A blog about life in Vancity and beyond...


Tuesday, 23 July 2013

A year later and life returns to sanity (sort of)

Well, since it's been just over one year, it seems fitting that I should return to the scene of the crime - my blog about the house. I'm going to post a few blogs over the coming weeks to update people on the progress from the past year. I'll try to break it into some blocks that chronicle some of the progress over the late summer, early fall, winter, spring, summer...to today (and the ongoing work that still needs to be done).

Why did my blog come to a crashing halt you ask? Well, life got in the way. A 6 week old baby, an epic road trip with a six week old baby to Edmonton, travels to Sweden, Dubai, Belgium, China, the States, India, China, the States a couple of more time, Ontario, etc., etc. etc. simply meant that I ran out of energy and time. Moreover, I ran out of emotional energy sometime late summer and my hands were kind of mangled from gravel shifting (still not normal a year later).

All that said, the house has indeed come along and I write this sitting inside the place (we moved in in January).

So - over the coming weeks I'll post a few updates of late summer, fall, winter/move-in, spring and now to bring people up to speed on the pain and pleasure of the past year.

For now - here's a shot of my son one year on! How life changes in a year!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

70 tons of gravel, some framing and a dark main floor

A brief update because it's been a while:

1) I've now personally moved over 40 tons of gravel...which feels like it sounds. My hands are kinda messed up and I'll need to have one of my fingers looked at sometime when I have a second because the finger keeps locking (never good!). Anyhow - after something near $4000 worth of gravel, the slab is finally set (as well as the draintile). Can't say I budgeted for that!

2) Continuing along the lines of the foundation, I've now laid down roughly 10-12" of gravel (don't ask), which is more than is needed, but will at least give a nice capillary break. After a fair bit of research, I've come to some other conclusions including:
- the layering should go (from bottom to top): compacted soil, 3/4 clear crush gravel (at least 4"), insulation (more on that in a second), then vapoour barrier, then mesh (with PEX zip strapped to it), then concrete slab (32 MPA minimum).
- Type II EPS and Type IV EPS (known as XPS) is an interesting debate. Most people use EPS, which is baiscally compressed styrofoam. It isn't as strong (compression strength), doesn't have as high an R-value per inch, is less moisture resistant, and more appealing to termites compared to XPS. EPS, however, is cheaper and better for the environment. In the end, I went for XPS because the thought of having a slab that runs into major issues makes me want to put a gun to my head. It was $900 extra for peace of mind. We'll use 4" for a slab insulation value of R-20, which is R-8 above code (in Vancouver = R20). From the sounds of things however, it would appear that Vancouver will soon move to a slab R-value of 20 which I find kinda surprising (more on that in a second as well).

3) I'm pretty surprised actually at how green the Vancouver building code is. It is actually (apparently) the greenest building code in all of North America - kinda surprising for a climate that is as mild as Vancouver's! It requires an R-40 attic, R-22 walls, R-12 slab, an HRV, to be plumbed to be solar-ready, rainscreens (which make a lot of sense given our climate), and a bunch of other things. Furthermore, they're actually in the process of making it even stricter (R-50 attic, R4 windows (= U 0.25 which is pretty high), R22 EFFECTIVE walls - which means that you have to factor in the fact that where the 2x6 studs run you have R-6 hit...in other words, your walls probably need to be a nominal R-26 or so to get to R-22 effective), a tightness of 3 ACH, and a slab of R-20.

Now the thing that gets me is that if you break down how much heat is lost by different parts of a house, it roughly breaks down as follows (from all that I've learned):

Attic = 25%: To get to R-50 in the attic is cheap (probably about $1500 or so for a place like ours)
Walls = 35%: To get to R-22 effective is pricey...cheapest route is a double stud wall with blown cellulose which is probably about $4-5000, but eats up a huge amount of space. Our approach will probably cost about $6000.
Slab = 15%: To get to R-20, you'd need either 5 inches of EPS ($1800) or 4 inches of XPS ($2700)
Windows = 10%: To bump up from double to triple glazed is actually quite cheap (R3 to R5 bump) - somewhere around $50-150 per window.
Air leakage = 15%: Now 3 ACH (or air changes per hour at 50 pascals) is a decent standard for air leakage but FAR from where Vancouver should really be heading. My thinking would be that they should be targeting an ACH value of about 1 if they're really wanting to "push the envelope" (har har). Passive houses (which require values not far from what the Vancouver building code will soon be) require roughly R40 walls, R60 attics, R6 windows, BUT an ACH value of less than 0.6 (often down around 0.3-0.5) = nearly airtight. So I'm kinda surprised that they're not wanting to make the houses more airtight especially given that an HRV is already a mandatory thing in Vancouver. We'll be aiming for an ACH of less than 1, and I'm using a combination of Prosoco's RGuard CAT5 product and (I hate to say) some spray foam to get at the areas that are problematic to seal. This will probably cost me about $6000 in the end (for a total insulation and air sealing cost of about $17,500 versus a standard house that would run about $8000 in Vancouver). I'll likely never pay that back (even a simple payback is over 15 years by rough calculations), but I do expect that my heating load (and CO2 emissions) will be about 75% less than the average house (ignoring life cycle assessments).

