Monday, October 26, 2009


The first floor deck was framed almost two weeks ago and the walls were to start this week – but will be delayed until next week. The windows come in on November 9 and I thought they would be the critical item. Now it looks like the windows may be ready before the framer is.

Here's a photo of the Basement.

The plastic pipe is the passive radon vent. There is perforated pipe under the slab laid in a bed of stone. This pipe will be extended through the roof to vent radon if there is any. Only half of the basement is full height and the rest is partial height. Because space on the lot is so tight, the septic system is less than twenty feet from the house. Any part of the basement within 20’ has to be higher than the septic system. We’ll put the furnace in the higher part, leaving most of the full-height basement available.

We had planned on having the septic system installed prior to framing, but the framer was concerned with access around the septic, which changed our sequence. Once the framing is complete, the septic system will be installed and then the stone walls and steps will go in. We had hoped the stone work would be done in September or October rather than November.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

LEED for Homes

Many people know of the LEED program and its general goals, but the specifics can be rather involved.  The requirements vary by building type and change over time.

This is just a very brief introduction and overview of the LEED for Homes rating system, which encourages the construction of homes that use less energy, water and natural resources, create less waste, and are more durable and comfortable. It is a quite comprehensive program and much more information is available on the U. S. Green Building Council website.

The rating system measures performance in the following eight categories.

Innovation and Design Process (ID)
Includes comprehensive project planning, orientation for solar design, durability planning and also covers innovative measures not currently addressed elsewhere.

Location and Linkages (LL)
Encourages the construction of homes near existing services, facilities and transportation.

Sustainable Sites (SS)
Promotes minimization of the impact of construction on the site, proper surface water management and erosion control, and the use of compact development.

Water Efficiency (WE)
Encourages efficient water usage both indoors and outdoors and the reuse of water where possible.

Energy and Atmosphere (EA)
Advocates improved energy efficiency with better building envelope design and more efficient heating and cooling systems, energy efficient lighting and appliances, and encourages the use of renewable energy.

Materials and Resources (MR)
Promotes the efficient use of materials, reduced construction waste, and the use of environmentally preferable products and the recycling of construction materials.

Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ)
Strives for improved indoor air quality with the use of controlled ventilation, moisture control and airborne contamination control.

Awareness and Education (AE)
Includes provisions for education of the homeowner (in this case, me) about the operation and maintenance features of the home along with the promotion of public awareness.

The LEED for Homes rating system provides for up to 136 potential points leading to a LEED rating of Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Flooring Choices

Although it seems a little early to have to make flooring choices, some of this makes a difference when framing the house. The mill where we’re getting the beams, Great Brook Lumber, also makes flooring from local lumber including red oak, white oak, maple, ash, birch, pine and cherry. The oak, ash and maple are generally the hardest and some of the others are relatively soft. Flooring hardness is measured by the Janka Hardness Test.

We still have one Dalmatian, Gromit, who can scratch wood floors in his day-to-day activities, so hardness and scratch resistance are important. Oak is probably the best choice, although it is very common and we would prefer something a little more unique. Since we are participating in the LEED for Homes program, reclaimed, recycled or locally obtained woods are preferable, and flooring like bamboo, cork or linoleum are also encouraged because they are made from readily renewable resources. We have considered bamboo, but are not overwhelmed by the look.

This curly red maple flooring from Hull Forest Products is really beautiful, but it is a relatively soft maple and we'd have to walk around in our stocking feet and sell the dog to keep it from getting scratched up.

The wood we are most seriously considering is mesquite. It is almost twice as hard as oak and is very stable. Because it is so hard, it generally comes in a 1/2" thickness rather than 3/4". It is also a very attractive wood. The trees grow in gnarled shapes, giving interesting grain patterns. The mesquite from Faifer & Company comes from reclaimed logs. We would probably stain it to take on a reddish mahogany color to resemble some of the tropical hardwoods, but would not need to disturb any rainforests in the process.

We are considering real linoleum upstairs. People have adopted the term linoleum to mean almost any resilient sheet flooring, but real linoleum can be quite nice.  It is long-wearing and very durable. Forbo calls theirs Marmoleum.  It does require a different floor preparation than wood flooring, though. The linoleum would cost less than wood flooring, but it is not inexpensive.

We have decided that the majority of the First Floor will have wood flooring. The Second Floor could be wood or linoleum. Since the second floor framing is partly conventional wood joists and plywood and partially wood beams and 2” nominal wood deck, there are potentially two different floor surface materials. If we decided to go with a wood finish flooring, I would have the beams and 2” wood deck installed a little low so that the wood deck could be covered with the same plywood subfloor that covers the conventional joist framing. If we decided to use linoleum, the plywood subfloor and 2” wood deck should be level and would be covered with a smooth plywood underlayment, which would be installed after plastering is complete. That is why we need to decide now.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

October 10, 2009 - All Caught Up

I started this blog about 2 ½ weeks ago and had four plus months of progress to cover. I’ve caught up and things are in real time now.

