Saturday, January 28, 2012


My family generally goes on vacation together once a year - skiing in Big Sky Montana. We usually fly to Salt Lake City where we meet my sister and her husband, then drive to West Yellowstone and then Big Sky the next day.

We only had 1 day at Yellowstone so we didn't have time to do a tour in the park itself, instead we did touristy things in the town. We visited the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center and the Imax theater. 

I've never seen a live grizzly before. They were incredible. Here are a few photos of the bears and the wolves.
This is Sam, an Alaskan grizzly who is about 9 feet tall. He is the tallest at the Grizzly Center.
This is the Alpha female for one of the wolf packs. She is showing dominance over another wolf.  The wolves were very beautiful and bigger than we thought. The males weigh about 100 pounds and the females about 80 pounds. 
That was day 2 of vacation (day 1 was a total travel day). Today was the first skiing day at Big Sky.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Not much going on - pet photos

We're getting ready to go out west to ski. We leave Thursday. I work all day Wednesday so that means today is LAUNDRY day. I'm not doing very well getting stuff done though. I've had a cold for 2 weeks and I'm just tired. 

No new photos of the shop because the driveway is a quagmire and I don't even know if there is power yet. It's supposed to be in today. NEWS FLASH!! John said he has power! Great news.

Since no photos of the shop - here are some photos of the animals. Not everyone is represented - Little Dude is huddled up somewhere and Daisy is outside.

Buddy Mac Brown about 2 years ago in the snow. He is very difficult to photograph. I think you can see that he has much more grey now. He is at least 14 years old.
Buddy's photo a few days ago. He will not pose for the camera.
Burbank - Buddy's companion. Somehow Buddy is the boss despite his advancing age, cataracts, hearing loss, hypothyroidism, Cushing's Disease and height disadvantage.
Hayley Bailey - found on a hay bale, of course. My shyest kitty. I just love the one white whisker over her right eye.
Baby Girl Blue - given to me by some friends whose last name is Belue. She is just the prettiest thing. The boy cats here just love her in spite of the fact that everyone has been fixed since kittenhood. They still know a pretty cat when they see one.
Rocky - Hayley Bailey's brother. A very sweet, somewhat shy cat.
Betty Boop - so named because of white ears. Huh? John named her, ask him to explain it.  She is very sweet too. 
Big Head - named for his very large, masculine head. Still have not captured him to get him fixed. He disappeared a few days ago and came back all bloodied. He seems to be doing well though. No signs of infection at this point. He has GOT to get to the vet before spring kitten season begins in earnest.  
And who is this? - why, it is Effy. John's newest cat. She broke into John's house and joined up with his crew. He left for work one day with 3 cats and came home to find 4 in his home. She (we think she is a she) broke in through the ducts in the floor. We are going to put posters up and see if anyone has lost a cat. It only takes a little imagination to figure out why John named her that. I believe her name sounds like the first word that came out of his mouth when he realized he had 4 cats. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

No power in the shop yet

Today is a grey, rainy winter day in Upstate South Carolina. Duke Power installed the power line, but did not hook it up to the power meter yet. So that means no power for the shop this weekend. It also means no photos until maybe Monday. 

I'm working all weekend. We're all getting ready to go skiing next week so not much progress in the shop department until we get back. 

We're very excited about going to Montana to ski. We'll fly to Salt Lake City, meet my sister and her husband, then drive to Yellowstone, then to Montana the next day. I know, it's pretty weird to go to Salt Lake City and then drive to Montana to ski, but we have enjoyed it for the past few years. Montana ski slopes are just so big and open. We love it there. 

We'll get back to green renovation stuff (I have got to get 2 attics insulated) and shop set-up in about 2 weeks. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Waiting on electricity for the shop. Brief tool discussion

I hope to be able to post some more photos of the completed shop tomorrow. It is supposed to have electricity tomorrow. 

John has been moving some equipment to the shop which is very exciting. There is actually a little bit of room in my basement (the location of his previous shop). My basement will become a crafting center. That way I don't have to worry about kitty hair covering my fabric and yarn and paper. It will be much easier to do crafts. 

He already moved his small table saw. I was hoping he would leave that. There are 3 saws that I like to use - the small table saw, the radial arm saw (my favorite), and the miter saw. I can still use them at the shop, no problem. 

The tools I am most afraid of - the band saw, routers and the circular saw. I can use a router and a circular saw, but they scare me. I do not intend to use a band saw. Ever. 

Just wanted to provide a brief update. 

More tomorrow. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Lessons from the Shop

I am very glad that we decided to build a shop before we build a house. You learn so much from the building process (even if I wasn’t the one swinging the hammer or nail gun). I think it is especially important if you are trying to build a different kind of house such as a super-insulated one. Here are a few things that I have learned.

Lesson 1 – Get everyone on board. Randy is a good friend as well as contractor. He hasn’t really done stuff like this before, but he is excited about learning and is receptive to these ideas. (He’s now reads Green Building Advisor). Carlton the master carpenter is invested in doing it right. So the 2 main guys are all in.

What I have to do though is show them the significance of every air gap. I plan to do blower door tests on 3 houses – first the Lenore rental house which is a work in progress, my house (which should be done, but I really haven’t finished the attic insulation) and John’s house after we close it in.

My plan is to have them at the house when we do the tests. That makes it tangible. 

The head of the insulation company apparently gets it as well according to Randy. In a previous post I talked about avoiding him because I didn’t want to argue about fiberglass. But he does teach his guys to air seal and understands its importance. Also Randy says he is a nice guy and easy to talk to.

