Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Seeing Green

Because we built a LEED home – and because it’s a good idea – we made sure that we utilized environmentally sensitive landscaping. This includes things like drought tolerant plantings, reduced impervious cover and provisions for reduced water usage. We did look into a rainwater storage system, but in New England things get complex, expensive and require too much maintenance for the water saving potential.

Our first step was to hire a Landscape Architect. My Ornamental Horticulture class was from way back at the University of Florida so I was a little out of my league. We hired Andrew Garulay, who also works at Down Cape Engineering, the engineers who prepared our site plans. He had never designed a landscape for a LEED project, but had the knowledge to get us through the process.

His design primarily uses drought-tolerant native plant species. We have a limited area of lawn, which I kind of like, and the grass is a drought-tolerant fescue. The lawn is so small that I mow it with a newfangled Fiskars non-powered push mower in less than 15 minutes.

I figured I’d do the LEED calculations for the water-efficient irrigation system myself, but I have to laugh when I go back to the LEED Method for Calculating Reduction In Irrigation Demand formulas. I couldn’t even find some of the factors and rates they were looking for so I couldn’t complete the calculations if I wanted to. This method is so convoluted that I don’t think anyone ever uses it. Fortunately the USGBC has an easier alternate path for this credit.

Here’s what things looked like pre-landscape.

And, with the work of The Natural Landscape, here’s what it looked like the next day.
It was quite a transformation. I’m happy with the way it all turned out, but have to admit that at I did at times wonder if I would have been happier if we hadn’t restricted our choice of plantings. Maybe we could have created a more vibrant landscape. This is what it looked like at the end of April this year, just about one year after installation.

I was amazed, though, when I compared the photo above with this one from mid-June. In the span of a little more than a month, things really came to life.
Now we just need to get the weeds to take a break. The soil on Cape Cod is primarily sandy and well drained, and weeds seem to love the new loam and the drip irrigation. Just when we think they’re almost under control, new ones pop up to take their place.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Back in July we were driving through Osterville and saw some signs with arrows which said IHYD. Since there was water line replacement going on in the same area, we guessed it was part of that. We were wrong. Then, a week or two later, we saw some Lightnin Production trucks and trailers hauling through Osterville and out of curiosity followed them. When they passed the Wianno Golf Club, we figured it might be something golf related. Wrong again. Not long after that I saw that Adam Sandler was filming his new movie I Hate You Dad (which may be retitled Donny's Boy) on Seaview Avenue in Osterville. Now the IHYD signs made sense. They were filming around Boston and then at several locations on Cape Cod. This is a replica of the green monster that they built at a local middle school, complete with the Citgo sign.
I wanted to find out a little more about what was going on and discovered the I Hate You Dad extras Facebook page. They were still looking for extras, so I replied. I wasn't called for the wedding scene at the mansion on the ocean in Osterville, but did get a call for the beach scene in Dennis. This was my big break.

As an extra, one needs to call in the night before to get the details and location. I was in Central MA the night before and, during a torrential downpour, found that I had to be in Dennis at 6:30 AM. I figured we'd be hanging out at the beach in the pouring rain. It wasn't raining at 6:30 but the day did not look ideal. They bussed us the final half-mile to Chapin Beach and I was amazed at the size of the operation. We went through check-in and a wardrobe check and then they fed us breakfast. Then we went to the beach. I was expecting to see what's going on, but most of us really are background. After some filming, they moved us around a couple of times and, just when it looked like they were going to film right next to me, they changed their mind and sent most of the doubles to the food tent. I was one of the dozen or so herded back to the dunes to wait. They filmed while we were just out of eyesight and eventually sent us to the tent too. Then it was lunch time.

There is no shortage of food or lack of food variety on the set. It's amazing that more of the crew aren't overweight. I was also amazed at the quantity of people. I would guess there were well over 200 including cast, crew, support and extras.

After lunch, it was time for the traffic jam scene. Forty extras were bussed back to get their cars for the simulated Cape Cod traffic jam. Then we sat for six or seven hours. It wasn't so bad, though. Here's the Mustang they had 'stuck' in the sand.
That's Adam Sandler and Vanilla Ice - yes, that Vanilla_Ice. I thought he was through in the 80's. From what I see, he's having a bit of a resurgence. After seeing what they go through to hire extras, it seems like they could have just enlisted some of the spectators. This is one ugly condominium with an amazing view.
The beach photo doesn't really do the scene justice. Those are tide pools. When the tide goes out the pools and sandbar must go out for over 1000 feet.
When the tide came back in again, all of this disappeared.