The stone veneer on the front of the foundation is complete and Don Pires of Pires Construction, the framing contractor started yesterday.  Although there is concrete showing now, the porch and deck will cover the concrete on the right side and, once the grade is raised, it will look like a stone foundation.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Stone Choices

Although our site originally was designed with a timber landscape tie retaining wall around the septic system, a stone wall is really much more in character with the area and just looks more natural. Our son Brian Lewis will be doing this work and this is his company, The Natural Landscape. We will also have five stone steps coming up from the driveway.

We went out to Goshen, MA and looked at Goshen Stone. The stone, stair treads and walkway pavers in this photo are all Goshen Stone.

I like traditional Natural Fieldstone.

But on Cape Cod, especially in the Centerville and Osterville area, New England Round Fieldstone, also called Cape Cod Stone, is most prevalent.

This tower is an example of that stone.

By the way, this house is currently for sale and the tower comes with it at no additional charge. In the end, we decided on a stone having a similar shape to the Round Fieldstone, except that these are actually leftovers from the screening of loam.

They are similar in shape, but have a greater variety of sizes and a color that I prefer a little more. The Round Fieldstone you see on Cape Cod often takes on a kind of yellowish coloration, and this should have more of a stone grey color.

And the Color is - Shark Whiskers

It was almost a foregone conclusion that we would use fiber cement clapboard siding. It is a very durable material and is a good substitute for wood. I prefer the Certainteed fiber cement siding over the more common HardiePanel because Certainteed has a more realistic woodgrain pattern. I built a house with it and most people didn’t realize it wasn’t wood. To me, the HardiePanel looks a little more like Vac-U-Formed wood. Even from a distance I can tell if it’s Hardie because of the grain pattern.

Each siding manufacturer has a range of colors in their pre-finished product and also provides a paint warranty. We took samples of the siding and viewed them in different conditions and couldn’t find just the right color. Most people pick a color and are done with it. Not us. I called the local Certainteed rep and he said they do custom colors using PPG paint. In fact, there is a 25 year paint warranty from PPG as compared to a 15 year warranty from Certainteed on their pre-finished siding.

Now we just had to find a color. The ubiquitous color in the heart of Centerville is white, but that’s a little too plain. We wanted a light grey-beige kind of a color - but not too grey and not too beige. We picked up some PPG color chips and found a grey-beige color that we liked, but the Whiskers color was too light and the Sharkskin color was too dark, and there was nothing in between. We had a new color mixed which is somewhere between these two colors, so I guess it should be called Shark Whiskers.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

To LEED or not to LEED

We will definitely participate in the Energy Star program, but participation in the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Homes program was a more complicated decision. The Energy Star program provides cash rebates for building efficiently. I am willing to spend a little more now to save money down the road even without rebates, and when the government is willing to give me money for doing so, all the better.

LEED for Homes, though, is a much more complex and rigorous process, some of which is similar to the Energy Star program but the LEED program addresses many more issues. Administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED for Homes goes far beyond just energy efficiency. It encourages the smarter use of resources and the construction of a more durable and healthier home. There are fees to be paid and consultants to be hired, and the process will take a fair amount of time for research and documentation. The program will coerce us into considering many factors that we may have otherwise overlooked and, in the end, a third-party will certify that we have met their Green Building Rating System.

'USGBC' and related logo is a trademark owned by the U.S. Green Building Council and is used by permission

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Cinnamon Toast

Because we are within one mile of the coast, the new building code requires impact resistant windows. Another option is to have plywood panels cut to size, ready to be installed in case of a major storm. The thought of worrying about when to have the plywood put up, how to have it put up if we’re not there, and what a plywood encased house would be like during a storm led us to go with the more expensive impact resistant windows.

Andersen windows are probably the most common major window brand, especially on Cape Cod. We have them in our current house and have been happy with them. Their impact windows, though, require extra levers and blocks to make them impact resistant, resulting in a less attractive window. A vinyl window, like those made by Harvey Industries, would probably be the cheapest option, but vinyl windows typically just don’t look as good. The glass is often set in front of the building plane which just doesn’t look right and the ‘welded’ corners are a little sloppy. There is a Pella store right in Centerville and they were a strong contender. We also looked at windows from Marvin, Kolbe & Kolbe, Weathershield and others. In the end we decided on Eagle Windows. They are a beefier window and, because of that, are good candidates for impact windows without the need for extra blocks and levers. They are a wood window with a heavy aluminum cladding and are a little less expensive than most of the others. I had used some of their larger sizes in several schools. Andersen recently bought the company, which means they will probably become more prevalent.