I also plan to invite the guys to dinner and go over the principles that I think are important BEFORE we even start. I’ll pay them for their time. I need the drywall guys there as well because I don’t think they’ve ever attempted an airtight drywall approach before (ADA).

Lesson 2 – Communication is key. It’s really a variation on lesson 1. Sometimes you think and think about a problem, solve it in your mind and assume everyone knows what you were thinking. Example, John planned very precisely where he was going to put his equipment. He drew an AutoCAD plan of his equipment for Don and Buck, the electrical guys. He assumed they would put the outlets about every 4 feet where the equipment was going. They lined up the outlets EXACTLY where he mapped it out on the drawing. See the photo. They put in enough outlets so it won’t be a problem, but it’s not what John envisioned.

Back corner with carriage doors to the side and the fold out stairs  for storage above
Lesson 3 – Ignore John when necessary. My brother was adamant about not giving up square footage on the floor of the shop for either a stairway to the storage area or a small bathroom. Flat out refused. I knew he was wrong, but I could not get him to compromise at all. Everyone who worked on the building was wondering – where is the bathroom? Why didn’t they put a bathroom in it?

John is so happy about all the space.

I should have ignored him on the bathroom issue and at least put in the pipes for a “future” bathroom when they poured the concrete. I can’t believe I didn’t insist on that.

I think John learned something from that as well.

I told him for house, he can do whatever he wants except in matters of energy efficiency. That’s not exactly true but he doesn’t know that yet.

Lesson 4 – You have to be there to oversee the details. The installation of the insulation is the best example. If you are there you can insist on having it done the way you want.

You have to be there to catch little details that matter. 

Here are more photos of the shop. Just waiting on Duke Power to install the power line and for the metal roofing for the awning over the main doors.

Main entrance to the shop. Waiting on the metal for the awning

Beautiful insulated carriage doors built by Carlton and Chris

Stairway to Storage

Front wall of shop

Side wall of shop

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Shop is done - structurally, needs electrical. Next up - house planning

I don't have photos. Every time I go over there I forget to take my camera. So John's beautiful 30 x 40 shop insulated is built. Chris and Carlton have put gaskets on the doors and they look great. Martin's crew has painted the entire thing. We did pick kind of boring colors though. We'll have to do better on the house.

Duke Power has not run the line to the shop yet. That should happen this week. Don and Buck will install lights and outlets galore. Then the shop should be ready to rock and roll. 

Next - planning for the HOUSE. No one in my family has ever built a house before. We've never been involved in the design phase or anything like that. So it is pretty nerve-wracking and exciting. We're going to go with a kit. I have two main reasons for going with a kit. For one thing, I want to build something. I want to hammer and nail and directly be involved with the construction of John's home. I want it to be something my family has done together. I also think it will be cheaper. 

After hours and hours of perusing the internet, I have decided on a Shelter Kit. It sounds like a quality company and relatively easy to build. I am going to order a 24' x 32' kit with 18" kneewalls this month. They have a 20% off winter special if you pay for the kit by January 31st which I think I can do. Saving about $8,000 on the cost of the kit is worth it to me. Even if we have to order early. We don't have to have the kit delivered until 6-30-12. 

I wish I could work Google's SketchUp program and could diagram the plans for the house. I am so excited. I think it will be incredible. The first floor is open except for a half bath, laundry room, pantry. The kitchen will be probably U-shaped along one wall. There will be 3 doors - main door in the back on the shop side, a door on the front enclosed (kitty) porch and an open porch on the pond side of John's property. John plans to keep his kitties on the front porch so we intend to make that conditioned space. 

Energy Efficiency of the Walls

Now in terms of energy efficiency, this is what I want to do. Upgraded studs to 2 x 6 to be insulated with dense pack cellulose. The R value (resistance to heat flow) is calculated by  5.5" x 3.5/inch since the depth of the stud is 5.5 inches for an R value of 19.25. Now that is not the whole wall R value since the R value of wood is about 1/inch or 5.5. That seriously dilutes the total heat-retaining capacity of the system. That is why we are doing foam "outsulation" or foam boards outside of the sheathing of the building. We will use 2 sheets of polyiso foam - probably 1.5" sheets which have an R value of about 6.5. So 3" x 6.5/inch equals 19.5 for a total R value of 38.75.

Summary of the math calculating R value for the walls:

5.5"cellulose x 3.5 R value/inch = 19.25 

3" polyisocyanuarate foam x 6.5 R value/inch = 19.5

19.25 + 19.5 = 38.5 which should make this a very comfortable house. 

What is code MINIMUM for a wood frame wall in  South Carolina?  R 13. Crazy. The minimum should really be about 19 what you get with a 2 x 6 wall. 

Energy Efficiency of the Roof

Since this is a small house there is no attic. The top floor will have a cathedral ceiling.  

Definition of a cathedral ceiling - A cathedral ceiling has equal sloping sides, meets in the middle of a room at a ridge and also has the same pitch as the (outside) roof structure. 

The manner of insulating the roof will be similar to the way we'll do the walls. 

9.5" cellulose x 3.5 R value/inch = 33.25

4" polyiso foam on top of sheathing x 6.5 R value/inch = 26

33.25 + 26 =59.25

What is code MINIMUM for ceiling R value in South Carolina? R 30. Crazy again.

Why use polyiso foam on top of the sheathing?

It prevents heat from escaping by way of the thermal bridges or the studs in the wall. It is important to use 2 layers of polyiso because you have to cover up the seams on the layer below by staggering the layer above. 

I really should have pictures. This is a seriously word-heavy posting. I just wanted to put some thing up today to let you know what we planning. I'll rework it with photos later.