MARCH - APRIL 2008

March 6, 2008
After months of research, phone conversations with company techs, and online webinars, Greg orders our fresh air system.

Years ago, before energy efficiency was a big concern with homebuilders, most homes had air transfer from the inside to the outside provided by the building process available at the time. Inefficient windows, doors, house wrap, sealing, insulation, etc., allowed a certain amount of air exchange.

But today's building practices have gotten tighter and there is very little air exchange naturally allowed between the inside and outside. That is a good thing for energy efficiency but it creates the problem of providing fresh air inside this tightly sealed box. You can't have the windows open all year around. Most building codes require some type of mechanical ventilation to provide fresh air into the home.

In our case, since we are using a hydronic heating system we would have to use a separate system to provide fresh air - rather than tie it into some type of forced air system. We settled on a Heat Recovery Ventilation System or HRV for short. Simply explained, the HRV brings in fresh air from the outside, delivers it to the "living spaces" of the house (bedrooms, living room, dining rooms, etc.) and then exhausts "bad air" from the areas that create bad air (bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, etc.).

With the HRV unit, the incoming fresh air is pulled into the unit while the outgoing exhaust air is removed to the outside through the unit. Inside the unit the two air flows pass by one another, separated and sealed from one another; yet the exhaust air is allowed to "pre-heat" the incoming air to the temperature of the house. Thus, it doesn't just blow cold fresh air into those rooms, but uses the HRV to "recover" the outgoing temperature of the exhaust air and apply it to the incoming fresh air.


Because we have several sets of friends who are also building a new home, Greg was able to use their installations as part of his research. From his initial research on HRVs and then looking at some of the installations by the "local contractor," he didn't like what he saw. Either the unit installed was oversized for the house or the ducting was incorrectly installed. Further research turned up a place where Greg could take the training and even become a certified HRV installer for a small fee. This training was through
Lifebreath and their Lifebreath Academy. Lifebreath, a Canadian company, is a major player in the world of fresh air systems. Greg ordered their training package. Although the course doesn't answer every minute and particular question you might have, it does give a great understanding of the systems, sizing the system, ducting, etc. Plus they have an individual at Lifebreath who runs the Academy and with a phone call he is very accommodating to any questions that come up. All in all, an excellent expenditure of funds.

In a nutshell, the program allows you to input what cubic feet of area you are trying to introduce fresh air into and remove exhaust air. From that, you determine which unit serves your needs and then you go on to designing the duct system. During this research, Greg discovered an American company - American Aldes - that actually repackages the Lifebreath unit under their name. Also, in phone conversations with them he found their technical staff to be extremely helpful and in fact spent 45 minutes on the phone discussing our particular needs with one of the engineers.


During all his web research, the Lifebreath Academy, conversations with techs at Lifebreath and American Aldes, here are some of the points Greg learned:


1. To be effective, the HRV is designed to run continuously.

Greg was puzzled when he visited friends who had used a local contractor to install a unit that was the largest residential unit made; yet they were conditioning about 1,500 square feet less than we are. These friends said that the contractor told them they would save money with the larger unit because they would only run it when needed. This prompted a phone call to techs at both companies. Greg even told the tech at American Aldes that even though all his calculations showed purchasing a smaller unit, should he consider getting the larger unit? The tech said absolutely not. The unit calculations suggested was the unit to use. The tech said he often hears of larger units being sold for just that reason (you don't have to run it continously and you will save money) and he can't imagine why contractors do this except perhaps they simply just don't understand how HRVs work.


2. The HRV provides fresh air and removes stale air but it is not an exhaust fan for the bathroom.

Greg had noticed that all the HRV installs he had seen locally had just the HRV installed and no separate bathroom exhaust fans. Each client was told they didn't need the separate exhaust fans as the HRV would provide that exhaust. Once again, the techs at both companies stated that once again they were puzzled why contractors continue to push this type of installation. This point was driven home when another friend, a builder, relied on this bad advice from the local HVAC contractor and did not install separate bath fans. Once he moved in, he found the HRV inadequate in removing moisture from the bathrooms, so much so that it was beginning to create problems after only three months of occupancy. The only solution was to install bath fans - an especially irritating chore since venting these new fans through the roof required tearing up portions of his new roof made of real clay tiles. Greg is installing separate point of source exhaust fans in the laundry, bathrooms, mud room, and kitchen. American Aldes has a great product that allows you to have point-of-source ventilation in several different rooms - utilizing one exhaust unit yet each room is separately switched. This is their Vent Zone system.


