Sunday, October 02, 2005

Certified Lumber

Since Wednesday we are proud owners of a big stack of certified lumber from sustainably managed forests. Now, not many people (and definitely not any local lumber yards) have heard about "certified" lumber (yet). But then, many people still shop at Mall-Wart too ;-)

The way I use the term Certified Lumber is to refer to wood harvested from forests that are managed responsibly (management for sustainability being one of the goals). According to my research there are three major "certification bodies" out there: FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), SFI (American Forest & Paper Association (AFPA) Sustainable Forest Initiative) and SmartWood.

FSC is an international, independent organization to "promote responsible management of the world's forests". According to their website, over the past 10 years, 50 million hectares (190,000 square miles - the size of MN, WI & IA combined) in more than 60 countries have been certified.

SFI on the other hand is the industry's voluntary program for responsible forest management that the members of the trade organization must "agree to work towards wood procurement and forest management strategies that meet the SFI program guidelines".

SmartWood was the world's first independent forestry certifier established in 1989.

So, what's FSC-certified responsible forestry management ?
  • biological diversity:
    maintain, enhance, or restore the long-term integrity of natural habitats, ecological processes, soil, water, and stand development
  • age class distribution:
    maintain or restore portions of the forest to the range and distribution of age classes of trees that result from processes that would normally occur on the site
  • endangered species:
    protect rare, threatened, and endangered species and their habitats; conservation zones and protection areas shall be established
  • habitat diversity:
    protect, maintain, and/or enhance diversity of habitats for native species
  • reserve areas:
    representative samples of existing ecosystems within the landscape shall be protected in their natural state and recorded on maps
  • harvest rate:
    rate of harvest of forest products shall not exceed that which can be permanently sustained
  • clear cutting:
    some clearcutting allowed, but "silvicultural practices provide disturbances and generate stand conditions that result in a successional phase that would occur naturally on the site; and: forest conversion to plantations or non-forest land uses shall not occur.
  • chemical use
    promote the development and adoption of environmentally friendly nonchemical
    methods of pest management and strive to avoid the use of chemical pesticides; World
    Health Organization Type 1A and 1B and chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides that are persistent, toxic or whose derivatives remain biologically active and accumulate in the food
    chain beyond their intended use…shall be prohibited. If chemicals are used, proper equipment and training shall be provided to minimize health and environmental risks.
  • genetically modified species:

Most of the information above was taken from an excellent paper by the "Natural Resources Council of Maine".

Where can I get it?

It took me about half a day to find a local source for FSC certified lumber: Certified Wood Products out of Minnetonka. Owner Dan Haugen was incredibly friendly and helpful on providing our small project with the lumber. Typically his company only supplies large commercial projects with lumber. Compared with the cost of a local building supplies company, we only paid 6% (about $500) more for knowing that we did the right thing!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

In the Trenches

Yesterday after the raising of Allan & Michelle's timberframe Jennifer and I stopped by our site and hung out for a while. I used the time to constructively play in the largest sand pit ever marking and digging the trenches for the drain lines and other pipes that will have to run beneath the slab.

It's quite amazing how much infrastructure goes into a house. The pictures above show trenches for for the following elements:
shower drain, toilet drain, utility sink drain, main waste line, kitchen drains, floor drain to holding tank and pipes to bring the electrical supply lines (DC and potential future grid AC) in.

Rain is Good (Special - This Weekend Only)

Usually you don't really wish for rain during a construction project*. But we've reached one of those few days during our construction project where rain actually is quite helpful.

*Unless of course you're building a rainwater collection system and have the roof hooked up to the cisterns. Then we'll want lots of rain to get the cisterns full for the winter ;-)

On Friday the crew from Clark Construction filled the floor of the lower level with sand to prepare for the pouring of the concrete slab next week. And the rain that we've gotten this weekend will help to pack the sand down (although it's been raining off and on for about 24 hours now and I'd be fine if it stopped now - it's getting too slippery on the clay around the house).

The picture to the left shows the lower level with the filled-in sand. The two lonely walls in the center are the support for the poured concrete ceiling (the cDeck) to leave an opening for the stairs. The concrete slab to the right is the support for the masonry stove. Left of the support walls you can see a shallow trench which is for the drain of the kitchen sink and dishwasher.

