Sunday, October 26, 2008

Inside BHB on a fall afternoon

A Beautiful Day

Fall Arrives

There is the most beautiful view from our house. Especially during the fall. I am so grateful for this aspect of our new home.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The long view: Future of BHB Blog

Faithful readers: as you have noticed, there hasn't been a lot of activity here these past months. I guess that's because there just isn't THAT MUCH going on. BHB Blog will remain here though, as a resource and as an easy place to direct people interested in learning more about this crazy project. I will be updating it periodically with new pics, vids, and posts. Feel free to direct friends, family and otherwise interested parties here. For new visitors, please feel free to roam, taking in the photos, videos, and posts written by me over the past two plus years. I do still read all comments, so do post them if the spirit moves you. Thanks for visiting!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Renovation Nation UPDATE

If you tuned in Tuesday at 6:00 (like we did) you noticed that our segment did not air. The producers called us that evening and gave us a new air time: this Friday Sept. 26 at 9:00. The show will be rebroadcast a total of 7 times I think over the next day or two. I know that it is also airing Sat. at 4:00. Hope some of you can catch it!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Renovation Nation Segment to Air Tues.

The segment taped this past June at BHB will air this week on the Planet Green Network. I got a call Friday afternoon from the production company responsible for the segment and was told that it would air Tuesday Sept. 23 at 6:00 pm. Check you local listings to confirm that time. We don't have cable so we are hoping to crash at a neighbor's house. Grab your popcorn!

Get the full story here and here.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Mr. Mom does house-work

So, those of you who know me you know that, as a teacher, during the summer months I "don't work". Those of you who REALLY know me and have a handful of your own kids know how silly this idea of "not working" is. (Try telling my wife that she "doesn't work" during the school year. Stand back a bit before you do...) Anyway, since my wife is working pretty much full time during this summer in an on going effort to release ourselves from debt I have been working pretty much full time as Mr. Mom.

Anyway, suffice it to say that I have not had a lot of time to work on the house these past months. Back in June, when I was trying to make the transition from the school year routine to the summer one, this realization hit me hard. Let's just say every summer I gain a new appreciation for the work my wife - and all stay at home moms (God bless ya!) - do all year long. Transition usually takes a couple of weeks and then I'm fine (mostly). Despite the more full time nature of our jobs this summer, I did manage to get some work done on the house last week. My newly-revised goal for "finishing" BHB included really finishing the upstairs by the end of the summer...or, failing in that, by the end of the year ;-)

This is a little hard to photograph, apologies. If you have been reading this blog for a while you know that I have been working hard at cutting the old barn board and fitting it in over the exposed SIPs panels (see previous posts). I recently finished (mostly) with the upstairs except for around the long windows on the south side.

The job I finished this past week was putting barn board trim around these windows and then building a long sill along the bottom. I built the sill out of left over 1 x 4 mahogany decking.

After building the sills and finishing the trim, I put the first couple of coats of sealer on them. Looks great.

It's funny how relatively small jobs, upon completion, produce a disproportionately great sense of gratification. I guess the exposed OSB, un-trimmed windows, and protruding tufts of insulation were really bugging me...Anyway, I am happy with how this has turned out and it definitely adds to the feel of completion upstairs.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How to have a "green" green lawn

So, the secret to an environmentally friendly, low-impact lawn is this: PRAY FOR RAIN! LOTS AND LOTS OF RAIN! Basically we watered for the first two or three weeks after the seed went down, we've fertilized once, and the good Lord provided all the rest. We lucked out having such a wet summer. We'll have some work to do this fall re-seeding patches that have come in spotty, but all in all I am pleased with the results.

Honestly, I really don't WANT a least not this much of it. I have a million ideas for how to reduce the amount of water-sucking (and weed-attracting) grass, but all of them COST money (which is somewhat in short supply at this time) so they have been relegated to the great To-Do list reserved for Someday.

