Out with the ladder, here come the stairs

In the past weeks, we’ve completed most of the wiring.  It is actually pretty easy to run wires with the service cavity because wires slip underneath the 2×3’s rather than needing holes to be drilled through all of the studs.  However, we did still need to drill through interior partition walls and joists.  Here’s a shot of many wires coming into a switch box at our main entrance.


We built a utility room in our bathroom for …. utilities.


Here’s our main AC panel.  We will probably have another smaller panel for DC loads.  The switch box to the left with the 18ga wires hanging from it is the control switch box for the Lunos HRV’s.


We also framed out a half wall which will enclose the alcove tub.  Our vanity will be on the other side of the half wall.  In the floor can be seen the recess which we hope will accommodate the tub’s trap… fingers crossed


The largest project of late has been creating the stairs.  We’ve decided to make a housed stringer stair.  A typical stair is built with rough stringers (usually a 2×12 with triangles cut out from it) and then trimmed out later with treads, risers, returns, and skirts.  But Mike likes the housed stringer style of stair because the frame is the finish.  The structure and the finish are all done at the same time – what you see is what you get.  We bought some 8/4 ash for the stringers, 5/4 maple for the treads and 4/4 maple for the risers (from Bradford Woodworking in Northampton and Forest Products Associates in Greenfield).  Mike milled it all down in the living room.  The hardwood supplier says there is a glut of Ash at the present time due to the emerald ash borer….. we may not have this tree much longer if things progress like this – could the ash go the way of the chestnut???  I hope not!

The stringers:…. Nice Ash you have there!!


The soon to be treads and risers:


There are a couple of ways to build winders, but the simplest seemed to be to build triangle boxes and then trim them out later.  It is also possible to build winding housed stringer stairs – maybe next time.


Two pieces of 5/4 maple about to be glued up for a tread.  I really appreciate biscuits for an application like this.  Not only do they add strength to the joint, but they help immensely with alignment during clamping.


Dry fit passed and ready for glue


All glued up and clamped.  checking for flatness.


If you can produce a nice tight joint, lots of clamps aren’t necessary.  I like to set the boards vertically after clamping and let the glue run down the seam for about 10 mins.  By then the glue has just begun to get a little firm.  It scrapes off nicely and then I give a quick wipe with a wet rag and the joint is left clean.  Leaving substantial glue on the joint can wreak havoc on your planer blades afterwards.


One of the many reasons I love this time of year is that our swales fill up with water.  This gives a nice long drink to our fruit tree roots as they unthaw.


Ella’s excited for the garden this year, too!


We managed to find a few hours to boil a bit of that sap we’ve collected.


Now- back to the stairs – laying out the stringers.  I took great care to get it right here to ensure a smooth install.


The jig is clamped and ready to go (putting the router to good use, Peter!).  A couple of good resources for building housed stringer stairs:

video for making the template

five part Video for making the stringers

Great book on making many types of stairs including housed stringers.


One stringer done


After the treads and risers were routed out, we needed a rabbet on the bottom edge for the drywall.  It will be screwed to the the bottom of the stringers, recessed into the rabbet on both stringers – hiding the underside of the treads and risers.


Our perimeter drain has been active these past days with all of our melting snow and rainfall…. a convenient place to wash one’s hands.


Here we go – after MANY hours of planning, milling, measuring, marking, routing, and cutting it is finally time to glue it all together!  The treads and risers are connected to the stringers by wedges and glue.  When the wedges are driven home, they are not coming out!  They are really tight!  It is definitely not ideal to use two clamps together like this, but we are lacking in long clamps so we made due.


After installing the top and bottom two treads to keep the whole thing together, we heaved it into position.  Light is not a word I would use to describe it.


wedges and glue driven in from behind.  It is not shown here but we used pocket screws to connect the top of the risers to the bottom of the treads.


The finished stair:


Really happy with the way everything went together.  It all fits nicely.