So the rain will do a good job of packing the fill-sand down for the pour of the concrete slab next week.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

It's pouring!

Concrete that is...

Well after our "community stacking" event on Sunday where Deb, Tom & Boom, Sangeetha & Chris, Mark & Alex and Bonita helped, the crew of Clark Construction finished the stacking of the lower level walls on Monday and Tuesday. So on Wednesday they were ready for the first big pour.

I took the day off and came in the morning to help get the penetrations ready that I had marked the previous evening. And at a quarter past twelve the pumper showed up - unfortunately not the nice guy we had for the footings on Thursday but a rather "different" individual (they couldn't get the nice guy again)...

Then, at 12:55 PM, the concrete trucks showed up (Tony had ordered them for 1 PM and from what I understand last week they were late showing up for the pouring of the footing). Tony created some motivation by letting us know that all the concrete trucks are lined up at the bottom of the hill... A few minutes later, while Lyndon Lee, the ICF form distributor from Mabel, Lyndon Clark and Paul Hynes were still laying hands on last minute preparations, Tony was pumping away starting in the 9" wall between the studio and the storage room. All walls were filled about half-way with the first pour.

After that, Lyndon hooked up his Vibrator backpack and together Lyndon and Tony worked the concrete - I think they looked like Ghostbuster chasing away the airbubble demons ;-). The Vibrator that Lyndon is holding helps the concrete to settle all the way done. Actually the scientific way to test whether the concrete is all the way down to the bottom is to take a short piece of 2x4 and bang it, carefully and with the flat side, against the wall. If it sounds hollow, there is no concrete in.

Radio Licht 'n Stein

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Our First (American) Giant Puffball (Riesenbovist)

Jennifer holding the puffball (click to view a larger image)
Last week Jennifer and I picked up some nice big mushroom heads at the Good Food store in Rochester and ate them on Sunday. Jennifer ground up the stems with some bread crumbs and parmesan and olive oil and garlic, then baked the heads in the oven for about 30-40 minutes with some nice cheese on top - yummy.

Eating a mushroom as a whole meal reminded me of my childhood where I used to find quite a few Giant Puffballs on a meadow near where we lived. The biggest one I found weighed about 10-12 pounds and had a circumference of almost 5' (1.43 meters) (that's a diameter of about 18 inches or 45 cm). So I was mentioning to Jennifer that I wish we could find some "Riesenbovist" here.

Next day when we went up to Licht 'n Stein I was mowing our little "yard" and on one of the paths, wouldn't you know it, I found a small to mid-sized puff ball!!!

Maybe I should wish for some money next time?? ;-)

We tried to slice it and sautee it in Olive oil last night, but it just soaked up all the oil and became all mushy - not very tasty. So tonight we'll try to batter it first, then fry it...

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More Blogging

What good is a diary if there are no entries?

Well, as our project has now officially moved in to the construction phase, I will try to take 10 minutes every day to summarize accomplishments, events, successes and challenges.

Enjoy the reading!

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

It's a High Way!

Yesterday, Labor Day, we arrived at Licht 'n Stein and were surprised to find Lyndon Clark and Paul Hynes "laboring" on our driveway!

They had made quite some progress since Friday and especially turned the lower part into quite a wide highway! It now looks much less scary than last week.

(The problem with this part of the driveway is that it is really narrow, the bank to the north is about 8-10 feet high and it drops of sharply to the other side, which would make it especially "interesting" if the road is icy and you're coming down... Also, most of this part of the driveway is almost completely shaded by the bank to the north...)

Over the weekend I had made a quick calculation on how much crushed rock they would need - Tony was saying that they'll put at least 6 inches at the bottom, where it is already pretty rocky and up to 12" in the middle part where it is very sandy and gets pretty muddy after a good rain. So I estimated an average of 9" for about 1,500 feet, 12 feet wide or about 13,500 cu.ft. or 500 cu. yd. On one website I found that there are about 2500 lbs in one cubic yard or rock, so that's about 625 (short) tons of rock...(562,500 kg))

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The Ground is Broken

On Labor Day afternoon we had our little informal groundbreaking ceremony. The building permit was approved by the Fillmore County Zoning Inspector Norman Craig and is currently for signature at the township.

