Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mother Nature Communes With The House Kit

To quote comedian Daniel Tosh, 
"I don't want to commune with Mother Nature, she's out to kill us all." 

After the last few days, those on the East coast would probably sympathize with Daniel. Mother Nature hasn't tried to kill us on the prefab house site but, she certainly has made rapid progress difficult, if not impossible. While we have accomplished a few things since my last post, the really crucial element of getting dried in, roof on and windows/doors installed, has been made difficult or impossible by the very cold and snowy weather.

We pretty much finished up the wiring and got the tub/showers installed. We started on the siding and did get 4 windows and 1 door installed, but it was cold and messy work. We were also able to install 8 inches of fiberglass insulation between the trusses, which only had 2 X 6 blocks at their base separating the interior from the elements. This was a weak spot in the energy envelope, but between foaming all cracks around the blocking, packing the insulation between the trusses and wrapping it in plastic, we think we have pretty well made this element as tight and resistant to energy loss as the rest of the house. At first I tried to blow in cellulose, but that turned out to be a real bummer. The blowers for that stuff are designed for wide open attics, not the 2 x 2 foot enclosures we'd fabricated. Consequently the stuff just blew all over the place, nearly blinding and asphyxiating me. When I left that day I looked like Pigpen from the Charlie Brown comic strip, with a little cloud of cellulose kicking up around me with each step. Won't try that again!

Eight inches of snow on the roof, however, have prevented getting the shingles on. It looks like we might have a week to 10 days of relatively friendly weather starting tomorrow, and for that reason we removed all the snow from the roof yesterday. Fortunately I had a snow rake that I used to use when we lived in a rather remote area, and we would receive occasional heavy snowfall. When that is the tool you need, nothing else will do. Hopefully, we get the shingles on, siding and doors done, and we will be set to install drywall and flooring.

After that, HVAC, kitchen and finishing up the siding. I'll feel like we're in the home stretch then.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Panels Set As Winter Sets In

Finally, all panels are set!

It seemed like a long time, but actually was only 17 days from delivery to setting the final panel. Between weather delays and working weekends to make up, we took about 12 full working days to finish.

As expected, the 8 x 24 roof panels were a handful. There were some tense moments. If their size alone wasn't enough we had a couple of complicating factors:
  • First, wet weather had made already soft ground around the site even worse. Operating the forklift was very difficult, as it sunk 1 to 2 feet in the muck when it had a load. The area around the site looks like we had a mud-truck competition. 
  • Second, the trusses we bought were constructed wrong. The height that they rose off of the wall plate was short, necessitating building up the wall plate, and the pitch, which was supposed to be 8/12 was wrong. It was actually somewhere around 7 7/8's or 15/16's, which meant that they were not as tall as a true 8/12 would be. This would not be a problem if the entire roof was supported by the trusses, but in this house that is not the case. Each end support is a SIP wall, which were a true 8/12 pitch and therefore ended up over an inch higher at the peak than the trusses. We had a choice, send the trusses back or compensate for the error in construction. Being late November and wanting badly to get under roof before bad weather set in we decided to go with what we had. It made installation a much more time consuming chore, but was preferable to waiting another week or more for new trusses. Turns out we made the right decision, as nasty winter weather moved in, and as of today remains.
Just before it started snowing we were able to get the conventionally framed roof on over the bedroom wing. We are now expecting a spell of single digit lows and highs in the teens. We need about a week of half decent weather to finish up details on the roofs so that we can get shingles on and dry everything out.

Windows and doors should be here in 3 days, and house wrap and installation will soon follow. Combined with a finished roof this should improve working conditions greatly. We are all curious to see how well the little 80K BTU propane heater we have will heat up the house!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

West Virginia Holiday Closing, Yet We're Still On Target (ha) For Turnkey Completion!

Last week was exhausting! We wanted to take advantage of the good weather, so we worked every day through Sunday. By end of day Sunday there were several rear ends dragging, including mine. We got a lot done, though, and by end of week we were setting panels like the proverbial well oiled machine. We did not work Monday, which is a sacred day in WV with the opening of the gun deer season. I've never been much into hunting, but the rest of the crew are, and they were looking forward to it. We needed the break, although I hated to waste such a beautiful, sunny, mid-70's day.

 The only panels we have left to set are one end wall in the Great Room and the roof panels of that room, after we set the trusses. That is going to be a real challenge, as the roof panels are the biggest in the package at 8' x 24'. You could never do this kind of building without the extendable boom forklift. A crane would be better, but your site has to be right for it, and the expense can be significant.

Tuesday was a wash out and I am hoping that we can make some progress today (Wednesday) on the last panels. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and rain is predicted again Friday. Looks like we'll need to make a push for Sat-Sun-Mon to get the panels all set. Once done, although things can get cold, at least we won't be at the mercy of the rain in making progress. Things should move along. Windows, drywall, wiring, HVAC, paint, siding, etc. etc.

