Wednesday, December 22, 2010

White Christmas

It seems that the rest of the world has been inundated by snow, but not us.  Sunday night that changed.
A storm largely out at sea gave Cape Cod eight to twelve inches of white stuff.
The light strings were even, but the weight of the snow stretched them out.
It all looked very picturesque - until I had to shovel the stuff.  Shell driveways are a pain.  There's no way to scrape them without depositing the shells elsewhere.

I wish the snow had come a week earlier.  For two years in a row it rained at the annual Christmas Stroll.  This year, though, it was cancelled due to high winds and heavy rain.


Monday, December 13, 2010

LED Christmas

From the start I had decided to have the house wired for Christmas window candles.  Although I wanted to be able to flip one switch and have them all come on, some of them are in bathrooms and are on a GFI circuit so it takes two switches.  I bought the LED bulbs last year but things weren't far enough along to use them until this year.
I am surprised that C6 LED bulbs aren't more available.  They are readily available online, but I have not yet found them locally.  The LED's don't put out quite as much light, but they run much cooler and use maybe 1/10 of the electricity.  They didn't even measure 1 watt each on my Kill A Watt.  You certainly don't need to worry about singeing the window shades.

This year I ran the LED light strings around the porch and deck, but next year I'll probably get more energetic and run them up the gables and across the front of the house.

Our tree is from Balsam Hill.  Although artificial, it's quite realistic.
The LED lights look just like the incandescent mini Christmas lights.  The outer branches are moulded to resemble an actual tree and the inside of the tree is the cheaper twisted plastic strip branches.  If you look closely at the enlarged photo you can see them, but they're not very apparent.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


When we built our first house many years ago, I chose most of the the lights in one afternoon.  Cost was a primary concern and, as it turns out, we've slowly replaced those fixtures over the years.  This time these are carefully chosen and permanent.

I have to note that most people will look at the photos - and there are a lot of them - in this blog entry but only scan the words.

Most of the lights are from Hubbardton Forge.  You can see our road trip to their factory in Vermont, along with our visit to Handmade in Vermont, where we bought most of our fixtures.  Like most of our lights, the front porch light is simple with a few subtle flourishes.
It has the opaque mahogany finish which matches the finish on this one (below), which was a returned item from Handmade in Vermont that we bought for 75% off of list price.
All of the interior lights from Hubbardton Forge have kind of a similar theme, although there are several different styles.  It was a splurge, but they look great.  Most of them have compact fluorescent bulbs.  A few of them, like the Powder Room fixture in the background here, are too small for a CF bulb and have halogen bulbs instead.
The Dining Room light is a Mackintosh style fixture.  The Kitchen downlights are compact fluorescent, although I have mixed feelings about recessed downlights.  They're unobtrusive, but the light is fairly directional and they are relatively inefficient fixtures, but at least they have the efficient CF bulbs.  Sometimes, though, downlights are just the right thing because they are so unobtrusive.  The under cabinet lights are LED.  They're very efficient, long lasting and run cool so that the bottom shelf in the cabinets doesn't heat up.  The pendant lights have kind of a funny story behind them.  We looked at so many pendant lights and wanted to get just the right thing.  The really nice ones have imported hand-blown glass, but can be a little expensive and we couldn't find just the right color.  Then I found McDermott Glass Studio in Sandwich.  We could buy a cheap generic pendant from Lowes, minus the shade, and McDermott can make a custom glass shade for about the price of some of the imported ones.  We haven't gotten around to doing that yet, but we found some really cheap discontinued orange shades at Lowes and put those in for now.  They actually look pretty decent.

The Hall fixture is similar to the main Living Room fixture and the Foyer light.