So why do it?

Comfort. That's the number one reason that people have gravitated towards passive building...they're comfortable to live in year round...no weird cold patches...no drafts...healthier...better for the environment, etc. etc. - there are a lot of reasons, but probably health and comfort trump the rest.

4) The framing continues to move along with the lower level basically done and the upper level starting this week, which is exciting. The downside is that the main floor is pretty dark (no side windows). I had been hoping that the big front and rear window assemblies would make up for this, but it seems I was ambitious in that thinking. While there will be more light when the drywall and paint go in (white), as well as the ceiling (white) and polished floors (concrete) and cabinets (high gloss white), I still fear it will be dark. So what are our options:

a) Leave it as is: could do...but....don't really like darkness and feeling like we're living in a dark cavern.  Not really an option.
b) Install a solatube: Costly $800, inefficient (R3 hole in the roof), but does add light that would brighten up about 250 sq.ft. in the kitchen.
c) Add back in windows that were originally in the house: One of the FEW bonuses of doing a renovation is that you can usually retain windows that were existing. Accordingly, we're hoping that City Hall might allow us to retain one additional window on the east wall and one on the west wall. This would add a lot of light and thought it would require re-working the kitchen design, we both agree it would be worth it. So....we've taken our plans to City Hall and will explore whether it is possible....stay tuned, we'll find out next Tuesday. Hopefully it won't delay the schedule by much...possibly a little bit, but I'm hoping I can work around it for the most part since the exterior and interior will soon be on separate paths and 95% of the windows can go in soon (next week at the earliest).

So - plan is to go for (c) with a backup of (b).

A few shots of the progress...and having looked through them, a lot has happened in the last while!

June 17th - view of cribbing with the walls in place

June 18th - our new sewage and water lines being inserted with a torn up East 6th Ave.

Yay draintile! Which fell during a very wet (and muddy) period unfortunately (taken June 23)

Gravel and delta drain falling into place (lots of gravel, round 2)

Cribbing being removed and the house lowered back down...well, at least lowered back down on the east side! (taken June 28th)

Strongwalls in place and parallam starting to go in

Parallam and all lower framing complete (as well as a 2" gravel layer in the slab area). Taken July 13th

An additional 7-9" of gravel being added on July 14th.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

A few lessons learned... and a quick update

So - a few lessons learned:

1) If you're using Fastfoot or some sort of bagged footing system to protect against moisture/rising damp, OVERSEE the process. I've had a bunch of major issues with my crew having mangled the footing bag (thus rendering it non-waterproof and largely defeating the purpose of having it in place).

2) If you're removing material (earth/soil) from on site, keep it on site. It's stupidly expensive to remove it, and equally as expensive to add it back on site. I've probably spent an extra few thousand dollars because my site is so small and can't contain much extra material.

3) Gravel is more expensive than you think. I've probably spent the better part of $2000 on gravel already (with more to come). Much of that has come via the delivery charge, so a follow up lesson is deliver as much as possible at a time.

4) When working on a small site, do as much by hand as possible. Things get screwed up when big machines combine with small sites, so stick with manual labour - it's often cheaper than "standard building practice".

5) If you're doing something that's NOT "standard building practice" - OVERSEE it. Trades do things the way they've "always done it" and I've had many, many "in twenty years of building, you're the first person to ask for this" kind of comments as I've gone. Sadly, in my estimation, that means that people have been doing things wrong for 20 years.

6) FSC wood is nearly impossible to procure in BC. I've had a long battle to procure FSC-certifiied dimensional lumber and ultimately failed (though I had been led to believe that I had actually acquired FSC certified lumber at one point). If you are getting FSC, do your homework, follow up on the details and demand that it be STAMPED with the FSC logo. If you are looking for FSC lumber in BC, you'll need to order it in - I'd suggest PJ Hardwoods or Dick's - they can source it from the US.

7) If you're questioning something about your site, question it out loud. There have been a bunch of things of late that I had wondered about and sure enough, it played out the way I thought, but there were problems (e.g., timing of things). Pester people...because if you don't, things fall behind.