Having said that, I am pleased with how this has turned out. The kids are thrilled to finally be able to walk on the grass and have a place to play near to the house. Walking around the house this evening, freshened up after mowing, beer in hand, sun's late-day golden rays tinging the treetops felt down-right kingly. Summer's grand. Life is good. Amen.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dog Days/Dog Nights

Sorry for the pause in the posting this summer. Here are some of the most recent shots of the house. Getting the "shop" set up in the basement was the necessary first step before I could proceed with the project that remains my albatross: getting the old barn siding cut and fitted over the inside of the SIPs panels. More pics of this to come.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Kid-Friendly House

Something about Steve Thomas' visit to BHB has been nagging me. During those hot, sweaty 5-6 hours of taping the segment, Steve kept remarking how "kid-friendly" the house was. Each time we'd show him a new aspect of the house he'd say something like The kids must love this! or You've created such a kid-friendly house! In fact, that phrase "kid-friendly" was uttered so often I began to fear that the overall impression Steve had gotten of the house was that of one, giant play structure.

Why does this bug me? I mean, the house IS *ahem*, kid-friendly. I think it bugs me because I don't feel he quite "got" BHB. I mean, I think he appreciated the barn frame and the craftsmanship of the original frame-wrights, and I think he liked aspects of the space we have created, but the "kid-friendly" moniker strikes me as being the best he could come up with as far as a compliment. Maybe that's unfair (if you're reading this Steve, apologies!)

You see, we didn't design the house for the kids. Yes, they were taken into consideration (of course). But the overarching inspiration for this home was a vision, a vision founded on and driven by a number of deeply held principles and philosophies about homes, design, space, materials, etc. This house came into being primarily because I had to bring to fruition my own yearning to create a space to inhabit that reflected who I am, what I believe, and how I want to live. I'll be the first to admit that the house is flawed in the realization of these yearnings - what house isn't? - but I am proud of what it is and what it speaks to everyone who passes by on the street and slows down to look and everyone who comes through the front door. I guess I hope that people will take it seriously - not in a joyless or purely academic way - but recognizing the intent (or trying to) and making an effort to listen to what it "says". To reduce it to "kid-friendly" just seems to miss the boat. I can hear skeptics saying, "You're asking too much of people". Maybe I am. Maybe I am. Maybe I shouldn't care whether people get it or not. In the words of Mr. Plumbean ,

“My house is me and I am it. My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams.”

Monday, June 16, 2008

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Summer's Comin'

Keeping Cool & Green (at the same time)

Keeping cool this past weekend was a challenge. It was miserably hot: 80 degrees at 7:00 am and near 100 by the late afternoon. We had been anxiously awaiting the hot weather to see how BHB would fare in terms of comfort and natural cooling/insulating. Well, so much for keeping cool. We suffered like anyone else. Upstairs was very hot, downstairs less so, but still uncomfortable.

My theory runs like this: the first really hot day (Saturday last) we made the mistake of throwing open all the windows (and doors) in the house, which had the effect of HEATING the inside, not cooling it. I know, I know. You're supposed to close down the house to trap the cool of the night. But it was summer, and we were excited to OPEN the windows not close them! So much for THAT idea.

Anyway, my theory is that once we had permitted the house to heat up like an oven, the fact that it is so well insulated (SIPs work!) meant that BHB stayed hot long after other homes would have cooled down. Basically, the temperature remained a constant, which in theory is GOOD, except for the fact that it remained a constant 80-90 degrees, day and night.

Next time, we close the windows and keep them closed all day.

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and I may have stumbled on a cheap, environmentally-friendly way to manage the heat in BHB. During the heat wave I kept thinking of reasons to go down into the basement because it was so cool down there (downright chilly, as a matter of fact!) Naturally, I began thinking of ways to get that cool air upstairs into our bedrooms. So I bought a powerful fan and set it up at the bottom of the basement stairs, aimed it up the stairs, fired it up and left the basement door slightly ajar at just the right angle to deflect the current into the long hallway that bisects the ground floor of the house. I closed all the windows, dropped the blinds, and waited.