Greg even posted these discrepancies on a Web forum devoted to HVAC issues. Sure enough, some of the HVAC contractors disputed the need for additional point of source fans. This is something that always bothers Greg, when contractors dispute what manufacturers require for their products to work properly. He hates to hear, "Ah, you don't need to do that" or "We don't do it like that around here" despite what the instructions say or the millions of dollars in research done by the manufacturer.

March 10, 2008
Of course, as always, things are progressing much slower than hoped.

Greg continues working on the exterior and that includes hanging exterior doors.

Before any door can be hung, Greg must custom build the jamb - a lost art today. But his expertise not only insures our doors are hung properly and work with ease, it saves us hundreds of dollars on each door. In the past several days, Greg built and prime painted the jambs and today I helped him install the double studio doors.

Just as with the installation of the courtyard corbels and before that some of the huge pieces of exterior trim, there are tricks to the trade to maneuver these pieces first to work on them and then to move them into place. Tools to accomplish this included pieces of pvc pipe to roll the door - actually rolling it over the short sections of pvc and then picking up the back piece and moving it to the front (just how the Egyptians moved the huge rocks to make the pyramids); and then using ropes to help hoist the door into position to then tip it up. After that, he used pieces of lumber of varying widths to rest the door on until the grooves routed out on the door jamb aligned with the hinges on the door. There is an exactitude required to do this that can't be acomplished by just any woodworker. And that's why jambs are pre-made today. But you're out of luck if your door is a custom shape or size.

March 15, 2008
After installing the double doors in the studio, Greg had to rework the jamb he built for our guest room door a few days ago because this door is of standard height, just like the exterior shop door he hung a couple of months ago. In order to make the scale of it look in proportion to other exterior elements, he rebuilt the jamb so we can install a transom above it.

Although we've literally saved thousands on these doors because they were purchased from a salvage yard, there is the possibility we may have an argument on our hands with building inspectors with regard to R-values (energy loss). But we won't give up without a (big) fight and documentation on interpreting the building energy code.

Building codes can be interpreted in several ways and according to Greg's research, beefing up the R value of walls can compensate for doors that provide lower values. So we are prepared that they may balk at this when it comes to our final inspections.

March 17, 2008
Today I spent some time in a local used book store. I'm looking for books on deco design because my mind wants to work on ideas for the bedroom fireplace facade. My mind doesn't want to give it a rest even though logic tells it it's going to be two to three years before any design can become a reality.

So I'm thinking - at least at this early stage of the design process - of a "grille" (which will most likely be plasma cut aluminum) to be hung over the mantle (if I end up having a mantle) that at least for now is looking like it will be based on New York's most famous art deco skyscraper - The Chyrsler Building.

But these design ideas go through many transformations and that might not be part of the end product at all.

I'm thinking the grille, whatever the design becomes in the end, would stand proud over a background of frosted mirror.

Our bedroom will be a dark green (with blue tones as opposed to yellows). And all the trim and other elements will be in silvers and grays. It's basically what we had in our previous home and we always loved it for its calming effect.

March 18, 2008
This was a day a long time in the making - literally.

I began designing our livingroom beams back in June of 2004 after having saved this photo from a magazine for who knows what reason - because I never dreamed we'd ever move or ever build a house.

As with all of our design projects, you start at one point and the design morphs its way until you end up with this.

Our sheet metal artists, Beth & Jerry, have been working on making the beams a reality from our design and templates. Today they met us at the house to show us two of the components - the large center piece and one of the smaller pieces - so that we could discuss fine points and come to a decision on the straight beam that will attach these components to the cathedral ceiling.