Tony, one of the guys from Clark Construction, currently plans on excavating the site by the end of this week - that would be quite some progress.

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

cDeck Forms and Heavy Machinery Arrived

Today our cDeck forms arrived (oops - don't actually have a picture).

The cDeck are basically T-shaped EPS (expanded polystyrene) forms with a thick vertical line that will form (pun intended) the basis of the floor between the basement and the main floor. The forms are about two feet wide and I guess 10 inches high. The vertical "line" of the T is about a foot or so wide. The forms are placed "horizontal bar of the T" down and are shored from below. Then, concrete is poured, forming beams between the foot-wide EPS beams. The concrete then extends another 4" above the forms.

The reasons we went with a cDeck rather than a traditional framed floor are two-fold: primarily we wanted to get a good thermal mass for our passive solar design as well as our masonry stove heating. The 4" concrete floor (and up to 12" where the beams are) will provide a nice thermal mass that will heat up either through the sun or when the masonry stove is on and will provide a nice, even-tempered and slow-changing environment. The mass should also help with keeping the house cool well into the summer. (In the summer months the overhang on the south side will prevent the sun from entering the living room and heating up the mass).
(See our floorplans for more detail (you need to be logged in to our photo gallery for the link to work - ask us for userid and password))

Today also the bulldozer and loader/backhoe arrived for the driveway construction. Our current driveway is somewhat narrow in some places, pretty muddy for the most part, and it has pretty poor water management. So the crew from Clark Construction is going to make it wider, put in about five smaller culverts, dig out a ditch along the north side, grade it and fill it up with 6-12 inches of crushed rock (1-3/4"). That should give us a nice 12-foot driveway.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Windmill is on its way!

Every since I heard from Dennis (our renewable energy contractor from GoSolar in Decorah) that Bergey (our wind mill manufacturer) raised their prices again (and they mostly sell only direct) I've been monitoring the "dirt-cheap" prices on the RealGoods website (they obviously don't update their website too often...). So when we got the green light for our "wind mill pole" building permit last week, I called RealGoods on Friday night an ordered our 84-foot tower and our 1kW XL.1 wind mill. Compared to the current list prices on the Bergey website we saved about $880 - over 25%!

When I ordered the "gear" they quoted me a $270 FedEx shipping fee...although I explicitly mentioned that the website notes that both items will be shipped freigth. So on Monday I called up RealGoods and talked to a nice guy in the technical department...he immediately commented on me getting a good price on the tower set - I saved "$180" and I politely expressed my surprise ;-) But he put me on a conference call with a gal at Bergey and we reserved the gear right away - Dennis had told me earlier in the month that Bergey would discontinue reselling the NRG tower kits and make their own. I had also talked to Steve Wilke from Bergey last week and he mentioned (and confirmed what Dennis had said) that it might be 6-8 weeks until they would be able to ship out the new tower kits - which would take us out to November when it can get quite cold.

Well, today RealGoods confirmed the shipping cost and the total is $390 (which includes a "fee" of $25 for the trucking company to give me one (1) phone call 24 hours ahead of time - they really must have an expensive phone provider.....?). So for $3,850 I got ourselves our supply for all our energy needs (or so we hope). Couldn't have really done it just with Solar Panels....

(quick calculation: six 125W modules for $3,475 plus pole/rack & shipping...750W...6 hours on a sunny day...80%...3.6kW/day -- not even close. We hope to get on average 6-8kWh per day out of the wind mill...but we'll know more in a year).

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Construction Starts!

Well, on Tuesday August 30, 2005 we finally closed our construction loan at 7:30 AM in the morning at F&M community bank in Chatfield. Mary, our friendly loan officer, helped us to "wade" through the pile of paper work and signatures.

The overall process turned out to be a fairly efficient and painfree one. Of course things took twice as long as I had hoped, but that was still pretty fast, thanks mostly to the good work of Mary who kept things on track and prepared.

Now we have until May 30, 2006 to finish our project!

