for the inspection. Bottom line is he issued the certificate of occupancy so we are not scrambling to get our rental house packed up and moved while finishing some of the last details on the house

  We were a bit concerned with the inside stair railing because it wasn't as sturdy as we would like - the upper section and lower section are not currently connected due to some problems with the Indital components (the plastic cap and articulating joint don't fit together tightly enough to rely on them for stability) so we're going to order one more articulating joint and explain the situation to the folks at Indital to see if they can help..  The rail does work as a handrail but trying to use it as a "guard rail" isn't a good idea since the lateral stability of the railing is questionable in my mind, especially at the landing.  The look is great and goes well with the contemporary style of the house so we're going to work hard to get it stabilized.  I guess the telling story would be that when I spoke with the president of Indital USA he said they should have never sold me the components they did for a wood installation; it is designed for professional installation on concrete flooring...

We also got the Liquid Propane tank installed and filled - the plan was to install it under the deck but due to code restrictions we were unable to do that.  I poured a small pad using Sakrete quick-setting concrete but unfortunately it will now be a pad for some other use.  Steve, the delivery person installed the tank and connected the lines to the house as well as hooking up our Weber grill to the tank. Right now we're probably one of the few folks in the US that has a 120 gallon propane tank only supplying gas to their deck grill!  The good news is on Monday we will move the Thermador range into it's final place and connect it to the lines - so we'll be able to move in AND have hot meals as planned by the end of the coming week.

I cut the grass for the second time yesterday - with all the rain that has been coming down and the warm sunny weather, the grass has been thriving. The one problem is it's too hot so the winter rye is starting to show stress and browning up a bit.  Today the rain came down again and we collected about 100 gallons - I'd emptied one tank in preparation for construction of a better pad for the two 275-gallon IBC containers.  One interesting observation was that the 60 gallon barrel that did not have a drainage port on it had become a mosquito breeding ground - there were tons of larvae squiggling about in the water, some even under the screen (which means the eggs settled through the screen.  I dumped some of the water off but today's rains refilled the barrel and I'm sure washed a few of the larvae into the drainage system and then into the woods below the house.

Today we did the final install on the range hood cover and worked on the pantry shelving system - the glass for the range hood won't go in until the painters and cleaners have finished their work.  We have the painters coming back on Monday/Tuesday and the cleaners (house and window-specific cleaners) coming on Wednesday.  Once all that is done, we'll move the large stuff from our rental house and by this time next weekend hope to be living in our new house.

There was a question posted on the Blog regarding use of the garage door for a living space and the tightness of the seal.  We haven't really worried about how tight the door is since we have a breezeway concept (and the Carolina Wrens have moved in to raise their family) but the seal of the weatherstripping and the joints on the door seems quite tight.  We have the tempered glass for our door and it has performed quite well - today the rain beat against the door pretty severely but it stayed dry. I might not use it for a habitable room in the current configuration but we are very happy with it in our application.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Plumbing and electrical top out, water heater selection, cable rail, HVAC and more

This week saw the HVAC, plumbing and electrical trades complete their top-out in preparation for the certificate of occupancy.  We also uncovered the floors for the first time in months so they could get their final two coats of Bona High Traffic finish.  The stair railing components have now been cut to size and fitted so once the floors have hardened sufficiently we will install the final railing for the inside.  We strung the cable rail on all but the stairs for the deck as well - it was actually not too difficult but it did take time.  We drilled the holes in all the 6x6 posts and then constructed the 2x4 pressure treated upright 'spreaders' for the cable. After that we stained all the critical parts and then installed them.  The process we used was to cut the spreaders to length (high and low versions are required to prevent the cables from hitting at the corner posts) and then we strung the cables, tightened them, and after checking for plumb and centering we attached the uprights to the rail and the deck using screws.  We have not yet cut the cables off so that if we need to make adjustments we can still do that.  The tool that allows the quick-clamp to be released from the cable is only long enough to use if the cable is not inserted in the post so we would have to remove the threaded end of the cable assembly, release the quick-clamp, and then make the necessary adjustments.