That’s the big excitement around here.  Tomorrow we will begin applying the finish to the stairs so that we can use them.  We decided on Vermont Natural Coatings’ floor finish.  it is a Whey based clear coat designed for floors.  We’re not sure when we will install the treads and risers on the lower winder stairs – probably when we install the flooring in the kitchen (it will also likely be hard maple).

As the days turn warmer we plan to move outside and begin installing the exterior roxul to the walls and building the window extensions to go with it.

Ella is excited for spring!


decisions, decisions

In the past weeks we have mostly been making decisions.  Though we have also been erecting interior partition walls and deciding about light and switch placement, the decisions are the most challenging aspects of our build at the moment.  Ella enjoys helping to hold things.


Nika was feeling like the ceiling in our bedroom was a little too flat…. so we took it down and cut a curve into it!  Kinda looks like a whale’s rib cage installed up there.


We made a pattern that felt good to us and then traced it out onto the others before cutting it with a bandsaw.  We could have cut these pieces from a single 2×10, but the sides would have been rather brittle and weak.  So we used the existing 2×4’s from the old ceiling and added another short section of 2×4 to each end.  Then we cut the curve to the whole thing.  Because we are installing drywall atop them, the don’t need to be perfect.  ⅛” is close enough.


Making good use of my grandfather’s band saw!


The internet says that a ½” sheet of drywall will bend to a 10′ radius.  ⅜” drywall will bend to a 7′ radius and ¼” to a 5′ radius. Ours is just about 7′ so we chose ⅜”.  The internet also says it helps the bend if you wet the back of the sheet – so we did that.  It bent quite easily, no cracking.  It was a challenge to lift it, hold it, push it to conform to the bend and screw it all at once for the two of us, but we managed.  Then we put in A LOT of screws.  Probably about every 2″ along the ribs.  Oh and we also decreased the rib spacing to 9 ⅝” on center.  It worked quite well.  I’m excited to see it after mudding and taping.


It’s been quite warm around here…. which means that the sap is flowing!  We’re not sure if we’ll have time to boil any syrup, but our three taps have been giving us a steady stream of sweet refreshing sap to drink.


One of the other odds and ends I worked on in the past weeks was installing the duct for the vent fan.  It didn’t get done before insulation (which would have been easier).  But we were really impressed by the self-supporting nature of the cellulose.  This picture is looking up the rim joist insulation (at the bottom of the carved away bay is the top plate of the wall with joists on both sides of the carved away insulation).   Though gravity is doing it’s thing, the insulation doesn’t fall down.  No settling here.



Ella is getting her fill of snow before it all melts and runs into the stream…


This next picture is very exciting for me to show.  It is of our perimeter drain discharging water!  All that time we spent installing it and carefully pitching the slope has paid off!  The water table is very high will all the melting snow and rain we’ve recently received so it has been flowing for the past three or four days.  I am so glad it works!


We’re going to keep on with our electrical wiring.  If the warm weather continues, we will most likely begin installing our exterior roxul board so that the shingles on the outside of the walls can come next.

Insulation and airsealing

As you may expect, we have been busily chugging along on what we affectionately call “the big house” which is in direct correlation to the space we currently occupy “the tiny house”.  After our holiday vacation, we returned to the dusty work of blowing in the cellulose.  To prep the space, we stapled up Insulweb with upholstery staplers.  Once the blowing began, it went pretty quick.  It took about 2 ½ days to do the blowing.  Our roof being 17.5″ thick took a little more work.  I think that Whip (our insulator) made three passes into each bay to ensure that the proper density was reached.

Our insulation, like many of our favorite things, is made in Quebec!


Here is the machine with a bag ready to be broken up and blown into the shell:



It was difficult to estimate the exact amount of cellulose needed – I overestimated and we had 100 bags left over!

In the next picture, you can see the Intello billowing out after the cellulose is installed behind it.  It is definitely a good idea to not space the strapping (or framing if you’re blowing directly behind the Intello) larger than 16″ oc.  We had relatively few staple pops which we were glad for.  Friends of ours did 24″ oc spacing and because many staples popped, they had to put a dab of caulk atop of every staple to ensure the airtightness.