There is still a lot to do, but I think we are within the 30 - 45 day range to turn-key!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

SIP (Structural Insulated Panels) Arrive For the Prefab Cottage Kit!

Our structural insulated panels for the house arrived on Tuesday, 11/16!
As Mr. Murphy would have it, it was the first rainy day in over a week, and as previously mentioned, the day was an exercise in overcoming obstacles.

First, getting the flat-bed tractor trailer backed into a pretty narrow, not completely straight road was nerve wracking. I'm sure the neighbors, whose porch was missed by inches felt the same. The driver did a great job, though. Next, because of site conditions and obstacles our first attempt to unload a bundle of panels was a real problem, with the extending boom fork-lift getting stuck. It took us over an hour to get it loose, and we had to hand carry the BIG panels that it had gotten off of the truck. We moved to plan B, which necessitated unloading on hard top road and using the extending boom to set the panels down on the empty lot. Took us around 4 hours to unload 6 bundles, but thank goodness we got it done with little panel or people damage.

Richard Lloyd of Cardinal Building was there, and he sprained an ankle helping us man-handle the first bundle, and we pierced one panel's outer skin with the forklift. Sorry I don't have any pictures of this operation, but I didn't want to fry my camera in the rain, and besides, I didn't really think of it until later due to the intensity of the day's activities.

We did get the garage built while waiting on the panels, below. It is a pole frame building, and goes up fast. It is also cost effective, and an excellent system that has been around for thousands of years. I would like to combine SIP's and pole (really squared posts) framing at some point.

I am close to being ready to order our windows, which will come from a WV manufacturer named Wincore. Keep it local when you can is my motto. That is one of the reasons I am still undecided on the Energy Recovery Ventilator to install. If you are not familiar with an ERV, it is an appliance that exchanges inside air for outside air, preserving most of the energy that you have used to condition your inside air. It prevents the bane of earlier super-insulated homes, stale, unhealthy air. A company in Ohio manufactures an excellent unit that outperforms most others, but costs appreciably more. Other units do an acceptable job, so if it were purely economics I'd go with one of the others. However, the others are manufactured elsewhere and the Ohio unit is made here. American jobs, and a clearer conscience, as well as a better performing unit have it in the lead right now.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Maybe A Passive Solar Cottage Prefab SIP House Kit Sits At The End Of This Rainbow?

A contractor friend of mine once said that contracting, big or small, consists mainly of overcoming obstacles. Ain't it the truth! After several delays in getting our final panel order done, it is now in production. As luck would have it, and in compliance with a parallel to Murphy's Law, the panels are scheduled to be done and delivered right about the week we will be going on a long scheduled vacation. I would change my travel plans, but with non-returnables, that would be a real waste. So, we decided to move ahead with construction of the one car garage, which will be pole framed. We rented a Bobcat, and after a rather hairy morning slipping and sliding, started to see the driveway and garage locale take shape.We expect the garage should be dried in by the time the panels are scheduled for delivery, November 16th.

We've also framed up the interior walls and pretty much finished up the plumbing. A friend asked my brother why we were building the house inside out. While it may seem that way, the wall framing really needed to be done in the bedroom section of the house, since it has flat ceiling SIP's, with an unconditioned attic. The span of the panels would have necessitated framing of at least two of the walls anyway.

Unrelated to the building project, I saw one of the most vivid rainbows I've ever seen yesterday after that huge storm came blowing through. It looked like it ended in my neighbor's front yard.

I didn't check for a pot of gold, although I sure could use it!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Plates and Plumbing

Since we've had some delay because of plan changes, and our panels won't be here for another 1-2 weeks, we decided to move ahead where we could. We put down the bottom plates and we have started on the plumbing. The water seal/duct tape system is working well. The sub-floor hasn't absorbed water to any noticeable degree, and we will not need to do any sanding of expanded edges when it comes time to put finished floor down.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Prefab Cottage Floor System Is In!

After some unfortunate delays, including weather, we finally got the floor system put in. The place looks like a bunker now, gun ports and all. I had never worked with TJI floor joists before. TJI stands for Trus Joist I-beam joists. Like a steel I-beam, but made of wood. Stronger and more consistent than dimensional lumber. 

It feels like you could drive a truck on it, very firm floor. Because it will be another 10-14 days before we get the panels, we taped an waterproofed the sub-floor to provide some protection from water getting on the TJI system, which my brother says can compromise its strength. We also reviewed the shop drawings from R-Control of the panel plan. 

We made some substantial changes from the architects "vision". As designed the house was very tall, over 25 feet to the peak of the Great Room roof. we decided to lower that for 2 reasons. First, since we are looking to build an energy efficient house, we didn't want a lot of energy used to condition air in such a tall space. Cost was also a consideration. We also reduced the radical 14/12 pitch down to a more reasonable 8/12. Hope the architect wouldn't be offended, but if your name isn't Frank Lloyd Wright, I figure your work is fair game for practical adaptation.