I kid you not, within the hours, the temperature downstairs had dropped into the comfortable 70s, and by bedtime, the entire downstairs was quite livable. Now, this sounds like a "no duh" moment. But then I got thinking, Why don't people harness the natural cooling of their basement this way more often? Of course AC is easier (and more effective). But it costs a ton (I should know, we had central air at our last place) and is lousy for the environment. We are pretty determined to avoid installing AC, so here's my tentative plan:

Free Air Conditioning the Green Way
I think we might call this Base-C (basement AC). In theory, I should be able to open a small vent hole in the floors of each bedroom (one per room), perhaps 4" in diameter, and insert a length of pipe that drops down 6"-12" into the basement. Then, at the bottom of each pipe I would attach a small fan. Each fan could be wired together to a switch, perhaps even to a thermostat upstairs. Then, when the switch was thrown, the fans would blow cool air from the basement up into each bedroom. Provided the windows and blinds were closed, I imagine this method would cool the bedrooms quite efficiently. The key would be to find fans that were quiet and energy-efficient (and affordable!) When Steve Thomas was here filming on Tuesday, we discussed this and he suggested that we might even be able to duct it all the way to the second floor as well. So, with his stamp of approval, I am even more determined to explore this further. Keep you posted.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Steve Thomas Visits BHB

So, we've been having this horrible stretch of 95-100 degree days here in the greater Boston area. It's been just miserable. In the midst of this we hosted two open houses (one for neighbors long wondering what on EARTH was going on at #11, and the other for folks from work) as well as the film crew from the Discovery Channel's new show "Renovation Nation", hosted by Steve Thomas.

The day began at 6:00am (yes, it was already hot - 80 degrees) since we had to have the kids up, dressed, and fed by the time the crew was scheduled to arrive at 7:30. As it turned out, we all had to change our clothes once they got there due to the fact that two of the kids had brand logos on their t-shirts, I had a t-shirt that had what LOOKED like a brand logo, and Susi's tank top wouldn't easily conceal the body mic she needed to wear. (Actually, she was allowed to keep the tank top in the end , but I think the guy who rigged the mic had fun getting it situated JUST right. Hmmm....) Anyway, we got all set and were told that Steve would be arriving at the front door in a minute. We waited. Presently there came the sound of heavy footsteps up the front stairs, and then Steve appeared at the door, knocked, I opened, shook his hand, said hi, and invited him into BHB. Then we did it again at least three times. (I think one of the re-takes was due to Caleb making fake belching noises and jumping up and waving into the camera lens. Hmmm....) Eventually Steve had all the kids imitating their favorite barn animals; for the denuoement he had them all hopping around on the floor like frogs. This is going to be quality TV action. Be sure not to miss the episode.

Oh, and I forgot the guns. In classic Asher and Caleb fashion, while my back was turned and as Steve was walking up the stairs, these two had grabbed their cap guns and rushed out caps blazing to hold off the assault of the evil camera crew villains. The cap smoke was thick in the air when I rushed in to avert disaster. Steve was pretty amused. Probably will make the out-takes. As I was disarming my eldest son, in frustration he lamented to me: "Dad, I thought this was going to be a COOL tv show!" Hmmm...

As we made our way through the house over the course of the next five (yes FIVE) sweaty hours, there were a number of great moments. Steve Thomas was charming - funny, good with the kids, open-minded about our project, encouraging. He seemed to genuinely like what we had done and had much to offer by way of advice. Anyway, some of the other highlights included:
- Susi, Steve and I crawling into the girl's bedroom loft (which is only about three or four feet tall), cameraman outside the tiny "hatch door" that connects the girls' loft with the boys', and laughing about how much the plasterers must have hated doing that this space.
- Steve, after asking whether the netting in the boys' loft would hold their weight, FULLY leaning back into the netting and putting three times as much stress on all the little screws I had fixed it to the studs; I held my breath the whole time and tried not to imagine the host of the show plummeting to the floor below.
- The basement detour. Oh my GOSH he HAD to go down there! I had promised to Susi that there was NO WAY they would go into the basement. Who wants to see the basement? Steve says, "What's behind this door?" I say, nervously, "Oh, that's just the basement..." Needless to say that what followed was a full-on tour of the basement with the camera man, sound man, producer, Susi and me. Oh well. It's all part of the story, right?
- Over the course of the filming Steve also managed to find the other two major caches of JUNK - both in shower stalls with curtains artfully drawn closed. We made sure these were featured prominently in close-up shots.
- Steve throwing his hat into MY corner TWICE by saying that he liked the unfinished OSB walls downstairs and the bare plaster walls. Go Steve!

