Saturday, January 30, 2010

Window trim and a cool demo

We met with the finish carpenter (who, disappointingly, is not from Finland) this week, and he began building the trim around the inside of the windows. They mimic the style of the outside window trim, where the top piece of trim is a bit wider than the rest of the window. The carpenter began building the new trim and window sills out of hemlock, and they look beautiful! Our cat will be so happy to have all these wonderful new seats. We plan to keep the inside window trim a stained wood color, whereas our floor and door trim will be painted white.

We also had Blake do a cool demonstration for us this week. You may remember that the insulation inside our walls is cellulose, made out of treated recycled newspaper. Most regular homes use fiberglass insulation. You might be wondering, isn't newspaper flammable? Well, the cellulose is treated with borate, making it much less likely to burn than regular fiberglass. Blake did this demonstration to prove it -- watch what happens to the penny versus the cellulose:

The temperature got up to at least 800 degrees, and yet the cellulose did not catch on fire. And here is the same blowtorch being used on regular fiberglass insulation:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

It really works

We've been a bit quiet on here for awhile, but not because nothing has happened. In the past few weeks, the rest of the siding was installed, the drywall went up on the inside walls, the inside walls were primed and textured, and the ceiling of the porch was installed. The builders also connected our house with the city sewer line.

We also had meetings with the cabinet-maker to confirm what type of cabinets we would like and where, and to decide on the type of wood for our cabinets. We chose cherry. We also met with the finish carpenter to discuss our built-in bookshelves and indoor window frames. I look forward to showing you pictures of all these projects once they're in motion.

One really amazing development is that we are going to be able to purchase the wood for our downstairs flooring from Zena Forest, a sustainably managed forest located just west of Salem. Zena is a wonderful forest run by caretakers who really keep environmental concerns in mind -- they follow the management guidelines of the Forest Stewardship Council. The Oregon white oak on our floors will be grown sustainably and also will be extremely local -- double bonus! Stuart went on a builders tour of the forest this past summer. Here is an article about their tour:

The thing I'm most excited about at the moment is that I can now tell the Passive House design is really working! With the doors, windows and walls complete, the house is now almost completely sealed -- except for the garage doors, which have not been installed yet. The builders left a floor space heater on in the garage, with only plastic sheeting covering the garage doorways, and with the door open between the garage and the rest of the house. We walked into the house while that small heater was on, walked all the way upstairs to some of the far rooms, and the entire house was a nice, comfortable, fairly even temperature. It's amazing! Any skepticism I might have had about whether this Passive House concept would work has been obliterated by one small space heater. Here is the heater in the garage -- note that there aren't any garage doors yet:

Here is a look at our completed outdoor siding. It will be painted whatever color we choose:

We put a different type of siding on the upper part of the house under the gable. It's made by Nichiha and it's meant to look more like wooden shingles:

Here is the ceiling of our porch. It's made of hemlock:

Stuart is standing in our future kitchen:


Here's a close-up of the texture on our indoor walls:

This wall under the staircase will eventually have built-in bookshelves:

This window is going to provide awesome natural light in our stairwell:

Now that the walls are finished, I can really get a sense of what each room will be like to live in. Here is our master bedroom -- that window will eventually have my writing desk underneath it:

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Congratulations to our builder Blake Bilyeu, who just last week learned that he passed the examination to become a Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHC).  Now Blake can officially submit our house for certification under the Passive House standard.  Pretty soon he'll be popping up on this map of CPHCs across the country.  (UPDATE: He's on there now!)

It is no easy task to become a CPHC.  Blake had to take a rigorous class including a multi-week final exam.  He also had to endure our (mostly joking) threats to fire him if he didn't pass.  We knew you could probably do it, Blake!

But Blake isn't resting on his laurels.  He's actually giving a presentation on our house at an upcoming Passive House Northwest meeting.  I'll be giving him a signed stack of 8-by-10 glossies to hand out to the fans.  You're welcome!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Extra layers

We came back today from a 10-day trip to Texas and found that our new house has a few extra layers, both inside and out.

One of the new layers is siding. Blake took this photo of the siding going up. We chose HardiePlank, which is a concrete fiber lap siding.

Here's a close-up of our window trim. We chose to have the top piece of the window and door trim extend several inches beyond the edge of both sides of the windows and doors. We saw this feature on another Craftsman-style home and fell in love with it. This feature will be repeated on the window and door frames inside the home.

One of the green building certifications we hope to get in addition to Passive House is Earth Advantage. This certification measures energy efficiency, indoor air quality and overall environmental impact.

This large piece of construction equipment sitting in the yard is a mystery... I'm sure Blake will tell us soon what it's for.

Here's our new inside layer: drywall. Many of the upstairs ceilings and walls are now covered in a layer of drywall. This completely transforms the rooms. Now we have a real sense of the size of each room, and we can no longer look through or into the walls. We have to actually use the doorways now to go from room to room, rather than walking through the walls.

The laundry room.

Here's something that Stuart is excited about. This is the hub in our office where our ethernet and fiber optic cables meet. The orange cable is the fiber optic cable, which is a high capacity way of transferring data. This is not something we'll be using now because the equipment is too expensive, but we'll be ready to use it in the future.