I'm currently waiting on a quote from a Canadian company on triple glazed windows. They claim they can come within 5% of comparably spec-ed double glazing. I hope so, because it would be a considerable improvement to the efficiency of the house. They also use fiberglass framing, which they say expands and contracts at close to the same degree as glass, reducing stresses between window glass and frame which eventually leads to some leakage. Makes sense to me.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The West Virginia Prefab Cottage House Kit foundation is completed!

The West Virginia Prefab Cottage House Kit foundation is completed!

After considerable delay because of rain and scheduling problems with our block crew we finally got our foundation completed yesterday. They had a crew of 9, but that shrunk to 8 when one was whooped by the heat. It was 93 degrees on 9/22, the first (partial) day of fall!

They laid up 988 block in about 5 1/2 hours. Very efficient operation.
Amazing when you're paying for something by the piece rather than the hour how quickly things get done.

We'll have the termite treatment done today or tomorrow. The sub-floor package is supposed to arrive today or tomorrow and we'll be installing that next week, weather permitting. Then comes the part I've really been looking forward to, putting the SIP's up. So far everything we've done has been familiar territory for our gang.

SIP's will be something new for all of us. Gotta rent an extendable boom fork lift at $530 a day. Hope we get the hang of it quickly, for obvious reasons. Fortunately Richard from the SIPs plant affiliated with Green Cottage Kits has promised to come down to coach us through the process. Should be a great help considering his experience.

Time to get windows and doors ordered also. You gotta be careful here because you can pay a heck of a lot of money for these items. The trick is to strike a balance between quality and cost, with energy conservation being one of your main considerations.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dug and Poured Footers For The Prefab Cottage House Kit In West Virginia!

We dug and poured the footers for the West Virginia prefab cottage house kit this week.

Fascinating to watch the West Virginia cottage house kit footprint evolve, and the skills of the people involved laying out, digging, and pouring should not be underestimated. Whatever building you may be sitting in now, from a little house to a big office building, it took a heck of a lot of work to just get the foundation in right.

Fortunately the rain held off here until late this morning, so we were able to get the cottage footers marked for the guys who will be laying about a thousand cinder blocks tomorrow.

West Virginia Prefab Cottage
Construction Video From 2010-09-15

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A prefab cottage in West Virginia: The Beginning.

My name is Mike Cavender and I live in Elkview, West Virginia.
A cottage from Green Cottage Kits.
The one we are building is the one story Midway.
I must be nuts.  I recently quit my job with my employer of 28 years to go into the home building business. Based on how the economy is going, I've awakened many a night at 2 or 3 a.m. wondering what the heck I've done. I've always loved building and architecture, and believe that there is a real need for residential builders that concentrate on energy efficiency. That is what led me to Copeland Casati of the prefabs Green Cottage KitsGreen Modern Kits and the SIP construction system. Anyway, I pulled the trigger and we are about to build our first home.

Passive design cottage : Midway by Green Cottage Kits
Right now I am not a licensed contractor, although I will pursue that. I do have personal building experience, having built our first home 25 years ago (out of green lumber, white oak and hickory, which is quite a story in itself). I also acted as the general contractor on our second residence, a package log kit home. 

In addition I have 2 brothers, Joe and Rusty, that are contractors for many many years, with all manner of construction under their belts. I wouldn't have gone into this if they hadn't agreed to do it with me. I'm supplying the moolah and business management and they are supplying the expertise, skill and site management. SIP building is new to them too, with the exception of a bunch of refrigerator/freezer units that they put together for our county school system several years ago. The fact that these were constructed of SIP's ought to tell you something!

Passive solar prefab cottage house kit, Midway.
So, quit my job, jumped through the hoops to set up a business, and started determining which house we wanted to build first, as a spec house, using a considerable chunk of our savings. My wife Angie, who after the initial shock of hearing what I wanted to do, has been quite supportive and a great help. Then one day she comes home and tells me that her mom has decided that she wants to sell the house she's lived in for 50 years and build something smaller. Angie said "Mom, that's great, Mike is getting into home building and you can be his first customer." Thank you honey! 

Cardinal Building Systems of Winchester, VA is one of the plants that produces Green Modern Kits and provides technical and engineering help to Green Cottage Kits / Green Modern Kits customers. 

When I told Richard Lloyd of CBS that my first house would be built for my mother-in-law he told me I was a brave man. 

The foundation is laid out and tomorrow the digging starts. Hope everything goes smoothly, but of course, from prior experience, I know it won't. That just comes with the territory. The biggest hassle so far has been getting the utilities to ID their underground lines. Start early on this if you are managing your construction.

I've included a few pictures and will provide more as we progress.

My mother-in-law. Looks like a very sweet lady, doesn't she. Well, she is.

The unmarked lot from below. It is amazing how much rise there actually is versus what it looks like to the naked eye.

A picture of the tape measure showing distance to the sewer line ID'ed by the sanitation authority. Document this stuff because they are often wrong, and if they are you need a record.

The lot from above, laid out for digging.

We order the prefab cottage house kit this week.  More to come, soon.