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, July 31, 2009

Being driven slowly mad...

Electrical, check.
Fire department, check.
Board of health, check.
Department of environmental protection, check.
Building inspector, we're working on last fixes.
Highway department, we're working on last thing.
Plumbing: Because we have a new-fangled heating system (standing well open loop geothermal heat pump with shared water source), everyone wants someone else to say it's okay. Plumbing inspector thinks it's okay if the State plumbing board says it's okay, State plumbing board says it's okay if the inspector thinks it's okay, board of health says it's okay if the state says it's okay, state says it's okay if the plumbing inspector says it's okay, everyone's passing the buck back and forth, and my occupancy permit awaits.
Monday, I will speak with the plumbing inspector again. In essence, the plumbing board inspector told me this morning that if it looks okay to him, it was okay with them. I may just have to sign a paper promising not to sue anyone. And people wonder why illegal systems exist.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

So you want to build a house in Massachusetts.

The following are the final permissions I need prior to living at the house:
1. Electrical
2. Plumbing
3. Highway department (paved driveway apron and connection to town road)
4. Board of health (potable water, proper septic)
5. Mass Department of Environmental Protection (geothermal system, acquifer protection)
6. Fire department (smoke & CO alarms)
7. Building department (general code for house, etc.)

Mrs. Hamm told me that when she and her husband built her house, they could live there while still building. Now, I need someone to tell me my stove is safe before I can live in my own home. Go figure.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What it looks like

Top, the green girls' shower room; then, the kitchen from the main room; then Chris D.'s staircase, then main room from the kitchen. The building inspector comes this afternoon. Hopefully after that, I'll be able to peel the stickers off the windows and start filling the house with junk. For those who live in an ideal world, no, I'm not painting it first--I'll be painting for the next ten years at least and I couldn't wait that long to move in.

For those of you that are concerned, however, I do have two painted bathrooms. We matched my mom's Mexican sink to the colors in the green bath with orange floor, although I'm not sure you can tell from this photo. I will post a materials list this weekend for those interested in the products we ended up with.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pushing toward finish

Got our electrical final on Friday. Have our plumbing final tomorrow. Put the last coat of finish on the downstairs floor this AM, and Jeff H. worked at getting the bannisters hooked up to the basement... last item for code, at least so we think. Now we need lab results from water testing, UIS number for geothermal from the state, and a little grading on the driveway. Then, we go for final.

Wave your crystals, burn your feathers, this is break week.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Demise of a mole

Eva and Grace found a dying mole and after he died, they buried him with this shingle grave stone. Flip says that RIP means Resting In Porch.

Pardon the blue tape around the floor line, we're still working on final finish on floors. The refrigerator went in today, and we're having problems with our (new) hot water heater, but isn't the tiny vanity in the guest bath sa-weet? Chris L. bravely continues his quest to plumbing finish.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On the blink. My camera. Replacing it. Today. Promise.

Sam is finishing the conversion of the bureau-to-vanity process, which isn't simple, certainly not on one of them. Chris Lombardo is doing the plumbing finish, and Pearl's seed is coming up around the lawn. Today has turned hot, which will help the seed burst up from rains of yesterday.

LEED notes: Although you do get LEED points for coatings like paint and varnish, the 1/2 point you get is not enough to make anyone bother who doesn't already care about off-gassing. However, there are several decent floor finishes with a lower VOC and some excellent, albeit rather pricey, paints (notably, Ben Moore's Aura).

The finish on my floor is about 2/3 done, with fun stuff like tripping over the stain tray and having poly holidays all over the place and knocking things downstairs. Oh well, as they say. I'll buff and screen and put down a new coat and it will be good as... new? One hopes.

The tile in the kitchen and bath is looking swell, and now we have a sink and dishwasher and will soon have a fridge as well. We have three working toilets. We have a washer and dryer. And if Sam survives today, we have almost finished the vanities. Chris Lombardo is willing to give the Chambers stove conversion a whirl, and we're going to attack that tomorrow, I think.

I took some time off to be with my girls today and get Madison a new pair of specs. After all, life does have to go on, house or no house.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Sorry I haven't been posting. What I have been doing is last minute tasks like screwing down and plugging squeaky floorboards, painting the bathrooms, filling nail holes, raking in grass seed, positioning sprinklers, filling out paperwork, getting the electrical finish done (which involves running out to the hardware a million times for forgotten things like closet flourescents) and falling, stupified, into bed. Today, Flip is sanding the floors, I am staining the upstairs floor to cover up it's true identity as the cheapest possible pine flooring, and hoping to get a couple of coats of finish on before the end of Monday. Tuesday starts plumbing finish.

