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 (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!

Busy busy…

We had quite a time locating the correct colored aluminum coil stock to cover our foundation insulation.  All of our local lumberyards were stumped and we couldn’t find any suitable color matches….. but we found an exact match in Canada.  So our Canadian parents were kind enough to pick it up and haul it down here!  A perfect match!  img_4202

We rented a metal brake to put some nice crisp bends in the aluminum and it worked like a charm.img_4204

Thanks to Nick and Michel for all of your hard work!


We finally decided on Burgundy as our roof color – whew, glad that is over…. After bending the metal we moved on to finishing the eaves in preparation for the roof installation.

img_4207Nick and Ella take a break and whip out the paints


Here we get the first roof panels up after installing the flashing around our plumbing vent


installing the first ridge piece



What a view from up here of our chicken coop, gardens, and beautiful dirt pile


Nice night for a campfire, too


Many thanks to Cathy and Tom for coming to lend a hand too!  Here we are furring down the inside of our rafters  with 2×4’s to make space for 17″ of cellulose insulation


We were lucky enough to acquire some brand new Marvin Integrity windows from a friend of a friend who (because of  strict historical rules in the neighborhood) was unable to install them.  With Cathy and Tom here we were able to prep the openings and install them as well.  Below is our rough sill after a clapboard, bituminous membrane, and counter shims are installed to ensure that any water able to infiltrate will be directed toward the exterior.  The extoseal product was really easy to work with and makes the tricky bend at the outside corner quite easily.


Our first windows are in!


Our storage room is a perfect place for a game of bowling


The south side of our roof is almost done!  The North side is another thing – we are awaiting parts for our wood stove chimney and solatube skylight which are on backorder before we can continue.


Hooray for dirt piles!


And today we moved a giant pile of dirt…… much nicer now


And next our priorities are:


Finish the roof after our backordered parts arrive.

The Windows are tentatively scheduled to ship out at the end of this coming week so next week we may be able to install them!

Install the perimeter foundation drain, horizontal wing insulation, and backfill

Finalize our wall penetrations, install the Intello interior vapor retarder, and prep for cellulose to be blown in.

Prepping for the roof

We have been busily moving forward.  After finishing the frame and sheathing we installed a layer of vapor barrier over the foundation insulation.  We will also install a horizontal layer of Roxul going out at the base of the foundation which this vapor barrier will also protect after backfilling. img_4126

Before the concrete pour we installed zip ties with screws in them to act as anchors in the concrete.  Their job was to keep the Roxul held tight to the outside of the concrete.  We are not sure why but half of them were a little loose.  So we had to install some tapcons to snug the insulation up to the foundation.  A large inexpensive washer can be made of simpson galvanized steel tie-plates….img_4128We’ve installed our waterproof/breathable membrane.  We chose to use the Pro Clima Mento 1000 on the walls and Pro Clima’s Mento Plus on the roof.  They are both breathable to water vapor yet keep water out.  The Mento Plus is reinforced with an extra layer which allows dense-pack cellulose to be blown directly behind it.  All of the seams are taped to keep wind and water out of the structure.  This membrane will also act as a back-up water membrane in the event that there is any leak in the roof in the future.


We chose to use 10′ wide rolls because it installs quickly and requires less tapingimg_4132img_4139

Getting the roof wrappedimg_4141

Our roof will have a vent channel above this WRB layer to allow airflow from the eaves to the ridge.  We used rough cut 2×3’s fastened directly to the rafters.  A bituminous tape was placed under the 2×3’s where nails were driven through to waterproof the connection.  Horizontal 1×4’s were nailed atop the 2×3’s which will hold the metal roof.  img_4157

We chose to wrap our simple “box” before adding our eaves.  This makes wrapping and taping the WRB much simpler and easier to get a good seal.  img_4158img_4159

Here our gable end overhangs are attached.  We made a ladder-like configuration and fastened with 5/16″ GRK RSS screws.  We were really pleased with the strength of these screws and their ability to be installed without pre drilling and their power in drawing pieces together.   After the ladder was fastened to the end walls, we extended 2×3’s out atop the overhang to give further support.   img_4175

For our eaves we made these “rafter tails” from 2×10’s and fastened them with a GRK screw at the top and some exterior deck screws down the side.  This is similar to the method that John Abrams (see below) used and we are really happy with their strength.img_4179

John Abrams drawing from his article High Performance Homes on a Budget


We have also ordered our metal roof!  It took us a while to finally decide on the color but in the end we chose Burgundy – it should arrive this week or next.  Until then we will continue to finish the last details before we can start putting up the metal!


color test panel

Frame is finished!