The quick update is that the parallam and strongwalls will go in on Monday, and about half of the backfill for the slab will be done by then. We don't have enough dirt on site to fill in the remainder, so I'll probably just do another $650 load of gravel (again...and on that note, can't believe some dudes tried to steal my gravel last night at midnight...thanks to neighbours, they were scared off) to complete things. Might go and buy a bunch of styrofoam from Home Depot on Wednesday for the slab after that...good times! I'm also going to be doing my own fluid applied building wrap and mounting my own exterior insulation (should be quite the experience), but at least we should see some good progress over the next few weeks. FINGERS CROSSED!

Friday, 15 June 2012

Sheathing and decisions on the ceiling

So the house is coming along at full speed now with considerable changes day-by-day which is exciting. Today the sheathing started to go in which begins to give a real feel to the house. However, it has raised a few questions for us: notably, it's a bit dark on the main level (no side windows), so do we cover up the exposed joists to have white ceilings (and thus more light) or do we stick with the plan? There are pros and cons to each:

Advantages of covering the joists: light penetration throughout lower level, no need to take care to repair subfloor above (can be done cheaply), can insulate and soundproof the upper/lower levels, "cleaner" look.
Disadvantages of covering the joists: some extra drywall costs, less character and visual to the house

We would still have the parallam beams left exposed and I would aim to use some of the old boards in some other parts of the house, so we'd still have a bit of that history and exposed wood element. If we were to close it in, I'd also put in a solatube to add some extra light to the space.

So, that's what I'm leaning to at this point, but we'll see what Kris says when she walks around in the space.

Other info:
- Apparently part of the cribbing has sunk a small amount which has left us with a VERY small margin for error on the framing and lift/drop...but I think we're safe.
- Having a debate about the green wall from bynaturedesign which I'd really like to have. I think I can probably manage to install the system for about $1200 all in, which is reasonable. The debate on moisture issues with green walls seems to run the gamut. I've got some sites out there saying it's a major no-no and it will lead to huge indoor air quality/mould issues, etc.  I'm debating about talking to Green Over Grey - a local company here in Vancouver that does pretty amazing green walls throughout the world - to get their thoughts on it, but am  hoping I can get some input for free. We'll see...
- The City of Vancouver is starting in our our new sewer and water line on Monday, so by mid-week we should have a new sewer system. Apparently they have to dig down some 16', which is good news for us as the lower the piping, the less pumping we need to worry about.
- Still debating about kitchen designs, but will do a separate posting on that.

Here are some shots of what the place now looks like:
View from the front of the house looking at the new sheathing on the west wall

Inside the "kitchen"

West wall of the extension. Where the wall ends is where the rooftop patio will be.

View from the street.

COV Engineering setting up for next week.

Look out, construction down below!

Foundations of life

So a short break on the blog post, while a new part of my life began this past week: fatherhood. A pretty amazing experience all in all - one of the most emotionally intensive weeks of my life in which there were tears, relief, fear, happiness, worry, helplessness, and many other things experienced in a matter of hours. But, at the end of it all, I have a new family, which is a really neat feeling. My baby boy's name's Bevyn (though all of you will likely know that on here) and while he's a little less than interactive at this point (eat, sleep, poop, pee, cuddle, repeat), there are still special moments in which you can see him taking in the world anew. The innocence is pretty amazing to witness. And now to build him a house to call home.
That's my boy!
So...this week was the starting of our walls. We have put down our sill plates with a gasket and a bead of mastic that will go down the inside of the wall to create an air barrier. The wood we are using is Canfor and should be FSC, but I have yet to get the COC # which is making me nervous. The plan right now to handle the exterior of the ICFs is to use a peel and stick membrane (to waterproof it) and then a dimple board with a cloth filter to basically create a "foundation rainscreen" that allows water to drain down to the draintile below. We'll then cover (or "parge") that dimple board in a concrete facade to protect it from damage where it is exposed above grade. Protecting the ICFs is pretty important and has been illustrated through the damage they've had already. The ICF's have taken a bit of a beating during installation as have the Fastfoots (Fastfeet?) but the workers have agreed to fix the damages (and help address the insulation/waterproofing that's been compromised).

In addition, we've sorted the new windows and dimensions so we can order the second batch of windows (thankfully) soon and hopefully they'll be set in the next 6 weeks or so. Cascadia have been fantastic thus far in providing pretty amazing customer service throughout this project. Hopefully we've sorted out some of the tricky attachments where the doors are flush with the ground (where we're trying to do a seamless indoor-outdoor look)...more complicated than you would think!

