Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Weekend in Boston (before the Storm)

Prototype wall by 475 Co. - the wall design I intend to use for John's house. It is air sealed on both sides, but vapor open on both sides so the wall assembly can dry to either direction, inside or outside. The wall components inside to outside will be - drywall, mechanical chase (probably Roxul insulation in the available space in the chase), intello, 6" cellulose insulation, plywood, at least 2" Roxul comfort board mineral wool insulation, the Solitex exterior membrane, rainscreen wall, Hardieboard siding. 

On Monday October 22 there was an announcement on my favorite website (Green Building Advisor - GBA) of a one day conference October 28th in Boston hosted by Passive House New England. I was off for the whole weekend so I talked John into going with me. He was to be the tourist while I attended the conference which had numerous speakers I was really interested in hearing including my course instructor, Marc Rosenbaum, Martin Holladay, editor of GBA, Chris Corson, builder of Passive Houses in New England, and Adam Cohen, designer/builder of Passive Houses in the Southeast.

I got plane tickets - first class for the first time ever in my life because they ended up being about $100 more expensive than the regular tickets if you include the cost of baggage. The real advantage of first class is getting on in a relaxed manner and just having a little space to move. I won't generally go by first class especially if I am traveling by myself, but this time it made sense for a short trip.

The last time John and I made a trip to the Northeast was when we celebrated the end of his chemo and we went to Philadelphia and Washington, DC for a week. We decided to go by train to see how that worked out. It was great on the way up. While we were there Hurricane Irene went through Washington, DC. And we couldn't get the train back because Amtrak was closed. I had to book a return flight to get back home. Serious bummer that we didn't get to take the train back.

When I booked the trip to Boston, we knew Hurricane Sandy was in the Atlantic, but it looked like she was going to basically stay in the Atlantic. As the week progressed computer models showed that the hurricane was going to take a left turn into the northeast coastline. Fortunately this time, we flew up before the hurricane and came back kind of around the hurricane. The flight wasn't even that bumpy. We got lucky.

We meant to do touristy stuff that Friday night, but I had worked all night the night before so I became unconscious when we got to our hotel, the Omni Parker in downtown Boston. It's a great place to stay in Boston. I love it when you can get from the airport to the hotel on the subway. I like that so much better than having to get a shuttle.

Saturday I got up early and went to conference at the University of Mass. The first speaker was Adam Cohen who is a dynamic speaker and very well versed in designing and building Passive Houses. He didn't really talk about humidity and Passive House at this conference, but he came up to me afterward and gave me his card and asked me to email him about that issue. A lot of the comfort issues in the hot and humid South are not really about temperature, it's about humidity. We use a significant amount of energy trying to dehumidify the house in the summer. So I will be taking Adam up on his kind offer and ask him about humidity in a superinsulated house in the South.

The next speaker was Chris Corson is a builder in Maine who built a super-insulated 1600 sqft house for $130/sqft. Amazing.

The last set of speakers was an interesting panel discussion of Passive House which included my zero energy class instructor, Marc Rosenbaum and GBA editor, Martin Holladay.

One of the best things about the conference was the vendor display. I got to talk to someone from 475 building supply co located in Brooklyn NY. I got to see an actual prototype of the wall I want to build.

This view shows the mechanical chase or the part of the wall that will include electrical and plumbing. The wall is air sealed behind the chase so any penetrations, hanging pictures, for example, in the drywall (not shown, it will go on top of these studs) will not penetrate the air barrier. That prevents interior moisture from penetrating the wall assembly causing mold or rot.
The only photos I took were of these wall assemblies. No tourist photos though.

I had a great time. Hope to post more later.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Question about Insulation, Shop Follow-up

A reader of my blog asked about my insulation problems with the shop how we fixed them. Basically I called up Randy who called the insulation company and he sent his guys out to fix the areas where the mineral wool was too compressed. Did they fix it perfectly? No, but they did a pretty good job as evidenced by the thermal performance of the building.

John went into the shop on the all time record high day July 1, 2012 when the outside temperature was 107F. The shop temperature with the air conditioner turned off (because John always leaves it off) was 80F. Most days when he went to work in the shop, the temperature was in the 70s. Sometimes the temp was fine but he had to turn on the air conditioner just because of the humidity.

Lessons and Solutions:
1. You have to be explicit with every person working on your building. Since I will be working directly on the house most of the time, I will be there to directly tell everyone what I want. There are challenges involved with that though. I have to use terminology that the people helping me understand. I have to be assertive, but not offensive or condescending. (Ask my brother about the condescending thing. He's got stories, I'm sure.)

2. One way we will work on communication is that we will hold at least one meeting well before we even start to build the house. I'll take the subs and Randy out to dinner in a meeting room and go over the goals of the house emphasizing quality and energy performance. Probably will take 2-3 meetings. I will pay them for their time. I think if people feel they have input, they will more invested in the house.

3. There will be a communication board up with posted drawings and places to put comments so everyone can see what the concerns are.

4. I am doing my net zero house class right now to learn more about the most important aspects of energy performance - reducing air leakage, maximizing insulation for this area, dealing with humidity, cooling strategies for the superinsulated house in the Southeast, planning for future upgrades, solar, etc.

I think the house will be incredible. John still goes into his shop and can't believe he has such a great shop. (Now if he had just let me put a little tiny bathroom in it, he could live there.)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Another Detour to the Trauma Bay

I'm not hurt, but once again I had to go to the trauma bay to tend to friends or family.

In my last post I mentioned that Carlton was going to take down the nasty, falling to pieces pool house at John's house. He did take it down, but he didn't mean to be in it when it came down on him.

He was hurt pretty bad - open tib-fib, ischial (pelvic) fracture, compression fracture of L4, and some ribs on both sides. Miraculously he did not have a head injury. Hard-headed? I don't know.

When my younger brother, John, saw the building he said, "Good thing Carlton wasn't in the building when it came down." He was, he was completely in it, not half-way, not one leg stuck in the building, but completely inside the building and he didn't have time to get out when he heard it go.

Lower leg fracture
Carlton had surgery that day and they fixed the leg with a rod through the tibia. He's now in rehab. Carlton is not thriving in the hospital environment. He does not sit or rest very well. He likes to DO stuff. Ben tolerated the hospital environment better than Carlton is. I hope Carlton will get out faster than Ben. I think Ben did 3 weeks in rehab. Carlton will have to go to the mental hospital if they keep him that long.

The rehab doctor asked him about any steps at his house. He said 3 steps, "but I have a lot of lumber and I can direct someone to make a ramp." Not have someone make a ramp, but DIRECT someone to make a ramp, because it will have to be made to his precise specifications.

This unexpected event obviously threw me for a loop and was not getting other stuff done. I am one week behind in my class, but working hard to catch up.

Put in some good thoughts for Carlton. He needs them.