Holliston LEED House

This is the story of a family who built the first LEED "green" house in Holliston, Massachusetts. We were trying to spend no more than it would take to build an ordinary house,and maybe even succeeded. The dust is still settling.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Shiver me timbers...

... and blow me down, looks like the douglas fir posts and beams have been cut. Ken at SCPB tells me they are going in for "prefitting and detail," whatever that means, and we're on schedule for 2/16. They may even show up a day or two early; who knows.

So in about two weeks, things get Really Exciting. Stay tuned!


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mexican lighting

My brother brought me back a bunch of sconces from Mexico this month. They have no wiring, but the cases are cool. So now I need to wire them for actual lights, something better done in the states anyway. He brought them home on the plane, and sent them to me from Santa Fe. Gotta love the rels, they really take care of me. To be clear, this picture shows the shop where he bought them, not the ones he bought.


Blondes, budgets, windows and doors

Flip tells me I should clarify the window debacle; I'm not totally a dork, just partially. When budgeting the windows: a) make sure you have final window specs (e.g., number and size of windows), b) make sure you understand that working with SIPs means a fatter exterior wall, which will entail extending the jambs, and c) include the exterior doors in your budget. "c" is where I fell down on the job, the other two were just learning curve issues. So yes, I'm occasionally brain dead, and no, not always and completely.

FYI, things you also want to remember when budgeting windows: screens for all of them, any funky hardware you are choosing that is not stock, and lastly, if any of them are right next to each other, in which case you want to order them milled in pairs or triples to ease installation.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Window pains

Okay, so now I have a problem. I under-budgeted the window cost (by a lot, about 35%) so I have to search my already tight budget, line by line, to find the money. Sad to say, I think it will be coming out of my hardwood flooring, but some miracle may happen to recoup it after I find a few more salvage materials. Windows are so very important to energy use and the durability of the home, I can't really skimp on that—or use salvage either. Decisions, decisions, and none of them looking like happy ones. Ouch, my wallet hurts.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sink about it.

Not everyone is as lucky as I am; my mom lives in Mexico and thus I have access to a place that makes the prettiest sinks I've ever seen for less money than an ugly one from HD. This one is a classic. When last I was visiting Mom, I went to Dolores Hidalgo and bought four (not knowing how many I might need), and they're all different—this one has the calla lilies on it, some of the others combine other colors.

Okay, not strictly New England, but when they're this pretty, who cares?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Masonry musings

I love to watch a great mason at work. There is something that is purely art about this particular building skill, and (for anyone who has ever tried to repoint their own bricks) it's like magic to watch someone with actual talent put bricks or stones together.

Lloyd is interviewing masons. We are trying to make a masonry fireplace that a) doesn't cause the heat to fly up the chimney, b) looks old fashioned but works new fashioned, and c) doesn't cost the moon. This is more tricky than you'd think. Not least, we'd like a two flue chimney so we can have a small fireplace on the east porch. It's one of our extravagances, like having two sinks in the girls' bathroom, that we would prefer not to lose to our always-tightening budget. So far, Lloyd has met one. He has another mason meeting tomorrow. Then, the decision will need to be made. And it will be hard for us, again, to make a choice that means someone won't get a job that they may need.

Friday, January 23, 2009


The girls and I are off to go skiing with some friends this weekend; the conditions are great and no one has a cold at this instant, so we're booking it. More on Monday.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Wishin, and a-hopin', and a-thinkin

A circa 1950 Chambers stove like this one has been located by my sister in the garage of a friend's brother-in-law, if you follow me, who is taking it out of his mother's house. In other words, first-owner, great condition antique gas stove that I would then have to bribe the plumber to adapt to propane. But torturing the team with the myriad wanderings of my taste is becoming a secret love of mine. Hope they agree. Hope I can get it at all, we're not sure at this point. But I'm a-hopin'...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Heated discussions

Lloyd and I were speaking of pumping in propane heat to the cellar area of the house in order to melt the frost at the basement ground level. Although it would allow us to set the lally columns to support the beamwork prior to the timber install, we run the risk of not melting it enough, or melting it unevenly. Lloyd would like to pour the floor, but also does not want additional settling and cracking once the ground melts in the spring.

In the end, we decided to stick with our temporary supports, with the backup being jacks if things look iffy during the erection of the timber frame. What we might save in time might be compromised in quality. And March will be here soon, with its potential thawing. We could only wish for April to come after February. Hmm.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

LEED update

Bottom line: If anyone tells you LEED is impossibly difficult and you should pay them lots of money to help, they lie. If they tell you it takes some care and planning but you can do it yourself, they tell the truth.

Conservation Services Group paid us a house call today (more like an apartment call), and we had a meeting about our checklists, durability issues, and target levels. CSG agrees we should shoot for a Silver rating, with an estimated point level of 70. Our checklist calls for some special planning, but most of the items are covered by careful ductwork and SIP design. the geothermal heat system helps. We will have to build a good quality fireplace (would have, anyway). We will need to provide ventilation for the house (had to, anyway). And we will need to measure some things, like amounts of waste on the project (with SIPs, minimal). But here you go: If you build with SIPs, chances are you can get certified. With a little effort, you can get silver. If you stretch for every point, you can reach gold. And if you're rolling in dough and can afford all those special things like salvage flooring and beamwork, you could probably reach platinum.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

7" and still snowing

Started snowing early this AM, and it's still coming... light and fluffy, and lots of it. Madis, Luna and I were out shoveling (Luna's not much help, having no thumbs, but she likes to bark and jump in the snow). The Honda seems to have a dead starter motor, so we'll be talking with Mike in the morning. Spent some time shoveling the paper off my desk, too.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Buttoned up

It's 4 degrees, snow is predicted for tomorrow, and the finished first floor deck is buttoned up and waiting for the next phase.

