Thursday, January 20, 2011



I knew from building 2 prior houses that the venture was more akin to a marathon than a sprint. This winter has made that particularly true, being unusually cold and with above average precipitation, mostly in the form of snow. As mentioned in my last post, I thought we would have a short window to get the roof on, and we did.

We got the last shingles on as the snow started up again, but we are dried in now, all windows and doors installed. The drywall crew has just about finished up and the siding is nearly done. Once the siding is finished we'll work exclusively on the inside, much to the relief of the crew. It has been brutal at times. When it's cold it is miserable to work outside. When it is relatively warmer the mud is a real hassle.

Yesterday the state electrical inspector passed our installation, so we should get power to the house soon. We have been running on extension cords and that will also be a big relief.

The biggest jobs left, besides finishing up the drywall, are the floors, kitchen, and the HVAC system. I've had 4 HVAC contractors look at the job, and so far only one even knew what HRV stood for. Went ahead and got the UltimateAir HRV for reasons previously stated. I drove over to Athens, OH and picked it up. I was lucky because I thought it would fit in the trunk of my car. It wouldn't. I ended up with it in my passenger seat, where it barely fit.

We did get to know each other quite well, though.

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.