The one in the corner of the Living Room is one of the new designs from Hubbardton Forge and looks pretty cool at night.  It's kind of a glowing column of light.
These are not my first choice for spotlights, but the price was right.  They're a little too close to the ceiling so they do project light onto the beam.
I really liked the Tech Lighting Sprocket fixture, but they are surprisingly pricey for such a simple little fixture, especially when three are needed.  They also have a neat little heat resistant flight paper shade available.  The cheapies do the job, though.
This is the CF fixture from Home Depot that we used in a number of places like Closets, the Laundry Room and at the back door.
We had a hard time finding energy star ceiling fans that don't look like they're from the Victorian era.  This one is from the Period Arts Fan Company which is an offshoot of The Modern Fan Company.  The wall sconces are dimmable, although my wife has a compact fluorescent bulb on the left and I have an incandescent bulb on the right.  Even with dimmable CF bulbs, they get down to about 50% and then shut down.  The IKEA furniture works pretty well in the room.  For some reason they've discontinued the Tingvoll bed frame.  Some of IKEA's styles can be a little strange, but this one's a classic.
And here's our Master Bath vanity.  The pendant shades are just cheapies from Lowes, but they work.  I like pendants because they cast light in all directions.  The vanity and medicine cabinet arrangement works quite well.  We each have a medicine cabinet for personal stuff and then have drawers in the middle for the common things.  The hard-wired hair dryer is quite convenient too.  I was looking for something a little more modern, but this is about all there is for hard-wired dryers.
The bath fan/lights are also energy star rated.  This one is from Panasonic.  The more common NuTone and Broan fans just don't last so long.  The walls are Benjamin Grey Limestone, which has neat little fossils in it.  The roll-in shower was a bit of a challenge, but I build the receptor myself.  This type of thing is usually done with a thick mud job shower pan, but I didn't have enough height.  The floor joist are recessed 1" and I built this out of wood and cement board and used a Kerdi drain and membrane system.
The fixture over the stairs is another one that was a Hand Made in Vermont return that they sold for 75% off.  It actually went from Vermont to Anchorage and back.
The pendant in the background is another returned fixture, but I had to have the stem cut down.  The alcove at the dormer is a nice little space.
These are the most efficient ceiling fans I've ever seen.  They are Emerson Midway Eco fans and can put out 289 CFM per watt, which is a big difference.  They have aerodynamic airfoil blades and a big efficient motor.
This is not a Hubbardton Forge light, but I thought I'd show our towel hook arrangement in the Guest Bathroom.  We have nine hooks and nine towel/washcloth sets, each in a different color.  This may be a few more than we need, but it works well.
And finally this is the fan/light from Minka Aire in the guest Bedroom.  This room is a big one and is set up with a queen size bed and a trundle bed which can be made into two single beds or popped up to make a king size bed.
We still have little decorating to do, but that will come in due time.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thanksgiving visitor

We have our first Thanksgiving visitor.  We've seen some flocks of big turkeys around and hear them occasionally, but this one kept checking out the back door.
Take a look at the times.  He's a repeat visitor.
You can't tell from the perspective, but he's looking straight at the door.
According to the state, the last native turkey in Massachusetts met it's demise in 1851.  After several unsuccessful attempts to re-introduce them, in 1972-1973 thirty-seven wild turkeys were successfully introduced, starting a movement.  Now there are an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 wild turkeys in the state.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


The camera system is up and running.
Like most things with this house, though, it was a bit of a process to get to this point.

We knew we wanted some sort of home automation and monitoring.  Down the street in Osterville we discovered Savant Systems.  They can do exactly what we want and much more.  Savant president Jim Carroll demonstrated some of the amazing systems they can put together.  I was quite impressed, but they're much more high end than what we were looking for.

We did the typical web searches and ended up looking at what Smarthome has to offer.  They have many DIY systems and the Z-Wave system looked quite compelling.  Many different manufacturers make compatible components such as controls for security, alarm, lighting, doors, HVAC and such, with more being added all the time.

Even though Z-Wave is relatively user friendly, I tried to find someone who could help us with an installation and get us over the learning curve.  No luck there, though.  We ended up buying the Vera 2 controller from Smarthome, along with one camera.  Since I wasn't familiar with any of this, I perused their web site, called to get some information, then reviewed the products on their site and then finally placed an order with their guidance.  We sat down to start installing things and I have to say I was a little stumped when I finally looked at the camera output and the Vera input.  I didn't see any way to connect them together.  The Vera online installation info was no help, other than saying that if you buy an IP camera from them it will be configured to work with the Vera.  This was just a conventional camera, though.