All in all, even though it was a hot, sweaty morning, we all had a ball. I have no idea when the episode will air, but I will keep you posted. Check in at the "Renovation Nation" website from time to time. One of the producers took a lot of shots of the filming which he said were for the site. Stay tuned.

The Greening of Bare Hill

Seems relatively straight forward: topsoil+seed+sunlight+water=lawn. But anyone who's tried to grow grass knows it's not so easy. So imagine our surprise to see this wavy green carpet of new grass just a couple of weeks after getting the topsoil down. Everyone has commented on how lucky we are to have had such success. I think they've got it right: luck was key. We usually kill anything green we try to grow...

Now, mind you I never WANTED a lawn in the first place! I have always hated mowing, watering, fighting weeds, fertilizing, etc. HATED IT! Prior to making the decision to go with the lawn I had been feverishly researching alternatives to the traditional green lawn, and found many I liked. So, why the back-sliding? No, it's just another case of money/time trumping IDEALS, PRINCIPLES, etc. Getting the loam down and growing the grass is not the ultimate plan for the exterior of BHB, it's just a temporary measure designed to improve the overall appearance of the site and give the kids a nice place to run around. Plan on seeing small changes being implemented as the months progress...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bare Hill no longer bare

As our first winter in BHB drew to a close I began to turn my thoughts to The Yard. Ugh. The Yard. The bane of suburban existence. It's not that I don't WANT a yard - I mean, an INTENTIONAL yard, not the no-man's land we've had since construction ceased. I actually LIKE thinking about landscapes and landscape design; my interest in design isn't limited to architecture and furniture. The problem is that at this point, there is NO WAY we can afford anything close to what I have in mind. So, with a generous hand from mom and dad (again!) we are doing the least we possibly can: having some loam brought in and seeding it with grass.

The first step was to do something about the borders around the house. I have long wanted to create a gravel border around the perimeter of the house, partly to catch the water that runs off the gutterless roof and keep dirt from splashing up onto the sides, partly to keep from having to mow right up to the house (and eliminate the dreaded weed whacker), and partly for aesthetic reasons.

The nice metal edging offered by the landscaper was WAY too expensive, plus it would have proved difficult to mold to the contours of the sloping site. So I sought a cheaper alternative and went with brick edging. Made of durable black plastic it is cheap and easy to install.

It is also easy to bend, so I could do some contours around the sewer clean out and gas meter in front. (These will eventually be obscured by plantings; that's Phase II.)

The 50 yards of topsoil that we ordered showed up on the day when thunderstorms were forecast. I was sitting in a meeting after school when the skies opened up and it came down in torrents for about half an hour. I was completely distracted with thoughts of our investment - soil, seeds, and fertilizer - being washed down the hill, leaving gullies and canyons in The Yard. To my great relief our landscaper had called off work before he had gotten too far. Saved.

They were back this evening and within a couple of hours had finished spreading the loam...

...grading it...

...seeding and rolling it...
...and then they were gone. Now the hard work begins. I got the hoses my dad donated from his collection strung up around the property ready for watering tomorrow morning. I also tried to get some stakes and string set up. Keeping the kids off the seedlings is going to be a MAJOR undertaking. Maybe if I install *electric* fencing...

This is a shot of the completed "media loft/den/library" (whatever it is). The floor I laid and finished (four coats), the reclaimed barn boards I cut and installed over the SIPs panels. Couch is another hand me down from mom and dad. All we need now is a TV...

Friday, May 23, 2008

Some recent pictures

This is the way the "media room" has looked for months now. And that's pretty much the way it looked when I nearly cut the end of my finger off with my chop saw. The blood's still on that sheet of red resin paper (and my pants: rrrgh!) It happened while I was cutting barn board to fit over the inside faces of the SIPs panels (see this image and below). I was cutting a long piece and wanted to make a slight adjustment and instead of stopping the saw I paused mid-cut and pushed the board toward the blade slightly. Somehow my hand slipped off the board and went right into the spinning blade. I won't soon forget the sound and feel of what happened next...