In this picture, we are in the process of blowing.  Some wall bays are done, some are empty. The cavities between the floor joists have been initially filled from above.  He then came back and inserted his hose from below the joists to bring the density up.


An up close shot of the staples holding well.


Whip filling a bay.


Whip bringing up the density of the lower roof cavities


Ella named me the “dusty man”


After installation, we vacuumed everything!


And most of the wall bays, because they are 24″ oc, needed to be rolled flat.  It is normal for the cellulose to bulge during blowing, but when rolled with a roller it flattens out so that sheetrock, or in our case, strapping, can be installed atop the studs.


Then the air sealing fun started.  Our primary air barrier is an interior one on the inside of the wall studs (the Intello).  This means that we want to seal every crack and crevice as best we can.  We tape all seams and use an acoustical sealant (tremco) around all window and door penetrations to minimize air leakage.  Around windows we used Pro Clima’s Profil tape.  It is a very nice tape to work with.  It has multiple sized release strips on the back so it makes it very easy to tape in tight corners like from a window frame to the rough opening frame.  We have been really impressed with the ease of workability and the tenacious adhesion of the pro clima tapes.  They are top notch!  (with one exception – the extoseal.  It gets a little thin when stretched.  I have never used DuPont Flexwrap, but would try it and see if I like it better than the Extoseal)


Here you can see how we taped around each joist to obtain a complete seal.



Once we finished with the air sealing, we needed to make a major decision about the layout of our kitchen.  To help us visualize it, we made a life size mock-up with clamps, 2×4’s and saw horses.  It is the best way to quickly get a feel for the finished space with different options.


Then the next task at hand was adding interior partitions upstairs as well as framing out the ceilings.  Here is our solatube capturing lots of light!


Upstairs partition wall…


One traditional difficulty with keeping the integrity of the internal air barrier comes from electrical boxes and wiring.  It is difficult to seal all electrical boxes when they are installed in the traditional fashion.  To solve that problem, it is recommended to add a service cavity on the inside of the air barrier.  We’re adding 2×3’s to give us a 1.5″ space for boxes and wires and some plumbing pipes (larger pipes will require a larger space that will be hidden behind cabinets…. later).  Wires can be slipped behind the 2×3’s in the middle of the bays by compressing the insulation a little..  This wall is ready for wiring and then drywall (with the exception of one 2×3 at the bottom of the window)


We’ve also been framing the knee walls at the edges of the room.


Our next projects are to continue with service cavity installation downstairs, build stairs, and begin wiring… We’ve also been working to design our solar PV system.  There is a lot of good information on the web about it, but we would like to consult with a PV professional about a few details.  If anyone knows of someone in the Brattleboro/Greenfield area who could do some consulting, please connect us!

A door and a vacation


We bought a sliding door panel at a re-used building materials store in Springfield, MA for $50.  After drilling the holes for the knob and mortising in the hinges, it works great.  Eventually we plan to build our own door, but with so much to do it is not near the top of our to-do list.  This will suffice until then.




Ella – apprenticing as a fish


To begin our cellulose prep, we isolated our rafter bays by stapling strips of insulweb to the sides of the rafters and the 2×4 bay extensions.  Our cellulose installer recommended this to help the installation go quicker.


Our friend Amanda came back to lend a hand for a few days, which was most welcome!  Our cellulose guy, Whip, lent us some upholstery staplers which make this go much faster.  It’s kind of like a turbo fire stapler.


We will install a strip of insulweb about 30″ wide across the roof plane where the two sheets of Intello meet.  Then we will let the edges of both sheets flap down, exposing the insulweb below it.  The hose for the cellulose will be inserted through the insulweb.  After the installation is finished, the edges of the Intello will be folded up and taped.  This saves much hole patching in our Intello by reducing the amount of cellulose hose insertion points.



Below you can see the strapping which holds up the flaps of the Intello edge and also secures the insulweb beneath it.