I called Smarthome back and they told me something that the other advisors failed to mention.  I would need a networkable DVR.  After looking at the DVR, hard drive, additional cameras and accessories I would need to buy, it seemed that a complete security camera system with DVR would be more prudent.
I settled on a four camera system from SVAT.  It comes with a DVR with 500 GB of memory, cameras, adapters, cables and all.  It is viewable from the internet and smart phones, and they have free 24/7 lifetime tech support.  It is motion sensing and can be set to record only when it senses motion withing defined areas.  At less than $400, I thought it was a good deal.  It comes with bullet cameras and I still needed the dome camera I had bought from Smarthome, so at least that wasn't a loss.

I had installed smurf tube so that, in theory, running the wiring would be easy.  I had trouble getting my electrician's snake through some of the bends so I thought I'd try the vacuum cleaner instead.  I wrapped a bit of tape on the end of a piece of twine, stuck it in the smurf tube and hooked the vacuum to the other end.  I thought it was a long shot, but it worked like a charm.  Then I couldn't find the end of a smurf tube that I knew I had installed.  I looked through the photos I had taken during construction but unfortunately none of them showed it.  I had a real good idea where it should be though and spent some quality time in the basement digging through insulation and finally found it.

I hooked the cameras to the DVR and started recording.  That was easy.  Connecting to our network was a bit more difficult, though.  SVAT tried to help us get it going without success.  Although we have Windows computers, we have an Apple router.  After tech support calls to Apple, Comcast and the modem manufacturer, I tried some things and then called SVAT back.  Like many computer problems, there are so many pieces to the puzzle and no one person has the answer.  We finally discovered the problem and let SVAT know the answer.  It sure wasn't easy to get to the bottom of things.

Many of the DVR camera systems have black cameras, but this system has silver cameras which work better on a house with white trim.  We have two noticeable cameras and two which aren't so apparent, which is a good combination.  From a distance they're not so noticeable.
  But they're more apparent up close.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

HERS rating

It's probably not what you think.  HERS is the acronym for Home Energy Rating System.  We scored 45.  That doesn't sound so good, but we were quite happy with it.
A score of 100 means that a home meets the requirement of the energy code.  Every one point decrease represents a one percent decrease in projected energy usage. Our score of 45 indicates that we are projected to use 55% less energy than a baseline house designed to meet the 2006 IECC energy code.

The HERS rating takes into account many factors including insulation levels, HVAC equipment efficiency, window efficiency, the blower door test and water heater efficiency.  This is not a superinsulated house and we didn't take extreme measures.  The house, though, is well insulated and the HVAC equipment is efficient, but we couldn't even use the some of the new highly efficient windows because we had to use impact resistant windows.  We did have an ace in the hole, though.
The PV solar system provides about half of our electricity.  I don't know how much this adds, but seemed to really help with the HERS rating.  The HERS rating also factors into our final LEED rating.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Blower Door Test

Yesterday Building Diagnostics performed the blower door test.
This test measures the air leakage of the house.  At 50 pascals the leakage was 658 cubic feet per minute.  That sounds like a lot, but it's really pretty good.  The total house volume, including basement and attic, is about 23,000 cubic feet, which translates into about 1.7 air changes per hour (ACH).  According to the "blower door test" link above, less than 5 ACH is tight, 5 to 10 ACH is moderate and more than that is leaky.
I wanted to see how much the heat recovery ventilator (HRV) added to this number.  The HRV has two 6" diameter ducts, one intake and one exhaust, going through the outside wall.  I took a piece of newspaper and put it up to the intake.  The air going in the HRV intake hood held the paper in place.  The CFM reading went down by about 10 percent just from this.  I would guess that, if the opening was sealed, there would be about 15 to 20 percent less infiltration.  However, the purpose of the HRV is to allow ventilation.  About 75 percent of the energy which would otherwise be lost can be recovered when it passes through the HRV.

When I took the photo above, I had the camera angled down, which skewed the perspective.  I decided to fix that, which is pretty easy with photo editing software.
The mat inset into the tile and the bench both factor into the final LEED rating.  It is recommended that dirt and contaminants be contained rather than tracked into the house.  The purpose of the walk-off mat is obvious.  The bench is a spot to sit down and remove your shoes.