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Propylene Glycol in your Ice Cream

One of the things we learned at the MREA fair is that it makes good sense to go with a Solar Hot Water System for pre-heating our household water as well as to use it for our radiant floor heat. Obviously if we are going to use it in the winter, we need to protect it from freezing, which is why we need to use some antifreeze. The antifreeze most commonly used in these applications (usually environmentally conscious people) is Propylene Glycol. Interesting enough I learned that Propylene Glycol is used in ice cream (to prevent it from freezing rock hard). Here is a good article from Tom's of Maine about their use of Glycol and alternatives.

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So many news...

Well we just went to the MREA fair 2005 and returned with lots of information in our brains.. The next posts will deal with some of the topics we dealt with. If you live within driving distance from Stevens Point, Wisconsin I highly recommend attending the fair. We had a blast!

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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Embodied Energy

This is really interesting:
One insulating unit (insulation required to provide R-20 for a square foot at normal density) of cellulose has 600 BTU of embodied energy. EPS (expanded polystyrene - CFC-free insulation material used for our walls and probably also the roof) has 18,000 BTUs in the comparable amount of insulation...

Our house's surface area is roughly 3,750 sq.ft. for the walls (R-22 with ICFs) and 2,750 for the roof (R-40 with SIPs). This means our embodied energy, in just the walls and roof is 165.6 Million BTU or 48,535 kWh, i.e., as much electrical energy as we plan to consume in over 26 years. And then there is the cement...and the floor slab with EPS...

But hey - if we burn 2 cords a year, it's only as much as 8 years of using our masonry stove ;-)

(in comparison, if we'd use cellulose in the roof, it's only 1/2 year of electrical energy (instead of 16 years))

Electricity ..... 3,412 Btu/kilowatthour
Natural Gas ..... 1,031 Btu/cubic foot
LPG (Propane) ..... 91,330 Btu/gallon
Wood ..... 20 million Btu/cord

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Friday, May 20, 2005

Window, window, in the wall...

...which is the most efficient of them all?

Well, it's time to do some window research again...this time I'll try to take notes so that I don't forget everything again...My first stop for windows research has always been Reading through their pages and using their window selector, it seems that we want the following windows:
  • on the south side - window 30:
    double-glazed, high-solar-gain, low-e, argon gas, insulated vinyl
    (U value of 0.29, SHGC of 0.56 and VT of 0.58).
  • on the east/west sides - window 33:
    triple-glazed, moderate-solar-gain, low-e, argon gas, insulated vinyl
    (U value of 0.18, SHGC of 0.40 and VT of 0.50)
The U-value indicates how well the window insulates (i.e., keeping the heat in); the Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) indicates what percentage of the sun's energy is allowed to get through (and heat our cement slab and other thermal mass); the Visual Transmittance (VT) indicates how much "dayligh" makes it through the window (the lower, the darker).

As I see now, "Insulated Vinyl" has become as energy-efficient as our previously favored Fiberglass. The challenge will be to find a company that makes windows with these characteristics, because it seems that this model windows are just hypothetical windows and don't represent any physically available windows...

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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Official Kick-Off

Well, tonight I finally followed through on promises made in the past months...I finalized the plans and the 3D model and sent a note off to Jim from Holabird & Root. We had met with Jim in December 2003 to review our plans (log house with garage in basement back then). And wouldn't you know it? Jim worked with Andy Bunge on two projects last year and this year (Andy's brother's house and the Commonweal Theatre Addition. It's a small world...

So, the countdown can's what's on my list:
  • Get plans reviewed by architect
  • Get blue prints
  • Secure ICF forms contractor
  • “Organize” driveway gravel build-up
  • Develop budget with Andy
  • Apply for Mortgage
  • Contact Masonry Stove builder in Wisconsin
  • Create preliminary plumbing plan
  • Create preliminary electrical plan
It'll be a busy, fun summer!

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Thursday, May 12, 2005

Shading through the south-side overhang

Yesterday when I shared the 3D Model slide show with my colleague Jim, he inquired whether the soffit overhang on the south side will provide enough shading in the summer.

Well it had been about 1.5 years since I last researched "sun altitude" and "sun azimuth". In the meantime the geometry of the roof and south wall had changed quite a bit, so it was time to confirm the sizing of the overhang. I found this site from the U.S. Naval observatory to get sun (or moon) altitude and azimuth tables for a given date at a given location.