Our frame is finished!  In the last few days we’ve finished up some final details like adding some brackets and finished the wall sheathing.  Now we’re ready to install our weather membranes.  We have had some difficulty in getting the correct items from 475 (they are switching warehouses).  Hopefully the last items will arrive tomorrow and we can be dried in by the end of the day on Thursday.


assembling the support for the other half of the ridge board







The above and below photos shows the air sealing detail where we wrapped the wrb around the outside of our rim joist.  This makes a tighter seal than taping around all of the joists – a belt and suspenders approach.  We couldn’t do this on the west half of the house because of the higher ceiling/floor which is hung from the rafters.img_4117





Bubble baths are nice after a hard day’s work!

The fun continues

One challenge that developed in the past week is that our building has been slowly spreading.  Though we installed many triangular braces, we didn’t account for the weight of the rafters pressing down and out on the tops of the walls.   Once the floor joists are installed, they will eliminate this issue.  It was easy for us to use a rope and come-a-long to pull the walls back into place.  Our friend Genevieve came to visit and we were so happy to have her help!

img_4074measuring the width of the wallsimg_4073

measuring the width of the walls




Dirt piles never cease to be fun!


One nice thing about building a wooden house is that we can do math everywhere!


Sheathing finished on our Western Gable end wallimg_4079

Amanda cuts our cherry post to length- it will hold our floorsimg_4080

Cherry post installed with (3) 11 ⅞” x 16′ LVL’s screwed together.  We used FlatLock screws which were easy to install with a high-torque drill.  Joists are hung from the beam – allowing most of the beam to be hidden in the floor.  This area will be our kitchen and bathroom below and bedroom above.  The top of our stairs will end on the LVL beside the cherry post.  We will trim out to cover the amount of beam hanging below the joists.img_4083

Mike cuts the Cherry post to the correct height to support the higher ceiling/floor joists above the living room.  img_4086Mike finishing the pocket to hold the upper beam.  You can see the built up “post” in the wall below the beam to transfer the weight to our foundation.  The gap between the LVL plies was tightened when the screws were installed.  They do a good job sucking the plies tightly together.

We hope to finish the rafter framing this week and be installing our building membranes next week to be dried in!

Moving UP


Last week we had a much needed rain – about an inch fell!  With our walls up and the gasket below our rough sill, we had an inch of water for a floor – perfect for running around….IMG_3993

Nika’s parents Helen and Nick came to join in the fun of moving heavy objects and sweating in their tool belts.  Thanks for making the trip and helping out – we appreciate it!!IMG_3996

Because part of our second floor will hang from the rafters, we had to build a scaffolding to give us access for installing the ridge board and rafters.  Getting the first couple pair up is always the most difficult.  Here you can see a slight bit of light getting through between the ridge and the top of the rafter on these first couple.  We adjusted the cut by ⅛” – then it was perfect!IMG_3998

Uh oh – ants living in our pile of rafters…..luckily they didn’t eat any wood as they were just living between the boards.  Sorry to evict them but we needed to get the roof up.  By the way, the best way to get rid of ants or wasps (outside) without chemicals is boiling water.IMG_4003IMG_4004IMG_4005

Clamping the rafters into alignment


Some nova scotian rope and a ratchet strap bring the walls in ½”IMG_4007IMG_4008IMG_4010IMG_4011IMG_4012IMG_4013

Just about half way done with the rafters, but now we’re waiting on our membranes from 475.  On the other half of the house our floor joists will sit atop the wall top plates.  However in this section we have been advised that the best way to air seal this area is to lap a section of air barrier membrane between the top plates to the exterior, up the outside of the rim joist, and back in under the rafters to be taped to the interior air barrier on the underside of the rafters of the second floor.  (I’ll show a picture of this when the time comes.) IMG_4014

Adding temporary braces to the new rafters.IMG_4018

We will have one interior post which bears the beams of the second floors.  For this post, we are using a cherry tree that was cut when the power line was run into our office.  Mike’s taking the pleasure of hewing it into a 7″x7″ post with his trusty broad axe.