  A couple weeks ago we were in a debate over what type of water heater to use.  We originally had a tankless LP unit in the plans but when the "dry hole" of a well appeared on the scene, we switched to a ground-source heat pump including a desuperheater (hot water by-product of heating and cooling) and a resistance water heater.  The water heater that we had initially delivered was very affordable but the annual costs of the unit were at the top of the category for their size ($520 for a 50 gallon heating tank) - which in actuality is a pretty small range.  We again went into the debate about tankless (which we were leaning to), resistance (typical water heater) or one of the new hybrid units.  After a bit more research on the tankless whole-house unit we found that the lag-time before getting hot water in the bathrooms would be unacceptable and the cost of operation was HIGHER than the resistance unit (200 gallons of LP a year, current rate is $2.79 per gallon) so we started researching the Hybrid heaters.  We read all the reviews and settled on an AO Smith Voltex heat-pump water heater.  The cost of the unit was slightly more than our budget line of the tankless whole-house system but the expected annual energy consumption was less than half of the estimated cost for the resistance unit and about 40% of that for the tankless.  The HPWP was delivered and due to the size we reconfigured the mechanical room a bit - the small 40 gallon tank for the desuperheater was moved over to the opposite of the room and the HPWH was placed next to it.  This provided a single drain solution for the pans and condensate pump (required for the HPWH).  Another condensate pump was installed for the ground-source heat pump since it generates a fair amount of water as it cools.  Rather than dump all that water into the septic system we installed two Little Giant condensate pumps that run the water out to the South West corner of the house - where they will be in our rainwater harvesting tanks so that in the rainless months we can continue to add to our tanks.  Pictures of the reconfigured mech room to be posted at a later date.  Oh, and the heat-pump water heater is a great air conditioner for the mechanical room - it cools and dehumidifies the air which our HVAC engineer plans to harness with a manual diverter to allow the cool/dry air to enter the living spaces in the summer months.  One other side note about the HPWH, when it's in hybrid or economy mode the condenser and fan can make a fair amount of noise so we plan to sound-proof the mech room (which we need for the ground-source heat pump and other mechanicals) in the near future.

  Here are pictures of the house in near-final stages.

No, that bird is NOT on the outside.  She decided that the open door was a good place to fly - she was in the garage (collecting next materials I think) and we managed to get her out by opening the french doors and then the clerestory window.  using the long pole scared her down and she miraculously flew out the door.

Convection/Microwave installed (and tested on pizza).

Workout room with paper removed from the floor - still a bit dusty but that will be remedied in the coming days.

downstairs bath - the hint of a reflection you see is the Optiplex (plexiglass) splash guard we installed over the knee-wall.

Lower stairs with stain and the first coat of finish on them.  you can also see the stairway light with the cover painted the same color as the walls.

It's all coming together - the range hood and duct cover are installed but the protective plastic is still on and the glass hasn't been installed yet.

Another view of the kitchen from teh family room - the soapstone looks much bluer here than it does in reality.

And here's the money shot - the only thing missing at this point is the railing but we're waiting to install that until flooring is finished.

Bedroom hallway in near-final state.  

The "relaxation room" with a view.

View from the niche end of the main hall upstairs

Living room doors - closed and yes, they still have the plastic protective film on them

Looking towards the west - the cable rail is installed at this point - hard to see in the small version but it is indeed there.

View looking from west to east - the very green section is where we  put down 50/50 compost/soil mixture and the less green section is the soil left after excavation (e.g. not the topsoil)

Here you can see the tails of the cable waiting to be cut and capped off

This is the other end of the cable system - a threaded rod which allows you to tighten the cable once the quick-clamp is in place and tightened by pulling the cable as tight as possible.

West ent of the deck, looking toward he south.

View of the deck from the Southeast corner of the clearing.

A bit wider angle

And looking due west - you should be able to tell what time this photo was taken by the shadows if you have ever used a sundial. We're thinking about putting a mariner's compass on the deck boards but maybe a sundial would be more appropriate!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Electrical and Plumbing, countertops, slat ceiling, closet system grass

A long time between posts again - Been pretty busy (I think yesterday was the first day I have not visited the site in about 3 weeks).
Snow happens!  We got a light snowfall and when I arrived the next morning the roof proved it was well insulated.  The house was set at 62 degrees overnight warming to 67 starting at 7:00.  This picture was at about 7:30.
Someone has been visiting while we're not there! Cat? Raccoon back? ...
 Since my last posting we have made significant progress including nearly completing top-out of the electrical and plumbing.  Electrician has a few fixtures to install and the Almond outlets - which is a story in itself.  The sub ordered Almond outlets to match the covers and began installing them on Thursday. It turns out they received Light Almond instead of Almond which are quite different in color.  Now here's the rub, the product ID for the Almond and Light Almond outlets are the same - they only difference is the use of AL for almond and LA for light almond.  Easy to figure out which is which isn't it?  It sure is nice to have electric light other than the florescent drop light we've been using when we need light!

The plumbers finished all of their top-out except one hand-shower bar and the hot water heater.  The shower bar requires drilling through that Italian tile which is very time consuming to say the least and it's nerve wracking so nothing cracks.  Installing the tub in the master bath also proved to be a bit of a challenge since it wasn't sitting on the floor.  When the granite installers set the tub deck, they did not set it high enough so we had to remove the mortar bed and redo that - but the worst part was the overflow vent needed to be dropped and it's very difficult to access.  After about 15 test-fits we finally got it into place.  It looks great and is going to be a wonderful place for a hot soak after a long day at work or long bicycle ride.  For the hot water heater we had originally budgeted for a tankless gas unit but with the installation of the geothermal, we had "downgraded" that to a standard electric.