I had always anticipated having white windows, which is very typical on Cape Cod. Eagle offers fifty standard colors at no additional charge, and the idea of a colored sash is interesting. They probably don’t get much call for at least two-thirds of their colors, though. Some of them are rather jarring. The color decision wasn’t easy. We had them send us some actual samples on aluminum, but weren’t quite sure of the right color. I decided to try a window mock-up. I bought some four pane picture frames to simulate the window sash, and Sherwin Williams stores have the paint formulas for Eagle colors. Eagle has a deep red color that could be very interesting, but you don’t want to have the windows installed and then find that the color’s not right. I painted the picture frame and put it against one of our windows and, it works. Eagle’s ‘Cinnamon Toast’ color looks sharp.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

September 8, 2009 - The Foundation

The foundation was poured the previous week and our first view of it was on the 8th.  The ledge on the front is for a stone veneer, which will match the stone wall out front.

We made reservations at the Centerville Corners Inn, just down the street from our property, for the tail end of the Labor Day weekend. The first night we paid the summer season price, but the second night was at their fall price, which is just over one-half the summer rate. That’s typical for Cape Cod.  We spent most of our time looking at things like stone, lighting, plumbing and cabinets and even spent a little time at the beach.

We also put up the new and improved sign.

September 1, 2009 - Beamed Ceilings

Although I had designed the house with typical floor joists and gypsum board ceilings, it seemed appropriate to have real wood beamed ceilings. I could build the house conventionally and then add decorative beams and wood ceiling, but real exposed beam ceilings are the right way to do it. Conventional floor joists, though, conceal all kinds of wires, plumbing and ductwork and are much easier to deal with. The best compromise is to build some of the floors conventionally framed and others beamed. We would like at least the Foyer, Living Room and Dining Room, and possibly the Master Bedroom, to have beamed ceilings. There is plumbing above the Kitchen, dictating a gypsum board/plaster ceiling. After some analysis of things, I decided to do all of the rooms named above and the hallway with wood beams and deck. This is what the second floor framing plan looks like. The second floor beams and deck form the first floor ceiling. I calculated the decking lengths and amounts so that all of the joints can occur over the beams.

The challenge was then to find the right material for beams and deck. The local lumber yards can get douglas fir beam and southern yellow pine or lodgepole pine decking. These come from far away, don’t have quite the look I would like, and it just seems that there is plenty of wood in New England. After some internet searching, I found a list of Massachusetts sawmills and dry kilns that the State publishes. Then my search began. I was looking for kiln dried lumber since wood can shrink greatly as it dries. My calls started to lumber mills with dry kilns, but beams are seldom kiln dried and kiln drying can be an expensive process. Then I tried the mills nearest the Cape, who typically had rough sawn eastern white pine beams and could not make tongue and groove decking. I was looking for planed beams for a more finished look. I finally settled on hemlock beams and hemlock T&G decking from Great Brook Lumber in Southwick, MA. They had some nice material that had been cut down and left to air dry.

And this is what the pile of lumber looks like. Once ordered, they trim it to nearly the final sizes, sticker it, meaning they put sticks between the boards for further air drying, and then put in under roof. Then, just before it’s needed, they plane it to final size and ship it to the job site.

Friday, October 2, 2009

August 30, 2009 - Construction Begins

Early in the week the site was prepared and footing trenches dug. I have built two houses before and in both cases had trouble getting the foundation contractor to start. This time the footings immediately followed the excavation. That’s the advantage of building when things are slow. Here are the footings. Pretty exciting, huh?  It’s just like beach sand there.

We saw things on August 30 and found that, unfortunately, the apple tree which was supposed to be saved was gone. You can see it in August 12 blog directly behind my sign and it’s also in the rendering. I thought the sign was safe since it was in front of the tree. This is exactly how I found things.

August 28, 2009 - Poor Chippy

This blog started out with a photo of Chip on Cape Cod. Our elderly 14 year-old Dalmatian had a good life, but we could see him going downhill. He would slip on the wood floors and couldn’t get up, stairs were increasingly difficult and he suffered from cataracts, doggie dementia and general old-age maladies. That night sometime after dinner, he started the barfy thing he sometimes did. I took him outside and he just didn’t look right. My wife was on the phone, but I had her come right down. She took one look at it immediately suspected it was torsion. This is a life threatening situation and we immediately took him to Tufts Veterinary Clinic.

It was torsion. They made him comfortable and gave us the details should we elect surgery but, if he made it through the surgery, the recovery would be long and difficult. It didn’t seem right for him to have to suffer. We knew his time was coming, but this was rather sudden. The next day we looked at the photo that I posted on the first blog and realized just how far downhill he had come in three months. That helped us confirm that we made the right decision.

This is Chip in his younger days. If you look into his eyes, you might see a reflection of the dog biscuit I’m holding.