The old timers used to slowly spit beside the face they were hewing to be sure they were hewing plumb…. Mike’s not that good yet.IMG_4028

We chose to nail our frame by hand but are using a nail gun for the sheathing – cause it’s a lot of nails!  And the gun sets them nicely, too.  IMG_4031

Diagonal boards give the frame rigidity.  IMG_4034

I think Nick likes the nail gun…IMG_4036IMG_4040

Framing the second story gable end window.


Walls take shape

The firs thing we did after finishing the concrete was take a break!  It coincided perfectly with a friend’s wedding a short jaunt from the beach…IMG_3906

Since then, It’s been a busy few weeks.  We began by setting our sill plates.  Because we had too much else to do on concrete pour day, we didn’t get all of our anchor bolts in.  This meant we needed to drill ⅝” holes 8″ into the concrete, squeeze some special 2-part epoxy specially formulated for setting pins into concrete, and insert the bolts.  Note that this epoxy sets up fast – 2-3 minutes and it is already hardening so we acted fast!

Once our bolts were good, we drilled holes and clearance holes for our washers into our white oak sill plates.  We then laid an epdm sill gasket before tightening our plates down for good.  This gasket will seal any irregularities between the concrete and oak and increase the effectiveness of our air barrier as well as provide a capillary break.IMG_3957

About this time, we were grateful to have some help show up – Mike’s parents Tom and Cathy and Nika’s cousin Marley.  Just in time to build and raise the walls – perfect!  Our rough 2×6’s have been stickered and sitting adjacent to our building site so they have dried out a lot since being milled earlier this year.  That made the wall lifting a little easier, but it was quite HOT!IMG_3962




We assembled and raised the west, north and east walls first because we had a few details to double check about the south wall.  We needed to make sure that the overhang coincided with the heights of the windows to give us the best ratio of sun to shade throughout the course of the year.  For anyone who is not familiar with how passive solar houses work, check this out.  It is called passive because there are no moving parts to wear out or replace.  The basic principle is that in the winter when heat is needed, the sun is lower in the sky and it shines through southern windows allowing heat to enter the house.   A mass inside the home absorbs the sun’s heat and radiates it out slowly at night after the sun sets.  In the summer, the sun’s angle is much higher and an overhang above the southern windows restricts the sun’s rays from entering and preventing overheating.

This site has a great tool for designing window overhangs – it helped us IMMENSELY!

Our hope is that we can go away for short periods in the winter and the house will keep itself above freezing.  A cursory BTU calculation has shown that the house would take under 2 cords of wood per year to heat – but this doesn’t take into account the passive solar heat gain – so it very well may be much lower.  We will see…


We found it really helpful to make a mock-up of our window sizes and positions.  Above is a quick representation of a southern window on the east edge.  This allows us to test out the view, window height, and width before committing to the final size and location.  I am really glad we did this because we did decide to make some of our windows higher based on these mock ups.IMG_3979

Here you can see the finalized southern wall.  We will have two large windows in our living room area, a sliding glass door and another window near our eating area.  One of the biggest challenges of this wall was ensuring that we had enough shear bracing.  In the end we had to make the eating area window a bit less wide to allow for adequate bracing.  The section of the IRC (International Residential Code) on wall bracing has a lot of ins and outs – so Mike was sure to read it a few times.  IMG_3980

Two days ago we accepted a delivery of our LVL’s and floor joists for the second floor.  The walls just need a few minor adjustments before we can move on to sheathing and setting some of the rafters.

Concrete is in!