Finally it seemed that they were ready for the final scene of the day. It looked like Sandler and Vanilla Ice abandoned their 'stuck' car and were walking up the street right by us. Except that when I looked over, it wasn't actually them.
Look close. It was their doubles. Vanilla's green outfit certainly is a classic, isn't it? 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Happy Earth Day

The LEED plaque came back from its trip around the country and was actually installed on April 23, a day late.

Greenplaque had me send it back to Wyoming to have the mounting work completed. Then, for some reason unknown to me, it was sent to Texas and then back to Massachusetts.

The UPS tracking is usually interesting. There are many intermediate stops, but it went from Centerville to Louisville, KY, to Denver and then to Laramie, Wyoming. From Laramie it was sent to Bryan, TX, probably via Louisville. I’m not sure what they did in Texas, but from there it went back through Louisville and back to us.
The mounting actually went pretty well. Normally the studs on the back of the plaque would be epoxied to the wall, but it turns out that I was able to bolt it through the wall. The mirror in the Powder Room covers the nuts on the inside, so it is more secure and also removable.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Nothing's Free

We finally received the LEED plaque. I thought it was complimentary, but it's not. Most LEED projects qualify for a LEED plaque, but not LEED for Homes.
Notice, though, that it's not mounted to the wall. Although it was supposed to come with mounting studs, it didn't, so we had to send it back to get the studs fitted. At first I thought it was my mistake, but it wasn't. Greenplaque also offers mounting hardware separately, but it's amazingly pricey. Their hardware starts at $125.00! They are made from 50% post-consumer recycled aluminum and extruded prior to machining to reduce waste according to the web site, but they're $125.00! That's nuts.

And here's what we hope to be doing this summer. We were so busy with the house last year that the kayaks never touched the water.
We bought a rack and wanted to see how ridiculous they look. It's kind of like kayaks with attached car. I wouldn't want to go cross country, but we don't have to go far. This Barnstable Ways to Water map shows all the places we can go without leaving town.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Paying Attention to the Details

It seems that people do a lot of walking in this area of Centerville.  One day, when we were outside, somone stopped and marvelled about how the house actually looks like the rendering.  Isn't that the way it's supposed to be?  Unfortunately, often it's not so.  With computers, CAD and 3d modelling, I would think it's easier to get it right, but that's not always the case.

I started the 3D design in SketchUpIt's a great computer modelling program.  It's quite helpful to look at a building beforehand in true 3D, and is invaluable in helping a client visualize their project.  This was my final 3D rendering.
I sent this file to Rosanne Minerva, who created this beautiful watercolor rendering for me.
Then I created CAD drawings showing exactly what the house was going to look like, along with details showing how it goes together.  This is one of them.
I like using CAD because, if I show a piece of trim and it's 7 1/4" wide, it's drawn exactly that width.  If I then decide that, proportionately, it should be larger or smaller, it's an easy change.  I place everything where I want it to be visually, then I deduct the thickness of the underlying materials and create a drawing with exact dimensions for the framer.  If everything goes right, the trim fits into place exactly where I wanted it.  At least that's the way it's supposed to work.  And this is how it all turned out.
If you look at the original 3D rendering, you'll notice that the background trees look suspiciously like the background in the real deal.  I was able to take a photo of these trees and stand it up behind the computer model.  Since I was the architect, the contractor and the owner, I could make sure most everything went in as planned.  The rendering shows a gnarly apple tree at the lower left that was unfortunately removed by the site contractor.  That I couldn't fix.