  When the mid-grade resistance water heater arrived it was pretty enlightening to note that the energy rating label noted that of the class, this particular unit was at the top end of energy use for the year at $520.  That generated some healthy discussions regarding the cycle time of the ground source heat pump, the need for HVAC in the "shoulder seasons" and the amount of real hot water it will provide.  In the discussion we were heading towards getting that tankless whole-house unit again until we did a bit more research on the Heat Pump Water Heaters (a.k.a. Hybrid water heaters).  These units use a heat-pump to convert heat in the air to heat in the water and as side benefits they dehumidify the air and cool it.  We gathered all the information we could find and decided to go with the heat-pump water heater by AO Smith.  It gets good reviews and has a good warranty program.  We've read reviews of other manufacturer's heaters that have significant problems and they don't cost much less.  The attraction here was that we don't have to pay for LP to heat water (which is currently $2.79 a gallon and the estimated use is 200 gallons a year - or at current prices $558.00) and the side benefits might pay off.  Since the water heater is in the basement spaces and at present it will only cool the storage area and mechanical room, it seems like a good compromise.  Estimated energy use of this tank (which by the way is 60 gallons instead of the 50 gallon resistance heater unit) is about $250.  The unit does cost about 4 times as much as the resistance unit but that's only a 3-year payback period with a 12 year warranty so we feel confident in this decision.

One thing we did discover during our hot water heater investigation is it appears the larger hot water supply line for the house is now buried above the GSHP unit so we'll have to reroute it before the plumbers can connect the water heater.  We have a significant mechanical room with most of the mechanicals on one side of the room.  The one exception is the Energy Recovery Ventilator unit.  We also have found the GSHP transmits a significant amount of noise to the house which we believe is due to the unit being in contact with the floor joists above it - due in large part to the isolation blocks placed under the unit.

We ordered Soapstone for the kitchen counters from a supplier in NJ and had it delivered to our fabricator. The soapstone is "monsoon wave" and it isn't your high-school lab soapstone color or texture.  They fabricated it with a honed finish and brought it to the site to install a week ago Saturday.  The one glitch here was they had edge-finished two sides of the piece that goes between the range and the refrigerator.  The problem being that only the front was supposed to be edge finished while the sides and back were to be square cut.  The fabricator is still on the hunt for a local supplier for the soapstone but we believe they will end up going to our source to replace that one 25 1/2 x 27 piece.  When the soapstone is "dry" and not oiled it has a blue coloration but after oiling it turns deeper in color and takes on a deep green coloration.

Soapstone installed and oiled - but the bar top has not been installed nor have the fixtures.

View of the island sink up close - olied

Lengthwise shot of the island
This is the soapstone after a week of no oil - the tile was an experiment for the backsplash that doesn't work for us since it's too busy

The cabinet makers returned after the countertops were installed to install the bar top in the kitchen, the master closet shelving units, and the "DIY-install" pantry components.  We chose a solid cherry bar top for the kitchen which really sets off the cabinets and soapstone.  Both the bar top and countertops need to be treated the same with mineral oil.  Today I applied another coat to both and to show the difference between oiled and non-oiled I did half of the island soapstone and took the following picture.
Left half is "dry" and right half is oiled with straight mineral oil.  As you can see, this is after the plumbers have installed the faucet and soap dispenser. This picture was taken with the flash.

Here's a similar view without the flash - note the blue that this brings out...

Looking down at the half oiled surface.

Cherry bar top installed - the range hood cover is still a project in the works 
Some great looking cherry - and it is 2" thick.  The top is through-bolted to the island wall so it's sturdy (though we're still not letting anyone stand on it to do their work!)
View from the entry hall into the kitchen/family room

Grass is coming up - and it makes a real difference when approaching from the street. The house looks finished.

Garage at daybreak - lights on inside are only the garage door lights and not the florescent light.

View of the slatted ceiling from entry hall towards bedroom end of the house.

Same view with the lights turned on.  The ceiling is 3 1/2" hickory boards spaced just under 1/2" apart to fit the beam-to-beam space.  If you remember there is drywall painted black. The slats (with the light fixtures installed through the 2 center slats) are suspended about 9" below.  The design is meant to allow the panels to be lifted should any access be required in the future - though none is expected.

"the Money Shot"

Front entry hall - living room doors still have protective plastic on the glass and paper still on all the floors.

Living room door and hallway leading to bedrooms.

Looking down the hall from the niche end.

Master bedroom - this is a "Fan-away" where acrylic blades retract when the fan is off and spin out when it is running

View of the kitchen from the family room end.  

A bit of rain fell this weekend (about 1 1/4").  We now have 730 gallons of stored rainwater (+/-) and there was much more than that  that traversed the drainage system.