Last but not least, the rep from Prosoco came up for another visit and demonstrated two of the RGuard Products that I'm planning on using. It was pretty slick stuff and I'm keen to give it a whirl. It's going to be more expensive, but I think it will likely be one of the better investments in the house and I'll hopefully save on labour costs since I'll be doing much of it myself.

ICF foundation with sill plate in place (west wall).
R30 ICF with concrete in between (south and east walls).

Rear wall with cutout for back windows (north wall)
Brett and Mark catching up on site below the cribbing

Framing the lower level of the house

The front door (to be)

Sheathing with RGuard's various products

Friday, 8 June 2012

Second pour...comin' up!

So with the first pour sorted out, we are ready for the second pour today. Some small complications from the first pour included:

1) Fastfoot being torn in parts...this was kind of frustrating given that this is the first line of waterproofing for the footings. Brett agreed and will be using some peel and stick waterproofing to patch things. Not ideal, but the waterproofing layer is somewhat of a backup to the draintile anyhow. Overall, I'm not 100% convinced by the Fastfoot used as a separate product I don't think since you need to fire nails into it to secure it to the forming lumber. Moreover, some of the people we talked to claimed it was "damp-proofing" not "water-proofing" which seems to go against the picture painted on the website. We'll see how it plays out in time.

2) Some small damage to the ICFs as well. Nothing too major, but again, still a bit disappointed that it's happened. I suppose these are some of the small bumps in the road you just have to roll with.

3) A robin has decided to make a nest in the house. I managed to take down the half-built nest as I really don't want to have to shift a nest (it would likely be abandoned). Hopefully a home-destroying exercise has dissuaded her from our real estate, but you can't blame her excellent choice of locations! ;)

So - passed our second inspection today from what I understand (wasn't there). Inspector has requested that our structural engineer be on site for the pour to ensure the air is removed (apparently difficult to see in the ICFs), which costs a bit more, but shouldn't be too much.

Hopefully June 8th goes down as the completion of the foundation and the arrival of a new baby in my world. Would be a big day if both happen! Fingers crossed. Will post more pics later of both babies (genetic and cementitious)!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

And then there were footings...

So big day today (now yesterday since I didn't post this last night), we had our first concrete pour! Exciting times (and no, I'm not being sarcastic).

The Lafarge truck outside our place

We passed both inspections (engineer & city) and so this morning, at 9:30am, the Lafarge cement truck rolled up to our place and got set to pump. We showed up just after 10am, and they were in full swing. The whole thing was fast and efficient with one person running the truck, one person running the "concrete hose" (aka. line pump), and then two others (our formers) vibrating (to remove air from the concrete) and troweling the footings level. We used 28 MPA (hardness of concrete) with 30% flyash - which is a "green" aspect to concrete (concrete's really energy-intensive to make, and fly ash is a by product from coal-fired power plants that used to go to waste...the fly ash also helps to strengthen the concrete). I opted to go for Lafarge in part because I know they've been a strong advocate on the global level for improving the carbon footprint (and other conservation issues) associated with concrete (WWF has had a partnership with them for many years now). I'm not suggesting they're perfect, but at least they're aware and trying to make a difference on a number of fronts, which is a step beyond ignoring the problem.

Fastfoot plastic sheets in place for footings

First pour!

Kristina: pregnant supervisor extraordinaire

I also opted to use Fab-Form's Fastfoot product which is basically "footing in a bag". The reasons: it results in less use of lumber, it results in less waste of concrete (attested to by the fact that we managed all of the pour in one go, despite thinking we might need some additional concrete), and it waterproofs the footings, which is a nice plus to have when you're sitting on clay at the bottom of a hill. They seemed to work really well and I'll guess I'll find out tomorrow or Monday how they look (NOTE: checked in today...looking good and hard)!

Final section of pour with Mark looking on supervising

So, we now have footings. Apparently they'll have enough strength to actually build on by tomorrow afternoon, and then cure over the course of several weeks until they reach maximum strength. On Monday, the insulated concrete forms will arrive and get set up. Hopefully that means we'll do another set of inspections on Tuesday, and the second pour on Wednesday, with backframing beginning on Thursday. At that point, the house will really start to take shape.

Footings: troweled and with rebar tied-in.

In other news:
- No baby yet
- Most of the windows are apparently ready (way ahead of schedule!) which is good...but we still need to get some other ones into production (front and rear). Hopefully we can do that soon - possibly as early as next weekend even if things go really well (though I'm not crossing my fingers on that).
- Think I've found some fir flooring that can be used to replace the damaged stuff upstairs for a few hundred dollars.
- I'm concluding that I'd like to have some storage space up in the attic and ultimately, that we'll put in an insulated shed at the rear as well.

So - wish us luck for the baby and the finishing the rest of the foundations this week!
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