Lloyd, Flip, Will D'Arrigo (our LEED rater) and I will be getting together at the apartment on Tuesday morning to talk through next steps and planning for our LEED rating.

Meanwhile, the nation is celebrating an historic inauguration at the same time as honoring MLK.

And Flip, the girls and I just went to Ikea for the first time (but not the last). So many events in one small weekend.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

We're ready for timber

Day three at 9. Doug informed me when I brought the coffee that I'd better have the tarps ready by 11, so I ran to get another one, bigger and newer than the others. They're buttoning up the project and now, it's a waiting game.

Meeting with the LEED rater next week so we'll spend our time polishing the plans, getting our team sorted out and finalizing details for waste management, utility trenching, well drilling and the rest of the pie.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Kitchen revisited?

Well, Craigslist does it again. High-end kitchen showhouse sells off their display unit, 10 lowers, 13 uppers, maybe some new configuring (that's you, that's right), we're good to go. Now, where to put it for now. We're checking the VOC on the ply and some other details but at this price we can't say "maybe." So we did it.


9am, Day Two Decking

After consulting with Lloyd (second from right), the team begins to mount the undercarriage on the sills. By 9 am, the deck begins to take shape. The Paddock team is working fast; it's cold and we never know when there will be more weather to work around.

I am referring here to the first floor deck, of course, not a "deck" like you sit on with a G&T. This is the story that holds up the rest of the frame of the house.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sills among us

Installing sill plates today and yes, Will, there's cellulose sill seal under there. Note the third layer--Lloyd's gift to Flip as, at 6'4", he's going to have a near miss on the ceiling in the cellar. The extra plate is giving Flip an extra 1.75" so he can maybe walk without cracking his skull.

Flip always wanted a tall cellar, but thanks to ground water levels, he's not going to get one. But then again, he has a barn, so he won't complain too much. And the girls can still play ping pong until they outgrow us.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Five weeks and counting.

Here's our perimeter drain pipe (the little green thing). Isn't it sweet? Once the white pine seedlings grow up around it again, you won't even see it.

The word from South County is February 16 to start raising timber frame. That means we'll button up the decking, cover it and...wait. But we have some geothermal digging to do, and a few other items (like utility trenches and such). If you're in the neighborhood that (school vacation) week (drat it), bring your hot chocolate and watch it rise. It'll be fun...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

LEED and the process

In case you didn't figure this out from yesterday's rant, Flip and I have filed the final plans with the LEED rater (Conservation Services Group of Westborough, MA). Although we had planned to do this much earlier, the plans kept getting tweaked until now so they weren't "done." We filed with the HERS rater for an Energy Star rating a couple of weeks ago, and the preliminary report shows an as planned HERS rating of 53, a good 11 points under the high benchmark (this is a good thing). Moving though LEED, therefore, should be somewhat easier with ES under our belt.

For LEED neophytes, first thing to do is Get The Book. USGBC will send it to you (for a scant $125 or so), and if you have insomnia, it's a great solution. However, if you read it carefully, and plan for the items during design phase it will not be terribly hairy. It's easier for us as we are building with SIPs as it eliminates an inspection step. Planning should be done during site work. In New England, for instance, we need a radon abatement system preinstalled (which is good to do anyway in case you find you have radon later) during your foundation design.

If you have a LEED-anal-retentive on your team, please note that none of these agencies likes a nice, old fashioned fireplace. However, you can work around it by installing doors over the hearth, something I've never liked but will have to suck it up. Also, you do not have to do EVERYTHING in the book. Just the "mandatory" items and as many of the others as you can.

After months of reading and research, few changes had to be made to our design. Our target level is "silver," which is second out of four stages of LEED certification. With proper landscaping, we should easily reach that with current projected points at 71. More info will follow as we get further into the process.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Okay, here's the rant

Why does it make sense that we have to pay to get our "green" rating? What incentive is that for people to build right? I agree that the oversight group needs to get paid, but doesn't our country want people to build green? You'd think we'd get some tax credit or something for this, but no. We get a big zip. And, we get to pay extra for the privilege of building right, and not chump change, either. OK, I'm done now.

We're in the middle of a sleet and freezing rain weather pattern, so things are at a standstill. More tomorrow when I stop being mad at my country's stupid environmental management.

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Last picture of barn...

Okay, I promise, no more. At least until we have something to show on the house. New Year's week saw the final chapter of the barn except the cupola which will wait for the next crane appearance. Larter got the rest of the gravel in the house foundation so we'll be starting on the first floor deck tomorrow.

And yes, we did cover the cupola hole up so we're water tight.
Happy 2009 to all--hope it will be a good one. I for one am happy to leave 2008 behind.