It doesn't always work quite this way.  This is Breezy Gardens, a farm stand/garden center that I designed.
I put some thought in trying to get the details and proportions right.  It was built mostly to plan, and the average person would see it as a nice barn-like building, but I can't help but see how it should have been.  Starting with the cupola, the windows were shrunk and some of the details modified.  The alpaca (they raise alpacas) weathervane may come at a later point.  Then, the front gable and trim was changed.  The angular projection is fine, but rather than having some thoughtful details, there's a stock rectangular louver.  There should have been a large window in the center, flanked by two smaller windows, but now they're all the same size.  And I've come to dislike pork chops and avoid them whenever I can.  I don't mean 'the other white meat', it's the porkchop shaped eave returns that I try to avoid.  It's a 20th century detail that has become nearly ubiquitous.
Finally, the entrance roof wasn't built with the open sloped ceiling.  This would have made the entrance just a little more dramatic, but the flat ceiling must have been easier to build.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


It's official.  We received notification last week that we've achieved LEED Gold certification from the USGBC

Next Tuesday (I'm not sure why we have to wait until Tuesday, but that's what the email says) I can order the complimentary plaque
from http://www.greenplaque.com/.  There's no such thing as a free lunch, though.

It was a long and rather arduous task.  Part of it was the learning curve, since it was my first LEED project.  The LEED for Homes Rating System handbook and errata are rather lengthy.  We nicknamed the handbook the LEED for Homes bible and read it often.  Passages like "A project receiving points for EA 1 is not eligible for this credit, and vice versa. A project pursuing this credit must follow the prescriptive pathway and all of the associated prerequisites in EA 2-10. Prerequisite EA 1.1 should be skipped. See the pathway schematic at the beginning of the EA section." and errata like "Clarification: If a project earns points in SS 2.5, additional points for irrigation system improvements may only be earned in WE 2.3. No points may be earned in WE 2.1 or WE 2.2." meant that we had to go back to the handbook often.  We even printed out Table 24
extra large, had it laminated and carried it with us since so much hinges on this list.  8 1/2" x 11" just isn't big enough for this much info.

Here's a brief overview of the LEED for Homes rating system from earlier in the blog.

After adjustment for our house size, 50 points were required for LEED Certified, 65 points for Silver, 80 points for Gold and 95 points for Platinum.  We earned 84.5 points, which puts the house well into the Gold category.  We could only build a two bedroom house on this site due to zoning constraints, yet we wanted to have a house large enough to accommodate guests when needed.  If we were able to build three bedrooms, we would have gained about 9 points.  With just a little more work, Platinum would have been achievable.

The LEED process was difficult but beneficial in many ways.  Although I would have built an energy efficient house no matter what, the LEED process did encourage things like the use of local materials, renewable resources and drought tolerant landscaping.  For instance, I bought my interior trim from a local mill, made from local trees, and my custom woodwork cost less than stock mouldings at the local lumberyard.  We have a small yard and hardier plants, which mean less water use and less maintenance.  Most of the provisions make ultimate sense.

The process does have its share of provisions which sometimes left me scratching my head, though.  For instance, there's a complex calculation for irrigation demand reduction.
Although it's rather involved, I figured that I could just set up a spreadsheet and calculate things.  I never could find out where to get some of the factors used in the calculation, though.  After asking my LEED provider, it turns out that virtually no one uses this calculation.  It's so complicated that, in their experience, everyone uses an alternate path for this credit.  And when I was figuring out how to document the Framing Waste Order Factor, I found this article titled Green Building Programs Got Some 'Splainin to Do, Why do most programs have to be so complicated?  It's good that green homes programs are increasing awareness and raising the bar but, after going through the process, I can understand how the complexities can be a little daunting.

Monday, January 24, 2011

"Security" Cameras

They're really more of an amusement device - although it's nice to keep an eye on things too.  We caught the turkeys at the back door just before Thanksgiving, and now we've had another feathered visitor.
This guy was down on the ground and just flew right up to the camera.  Here's the first video.

We thought it was a one time deal until he came back about a week later.  This last video is almost like the first.  He was down on the ground and suddenly decided to go back up and check things out.

We had been waiting for the Conservation Commission agent to come back out for the final inspection.  This, of course, was caught on camera too.  About 30 minutes after he left, the snow on the PV solar panels let loose all at once.

Then last Saturday night there was a big procession out front.  Just after dark, there were three police cars with their lights flashing but no sirens, followed by a black sedan, a black van and then a bus, followed by another police car.  It turns out it was Sargent Shriver's burial procession.  His funeral was in Maryland earlier in the day and he's buried in St. Francis Xavier Cemetery, which is just up the street.  Here's the link.

Added 1/26/2011:
I believe that our mystery bird is a black capped chickadee.  However, we've had a new visitor.
This one has talons.
We'll need to see a little more of him to figure out what he is.