Each beam has five components: one large center piece and two smaller versions on either side. What you see here is barely a skeleton (here created with Photoshop) of what the final product will look like.

Nevertheless, it is satisfying to see something I dreamed up and designed and worked on for months and made drawings and fashioned templates for become a reality. And now, here it is - something you can see and touch. But still, this is a long long way off from being finished and installed.

After Beth & Jerry left, I spent the rest of the day working with Greg.

And, the Ventilation heat recovery system was delivered.

Later in the day, Greg begins installing the Hardie plank on the south west side of the house.

In that area is a section of wall that has no other detail: no window or interesting trim. In our previous home, I had a collection of moons that were hung on an exterior wall and I thought this would be a good place for them. But back home they were hung on stucco and this siding is not so forgiving - and perforating it can cause water problems.

We discussed several options including creating a big medallion to hang them on, or finding some way to work some type of picture hanger device under the slats, but Greg came up with the perfect solution and an added benefit is that it's something we don't have to spend time on now - it can wait until after we move in.

Greg will create a removable framework that will stand proud (stand away) from the wall and attach to the trim on either side of the wall.

March 20, 2008
We have decided we must pull off the job for a while.

As much as we would like to keep pressing forward, we just need a break.

Even though we may face a huge fee to reissue an expiring building permit, we must take a break.

And, too, there is a lot of paperwork, organizing, filing, and reading that Greg needs to catch up on.

Today, he took a webinar on our radiant heat system. There is so much information available on the net that it can be overwhelming.

Some decisions on the correct method to proceed can be clouded by the back and forth of experts posting to forums. The last couple of years alone has seen much more information posted to the web concerning all phases of construction. Greg had discovered the Radiant Panel Association in his research for our radiant floor heating. The RPA has information and links on their site. They also provided on line training through their webinars. Greg signed up for one of these webinars on Radiant Control Valve Theory. He found it very informative, so much so he was able to speak with knowledge to several radiant contractors.

March 26, 2008
Our computers are our lifeline for this immense project. We have gigabites of material, thousands of files and photographs. Our files have files. And we've been having problems with our dinosaurs for quite some time. But because updating would require a learning curve which would require focus (and frustrations) that we can't deal with now, as a stopgap we have asked a tech to come and help us boost up what we have.

In the long run it may have been cheaper to buy a new computer, but we just had to bite the bullet and keep using what we know.

April 1, 2008
Yesterday our high schooler came to work with me and today our computer tech is back to finish what he started last week - now that the new equipment has arrived.

April 14, 2008
Our Homeowner's Association is on our backs. They don't care that we are building an extremely detailed and custom home (most houses here are slapped together in five or six months tops), they just want us to conform to the CC&Rs and those require that the exterior of the house be completed in a year. We are into year three! But then again, there are nearly 30 homesites here and only half a dozen homes built. And, too, while we, save this one transgression, have adhered to every requirement, most of our neighbors are guilty of noncompliance in one instance or another.

Still, this kind of thing worries Greg greatly. So, we have hired a young carpenter to work with Greg for the next two weeks or so to push the job along - at least to the point where the rest of the exterior at least looks complete to the naked eye (translation: HOA).

April 23, 2008
Our young carpenter has definitely helped with getting us over a hump, but at a price - in addition to a monetary one.

Greg needed this youngblood to do some of the heavy lifting but must watch him like a hawk.

Which has reminded us why we have tried so hard not to involve other workers. Nice people though they are, they are not sophisticated enough nor skilled enough to work unsupervised. When left to their own devices and given a choice of making an aesthetic decision or an expedient one....guess which one wins out?

Or, when Greg has given specific instructions as to which type of nail or screw to use, when he comes back, he finds the worker has used exactly the screw he was told NOT to use. Maddening and frustrating.

So, whatever was gained by taking a break (which really wasn't one at all since it was all spent at the computers or reading), has been reduced by the frustration and worry about supervising someone else's work.

and...

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