Energy Star will give your electrician enough CFL bulbs to trick out your house if you get them the list, so (with our usual talent) we left this until last, which means we have a bunch of fixtures up with no bulbs. Anyway, we're getting close and if I can, I'll put up some pictures of the new floors Monday.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lawns and LEED

We are now at the stage where we need to plant grass seed not only for a lawn, but also for stabilization of certain areas of the property. After some research, Flip chose Pearl's Premium Ultra Low Maintenance Lawn Seed (see Pearl's Premium website). In essence, this grass, developed by Jackson Madnick, needs no fertilizer or chemicals, less water and a quarter of the mowing of other lawns. Although higher in initial cost, it should cost less to maintain and will require no outside fertilizers or frequent mowings.

Mr. Madnick's remark on pricing is "although Pearl's Premium is more expensive than some seed mixes, it uses all premium, more expensive seeds that are harder and slower to grow. However, it has a one week pay back in the cost of the seed from water, fertilizer and grass cutting prevented and dramatically saves water, time and money compared to other lawn seed mixes."

You should note that Pearl's gives you LEED points.

The following is a quotation from Mr. Madnick's website.

"From my research, it turns out that up to 80% of lawn care chemicals run off lawns, down the street, into the storm drain and ends up in the watershed or local ponds only to feed the invasive weeds. Use of pesticides and fertilizer in urban and suburban communities contributes significantly to contamination of our drinking water and other water supplies.

"What ends up in our homes effects children, animals and others: Lawn care chemicals and pesticides get carried indoors into homes on shoes, paws and air currents. Once inside, pesticides linger in carpets, dust, on toys and in the air we breathe. These chemicals normally break down out side over time with sun light. However, away from sunlight and water, pesticides persist for many months, resulting in longer exposure to these chemicals in doors.

"Chemical lawns are depleting our water supplies: Additionally, lawn care irrigation uses 3 to 5 times the amount of water compared to what is used during the winter. This is causing water shortages and the need for water bans and conservation to make up for the water greedy lawns require. This is due to the fact that many of the non-native lawn seeds from Europe or Kentucky, with very shallow roots are native to environments that are more humid. In New England, this means we need to water this type of seed more frequently. Chemical fertilizer makes it grow faster and be even more water hungry and labor intensive to need to cut more often."

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Some snaps

Chris has been building porch steps, not his favorite but boy is he good at it. Bottom, Eva's using the dozer since no one else can... the ground is too wet.

Drive-by update

Too busy to write much, but we're into electrical finish, making adjustments to things and running to the hardware, juggling children, making trips to the floor finish place, trimming boards, making quick fixes and in general, mayhem.

I'm just home for a sandwich and off I go again...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The quest to code

Continuing our efforts to code, Chris D. completed one set of exerior stairs today, wrapped the kitchen island and made two corbels. Flip plugged a ga-zillion nail holes, painted the ceiling in the mudroom, and sanded off the Ready-Patch on the windows. Erin put tile poop on the floor tiles in the mudroom, set a shoe-molding on the girls' shower, caulked windows, and cleaned the apartment. In fact, another busy day—but tomorrow, we take the day off and go to the Tall Ships which are still in Boston Harbor.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

It's not raining again... yet

Lloyd B., still in the mud, masterminded the Great Wall of Mellen Street. Now, perhaps he will no longer have to shovel dirt off the street before it hits the wetlands or Mr. Hamm's shed. Chris D., still in the stairway, finished making his final bannister adjustments. Finally, today we Finished the Flooring. This means that Jeff Heavner could make his final cuts, Eva could clean the porch, and Erin wished she had put the baseboard in afterward.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Nearing completion

Okay, just of floors. But it's a big benchmark, making us nearly ready for electrical and plumbing finish, lacking only a little in the pantry and laundry and Erin's office. Tomorrow will see the end of it. Tiling guys are coming on Tuesday, but Chris laid the Mexican tiles he had for the mudroom floor. The tile guys will do the shower and the kitchen counter, both of which need special sealing for water. We're cooking along, and if the weather ever clears we'll get to the grading and seeding. Flip found some slow growing, ecological grass seed which if it pans out, we'll tell you more about.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Yours truly cutting boards and laying flooring. We are two thirds done with the downstairs, and should finish up either tomorrow or Thursday. These boards are being laid in the pouring rain, which makes an interesting "twist" but we are managing. Flip decided it was time I made it on the blog.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Movin' on down

Flooring is complete upstairs. Now, we're moving into the den and main living area with the truly wide board pitch pine. These boards, some 16 feet in length, are quite heavy to manipulate and in this weather, susceptible to cupping and bending. After a month of rain, we couldn't wait for clear skies so we're taking our chances. So it's floor, floor, floor until the crack of 5. Our shoulders and backs hurt, our saw blades need replacing, and our tempers were frayed by 3:45 today, so we broke early and came on home... just in time for severe thundershowers. Again.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Flooring 101

Jeff Heavner and I have been flooring upstairs in spite of the weather and humidity. Today, Flip is flooring with Jeff as I am sidelined to our rental property, which I have to clean, and to the airport, where I need to take Madison for her trip to France. Flip is going to learn on the master bedroom, which should hone his skills for moving downstairs tomorrow.