There’s always time for some fun in the snow


We’ve had a beautiful Bard Owl that’s been hanging around our field looking for prey.  Here it is perched upon our Bison Pump on our well.


We’re on a break to celebrate the holidays with our family but look forward to blowing in the cellulose next week.

almost sealed up


It has been very exciting to be installing our windows!  We’ve been really pleased thus far with the InLine Fiberglass windows.  I don’t think they are the highest quality window that money can buy, but they are a good quality window at a reasonable price.  Purchasing direct from the manufacturer (in Toronto) helps keep the costs down.  We ordered high gain glass (high SHGC – not Low E) on the south and east windows so the sun will heat the space.


The fiberglass frames are quite rigid which allows for a more narrow profile of the frame.  And the research we did showed that fiberglass expands and contracts at a very similar rate to glass as the temperature changes.  That means that over time the seals are likely to stay intact when compared to other window frames.

The casement hardware is quite nice and seems like it will last a long time.  We chose casements because they close tighter than double hung windows and are more airtight.

Here our sliding glass door awaits installationimg_4411

Our friend Taylor came over for a few hours to help install our big windows and the sliding door.  Another friend, Chad was generous to let us borrow his window installing suction cups that made lifting these heavy handle-less frames easy.


Two big ones in…. and now for the slider.



Here it is!


Enjoying the view


We took a side trip to Northern Vermont for Nika’s citizenship test and on the way stopped by to see some friends at Knoll Farm.  Here is there beautiful water temple yurt and the surrounding countryside.


The other big news is that we had our cellulose insulation delivered.  420 bags or 10,500 pounds!  Luckily the brought the boom truck which conveniently dropped the pallets just outside of our door.  All that was left for us to do was stack it inside.  img_4425img_4426img_4427

A veritable mountain of insulation


We are hoping to get the cellulose blown in before x-mas, but this is the busy time of year for insulators so it depends on when other jobs are finished.  Our hope is that once the insulation is in, the house will keep itself at a base of about 50 degrees without any additional heat source (other than the sun coming in through the windows).


Perimeter drain and Windows

I’m not sure which is more exciting – the perimeter drain or the windows.  The perimeter drain may not sound exciting to talk about, but it serves an important function – keeping the concrete slab/foundation dry and unable to heave from frost – very important.  But I can say for certain that it is not much fun to put in.  I’d rather be installing windows any day.  But we had to get it done.  Here you can see our filter fabric wrap (before we fill it with crushed stone) and the horizontal wing insulation coming out away from the house to meet the drain.  It is sloped away from the house so that any water migrating down through the soil will flow into the drain.


This is a very exciting picture – connecting the loop of the perimeter drain.  It meant that we were done digging the trench!  Here I want to give a huge thank you to Amanda for detailing all of the depths of the utility pipes around the perimeter of the building which affected the height and slope of the perimeter drain.  It was way more complicated than I imagined…. thanks Amanda!!


We placed all of our roxul scraps from insulating the slab under the horizontal wing insulation to give us a few extra RRRRs.



Getting ready for backfilling – YES!!


Ella’s hiding from the dreariness of installing the perimeter drain.


After finishing the perimeter drain, Mike took some time to help our neighbors Taylor and Emily raise their timber frame workshop/office building.  What fun!  Taylor designed the building and cut all of the joints traditional mortise and tenon style like humans have been doing for hundreds of years.  No nails – only wooden pegs!  Yes, craftspeople were making wooden buildings before steel was widely available.


In these next few pictures it may be difficult to make out, but we cut a nearby hemlock tree to act as a gin pole which we lashed to large trees not far away.  Then we attached a block and tackle to the top of the pole, secured the pole’s bottom in a shallow hole in the ground and erected the pole.  This allowed us to lift the whole king post truss as one unit and lower it into the prepared mortises.  The whole truss weighed something in the neighborhood of 1000 pounds!



Taylor and Emily tacking a hemlock bough to the truss for good luck.