Seasonal Sun Penetration - click to see full sizeIn the picture on the right you can see the different penetration levels at 12 PM noon on June 21, March & September 21 and December 21. As you can see, the overhang completely shades the midday sun in the summer (most left beam) whereas in the winter, even at high noon, the sun will penetrate as far as the back wall of the living room. (Click on the picture to open a full-size version in a separate window.)

The other study/simulation that I did, is to simulate the actual penetration during the middle of the summer. Two values determine the suns position: the sun altitude (i.e., the angle of the sun up from the horizon; 0° being on the horizon and 90° being directly above) and the sun azimuth (i.e., the angle along the horizon, with 90° being east and 180° being south). So the actual penetration through the south windows is not only a factor of the sun's altitude and the overhang geometry and window height, but also of the sun's azimuth and the windows' widths. The image below shows the penetration at 9:45 AM (yellow) and 14:35 PM (orange). As you can see only a fraction of the possible direct sunlight can enter the room during these times,Seasonal Sun Penetration - click to see full sizesince the sun is pretty much still in the ESE (112.5°) or WSW (202.5°). The suprising thing for me was that the overhang pretty much prevents even that early sun to penetrate the room - the deepest penetration is about 3 feet (at an azimuth of 109° with an even lower percentage of what makes it in). and the penetration rapidly declines to zero by around 11:10 AM and does not penetrate at all until 13:10.

As some of you might recall, on the east side of the dining room, we do have the same large windows as on the south side, but with no overhang (at least only in the gables), so the sun will penetrate the living room from that side for the most part of the morning. This is actually by design, because in the spring time, it tends to stay pretty cold (yesterday the high temperature was 42°F), especially in March or April. At our place the sun rises pretty much in the east, but due to some trees we probably won't see much of it until it is about 10° high, at around 7 AM at 10° south of east. For the summer, when the sun reaches 10° altitude at 5:40 AM in the ENE (67.5°) we definitely will have to employ shades on these windows. Fortunately, and also by design, this is not so much of a problem on the west side, where the windows are much smaller, due to the sitting area. But shades would probably also help here as well.

Sun Penetration Graph - click to see full sizeThe last simulation I ran with the data is to plot the penetration depth for each of the four dates. The graph on the right shows the penetration level at the various times of the day for the four dates during the year. The nice thing that you can see is that the penetration during the winter time can reach the backwall unhinderedly when the sun's azimuth is between ESE and WSW.

In summary, the theory looks good for the sizing of our overhang on the south side. The 80" (6' 8" or 203 cm) windows now allow unhindered penetration into the room during the winter months which should help with the heating on sunny days. The 475 sq. ft., four inch thick cement slab definitely will have enough capacity to store any heat coming through the windows, and with 168 sq. ft. of window space for 1,500 sq. ft. of main and 2nd floor living space (i.e., 11%), we might be a little bit over the recommended percentage for south-facing glazing, but we'd rather shade windows in the summer time then having to freeze. And our large thermal mass (including the masonry stove) should help mitigate overheating. We can also always open the door to the basement - to add another 1,100 sq.ft. of living space...(or the garage to add 485 sq. ft.).

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Update on Project Licht 'n Stein

Well, it has been almost 15 months since the last blog entry.

But finally, there's a little bit more life in our project -- last weekend during the Kid's Philosophy slam in Lanesboro I had a chance to chat with our General Contractor and it seems that since he is still very interested in shepherding our project.

So hopefully, given the already advanced year, we might get at least an enclosed structure (i.e., concrete walls, windows, & roof) and masonry stove done before winter, which would make us self-sufficient (i.e., heating, water & electricity) to finish the interior during the winter...

The next steps for me are:
  • share the revised floor plans & 3D Model (see link below) with the architect and get some load calculations done and probably some blueprints drafted
  • get estimates for some driveway buildup
  • contact concrete contractors (such as Wellik out of Stewartville) to check their availability.
Below are some links to some updated information.

What's New
Slide Show of the 3D model (and floor plans)
Updated (but not completed) description of components
especially: shelter & water