After squaring and leveling our forms, we began installing the sub-slab insulation.  We are using Roxul comfort board for many reasons (ComfortBoard 80 on the vertical sections and ComfortBoard 110 -which is more dense – on the horizontal and sloped sections).  It has a much lower embodied energy than foam products, it is not affected by water, it retains it’s R-value through time, it is not attractive to bugs or rodents, and it is fireproof.  It’s got a lot going for it.  It is a bit itchy on exposed arms while working with it, though.  We would start the day with long sleeves, but a major heat wave was passing through which meant the shirts were shed.  By the end of the day the itchiness was definitely noticeable.  But, given the other positive attributes to Roxul, we would use it again without a doubt.

Our design has EPS foam beneath the footer because Roxul does not have the compressive strength to support the footer section of our Monolithic slab.  In that area we sourced a product called Atlas ThermalStar X-grade.  Eps foam is friendlier on the environment since the blowing agents used in its production do not contribute to global warming -as do the ones used in producing XPS (Dow blueboard common to many lumberyards).  Another benefit is that This ThermalStar product has been tested in it’s R-value retention over time where XPS has been known to lose R-value as the years progress.  The thermalStar product is also produced with an integral termiticide just in case.  We went with a 25 psi density to support the weight of the house.


Another benefit to Roxul is is cuts quite easily with an old handsaw.  It holds an angle quite well.




We applied two layers of 2″ Roxul – offsetting all seams.  This area will be reinforced concrete to support a load bearing internal post.  (I should have ordered one extra sheet of ThermalStar!)

You can see the strings we referenced off of the tops of the forms to ensure we have a flat surface.  This is very important for purposes of knowing how much concrete to order…


Our finished insulated pad (the recessed area with the pipes is to allow space for plumbing below the tub)


Next came installation of our vapor barrier.  We chose Raven’s VaporBlock 15.  It has quite a high puncture resistance and a very low vapor permeance.  We taped and caulked all seams with their Vapor Bond tape and Tremco’s acoustical sealant.


Then came the re-bar.  We ran 6 courses around the perimeter to strengthen the thickened edge and a grid of ½” rod 3′ oc in the slab.  Just for good measure we added 6″ welded wire mesh atop this grid.  It may be overkill, but we want to minimize any occurrence of cracks developing over time.


To hold the Roxul in place we found this cool detail on this site.  Passing a heavy duty cable tie through a washer and then the exterior of the Roxul and the vapor barrier, we installed two screws through the cable tie which will anchor into the concrete.  There is a nail beneath the tape just inside of the vapor barrier holding the cable tie in place.  Though we haven’t removed the outer forms yet, a strong tug tells me that it worked!  Also notice the foam feet we used to support sections of wire mesh that were cut to the correct size to hold the perimeter re-bar.  The whole re-bar assembly was a little shaky until we added diagonal re-bar supports to it.  After that, it was quite stout.


Our home-made re-bar bender.  Works great!


What to do when you need to carry twelve 20′ long sections of Re-bar on a compact car?  Nail 8 16d nails (4 on each side) into a 12′ 2×6 and strap the re-bar to the board between the nails.  Worked great!


And then the time came for concrete!  None of us have a lot of experience with concrete and this was by far the largest pour Mike has overseen.  But it went well!!!  We are incredibly grateful to our friends and neighbors who came out to help, we could have never done it without you!!!



We rented a power screed that worked quite well.  We set up wet pads 12′ apart, then would screed a line about a foot thick (on the left side of this photo).  Then we would rotate the screed 90 degrees and flatten the middle of the section.  This video shows it clearly.  Our slump was about a 4 which was pretty stiff.  If we were doing it over again we would go with something around a 5.5 or 6 to make it easier to spread and screed.  The concrete trucks came so close together and we were so busy screening and spreading that we neglected to insert most of our anchor bolts into the wet concrete.  Our plan at this point is to drill holes and insert bolts into anchoring epoxy.


The final surface is a little rough, but that is fine with us since it will be covered up by finish floor.  Our plan at the moment is to have wood floors in the northern side of the house and a thin (approx 1″) layer of earth floor in the main living space.  Earth floors have the benefit of being much softer underfoot than concrete as well as being a good thermal mass for storing solar gain in the colder months.



We are beyond elated to be finished with the concrete work and ready to get back to working with wood!  At this time we would like to welcome friends from far and wide who have expressed an interest in helping with our build – we are ready for you!!   Now comes the fun part : )