And back at home, we’ve begun installing our windows – yippee!  We decided to go with Inline Fiberglass windows which are made in Canada.  Fiberglass is a highly durable window frame which has a rate of expansion and contraction very similar to that of glass which lends to the durability of the unit as a whole when compared to Vinyl.  Because we purchased the windows directly from the manufacturer, the price for these triple paned windows was very reasonable – around $40/sf with a U-factor of about .19img_4397

We’ve also accomplished the majority of our backfilling and grading the soil away from the building.  img_4396

Backfilling was a little tricky because of our desire to have gardens close to the house.  When digging down, we didn’t want to just remove the topsoil when excavating.  That would have left us with clayey subsoil on the top.  We have a significant clay hardpan 18-24″ below grade.   So we moved the topsoil aside, removed a sufficient depth of subsoil, then replaced the topsoil.  It added an extra step and a few extra hours on the tractor, but our gardens will be happy.


Now we’re dreaming of Insulation….. Mike has been talking to a cellulose installer who we are working some details out with.  Hopefully we will be insulated before x-mas.

Roof is done!!

We are pleased to announce that our roof is finished!  There were some delays in getting a piece for our stovepipe installation as well as our solatube skylight.  But all of those parts arrived and are installed.  Here Mike is installing the chimney pipe through the roof. We decided to go with SuperPro pipe for it’s higher quality (stainless steel outside as well as inside the pipe).  Mike carefully taped and caulked a piece of aluminum flashing to the Mento layer allowing the membrane to keep its water-tightness while keeping our 2″ clearance to combustible required for the chimney pipe.


It’s a bit tricky integrating a chimney flashing like this one into a corrugated roofing material.  We put foam enclosure strips which are cut to match the profile of the roof at the bottom of this flashing where it looks like a gap.  I also want to mention that we used a product called ProfileVent to vent our ridge.  I found it in 3′ pieces from Bestmaterials.com (which by the way is a great source for roofing materials and caulks as well as other construction tools and specialty materials).  It looks kind of like a charcoal filter you might find on your compost bucket but is much more stiff.  It matches the profile of our roof panels and installs under the edge of the ridge cap on both sides.  Allows warm air to escape while keeping bugs and wind-driven rain out.  I like it for it’s low profile – from the ground it is imperceptible.  The glue provided to keep it in place wasn’t that sticky so while we were balancing on the peak, sometimes the strips would slide where we didn’t want them to.  But overall I would use it again.


We had an unexpected snow!!!! It melted quickly but this encourages us to get these outside tasks done soon…



Of course Halloween came and went.  Ella was transformed into a Butterfly Monster for the occasion.


With plenty of treats


Some reorganization in the kitchen…



Getting the final roof panel on just before the sun sets on another day



The stove pipe works!!! and it has a good draw…. (you can still see the remnants of a frosty morning on the roof)


First fire!


Sometimes you gotta make time for a nap under a warm piece of newspaper.


One job we’ve been putting off for a while is installing the perimeter drain.  We gotta do it before it gets much colder and really have been quite lucky with the mild days this past week.  The perforated pipe needs to be 2 feet from the outside of our wall to create space for our perimeter wing insulation which protects our frost proof shallow foundation.  The perimeter drain ensures that water will never allow our insulation to get wet (and reduce its R-value).  Our site is up on a knoll so we don’t have a lot of ground water, but in a heavy rain the drain could see some use.  And we think it is worth it to install the drain so we won’t ever have to worry about rising water tables if they ever come.img_4347

The fabric is called filter-fabric or geo-textile.  It keeps the pipe from getting clogged with dirt over time.  It will be wrapped around the top to make a complete enclosure.  Below you can see two cleanouts (one going each way around the foundation) for the perimeter drain and one for the pipe going to the septic (with the bag taped atop it)img_4379

Hopefully we can finish the drain in the next day or two.  Then we can do some backfilling and be done with dirty work for a while!  After that we hope to get a door installed and begin prepping for cellulose install.  Our fingers are crossed that our windows will clear customs (from Canada) and arrive next week. That’s it for now!