Building Diagnostics will take the infiltration information, along with other information regarding insulation levels, HVAC equipment efficiencies and other factors including the capacity of the photovoltaic solar system and will use this to calculate a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score.  This score indicates how much energy this house uses compared to a code minimum house.  Then that number will be translated into a point score that will factor into the final LEED score.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day plus one year

One year ago we had a foundation.  If we knew how much work this would be, we might not have done it.  We've spent many weekends working on the house and often quietly wished for bad weather so we wouldn't mind the fact that we were inside working.  The weather this summer has been, generally, quite nice.  Then came Earl.
Earl veered out to sea further than expected and the wind wasn't so great, but about 4" of rain fell overnight.  Our basement is only about 14' above sea level, but flooding isn't an issue.  There was a very large puddle down the hill and a bit of wash-out, but otherwise it was pretty benign for a hurricane.  It did really effect businesses, though.  Labor day is kind of the last hurrah on Cape Cod, and many people left early or came late because of the potential threat.


Most people don't give much thought to window screens, but we never do things the easy way.  We have simulated divided lights (SDL's) and I hate to see them obscured by screens.  This is what I would like things to look like.
Some of the windows don't have screens, like this one which is over an opening in the Living Room and out of reach.  However, this is what the front of the house currently looks like with screens.
Most of the windows and this side of the house have half-screens.  This way the top of the window is unobstructed and the depth and shadow lines of the SDL's show through.
The view from inside is a bit better without upper screens too, although the half-screens disable the upper sash, so the double-hung windows are more like single-hung windows.  The top-down/bottom-up shades allow us privacy from the street and a view at the same time.  I like how even the little screens for the awning windows have the same lawyerly warning label.
This is a TruScene screen, which is about 50 percent more transparent than a traditional screen.  They are quite a bit more expensive, though, so we used them judiciously. 

The half-screens do require an adapter and stick out further than the upper sash.  I was worried about how they would look because of this, but it's not too bad.
We have full screens on the side and rear of the house.
You can see how they obscure the SDL's.  Also, the full screens are white and the half-screens are Cinnamon Toast color.  I was concerned that the white divider bar at the center of the screens would look out of place, but the screens do obscure this somewhat.

We really love the casement window in the Kitchen.
The sashes look like the double-hung windows but open WIDE.
The window goes all the way down to counter height and really lets the outside in.  The window opening was mis-framed and is off by about an inch from where it should have been.

I installed the tile over a month ago, but have not yet grouted it.  It looks great and will look even better when it's finished.  There are many little jobs like this left, though.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Old Home Week

August 8 through 15 was Centerville's 106th Old Home Week.  Activities included a concert, presentations, a road race and an ice cream social for the kids.  The Main Street walking tour provided an interesting introduction to some of Centerville's history and architecture, including some unexpected surprises.  There were numerous Crosby family houses on Main Street and the James Crosby house started out in the Greek Revival style, was totally transformed into a Queen Anne style house
about 20 years later to match The Howard Marston house (now the Fernbrook Inn) across the street, and then expanded and completely reconfigured
about 25 years later in the Colonial Revival style.  If you look at the three windows on the left side of the second floor you can see the little bit that remained.  The turret, porch and detailing were all removed.

That night there was a bonfire and concert on the beach
and the modern version of the pied piper.
Although not a part of Old Home Week, on Sunday we took a shellfishing class,
caught a mess of quahogs and enjoyed them that evening.

Now, back to the house-
We were able to fit a small Powder Room on the First Floor.  This is the Toto dual flush toilet.
The room is so small that we were worried about the space that the towel bar and tp holder take up.  They do fit but just barely.
The corner pedestal sink is from Porcher.  It was supposed to get the more rounded Grohe Eurodisc faucet, but the more angular Grohe Essence faucet that you see here wouldn't fit in the upstairs vanity.  For some reason the vanity was built 20" deep rather than the more typical 21" to 22".  There wasn't enough room for the pop-up for the drain so we had to swap them.

We searched for a mirror and finally found just the right one on Craigslist.  It looks great and it was only $10.