Anyway, I ended up driving myself to the hospital with a bag of ice and a dish rag wrapped around my hand because there were, I think, seven kids in the house at the time and my wife had to stay with them. It ended up being only five stitches and I missed the bone. It still feels weird, but I am back to work. The reason this room isn't done yet is that I have had to shift my attention to the outside of the house. I will post some pics of what is happening out there, but suffice it to say, we need to remedy the disaster zone that is our property before the neighbors petition to eject us from the 'hood.

Since we have no topsoil (just hard-packed mud and rocks) we are having 50 yards of loam brought in and graded around the site. We will then seed and try to grow some kind of grass. But I am determined NOT to create a high maintenance country-club style greenway that requires tons of fertilizing, watering, and mowing. One of my side projects has been researching "greenscaping" - ecologically friendly landscaping that utilizes indigenous plant and grass species that are drought-resistant and require little fertilizing. Of course, I could spend TONS of time and money on this, but since I have NEITHER of EITHER, it's just going to be grass for now...something to hold down the dirt and give the kids a surface to play on. I am leaning toward fescue which is a drought resistant grass that is supposed to require less watering and fertilizing. We'll see. I'm also considering clover or field grass...

Hard to believe this is all going to be filmed in a couple of weeks...Boy, do we have some cleaning to do!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Steve Thomas (of This Old House) to visit BHB

Some of you have already heard that BHB has been selected to be featured on the new cable show "Renovation Nation", hosted by Steve Thomas of This Old House fame. Renovation Nation is a new show on the new Discovery Channel network Planet Green, described as "the first and only 24-hour eco-lifestyle television network". Renovation Nation will try to tap into the excitement of the "Green Building" movement and feature homes that have taken environmental concerns into account in design and construction. Noah Grunberg (our own "green" architect), passed us along to the producers of the show. Long story short: they liked what they saw on this blog, contacted us, and after something of an interviewing process, decided to feature BHB on one of their upcoming episodes. They will be here in early June to film the segment. The short video above is the "screen test" we had to film as a part of the process.

So, you may be wondering what makes BHB a "green" home. Valid question. Consider the following:

- The barn frame (salvaged, repaired, and modified for use as a home) is, in effect, a "recycled" building (you never knew the "three Rs" could apply to a home did you?)
- The finish work incorporates reclaimed wood siding/roofers from the original barn (reused as roofers and wall sheathing)
- Also: reclaimed and reconditioned barn floor planking (reused for flooring on second floor, fireplace mantelpiece, vanity tops)
- Layout of interior spaces. In the words of our architect, “Modern design utilizes dynamic spaces in an efficient way for a family of 6. The barn footprint is only 1080 square feet, and total livable floor area is 2460 square feet on 4 interlocking levels.” Small footprint = minimal impact.
- SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) provide superior insulation
- Large attic fan (eliminates need for A/C – we hope! – by drawing cool air in from the windows on the ground floor and venting it out near the peak of the rear of the house)
- The siting of the house and window design and placement capitalizes on solar gain (as well as maximizing privacy and taking advantage of the views)
- We have used non-toxic interior finishes where ever possible
- Reclaimed wood siding (reused for parts of exterior sheathing)
- MDO panels (when properly painted will last far longer without repainting than other painted surfaces, reducing the frequency of paint application)
- Galvalume metal roofing (for longer life and cleaner water runoff)
- “greenscaping” (ecologically sound landscaping/lawn design)
- Sweat-equity! (The financially sustainable way to build a house!)

When I was asked why it mattered to me to be as green as possible, my honest answer was that in this day and age, it just makes sense. It doesn't have to cost more money to make minor changes to your lifestyle and these choices can make a major difference in your quality of life. When these minor changes are multiplied by millions and millions of similar choices by like minded people, this adds up to a significant impact world-wide.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

UPDATE: New posts to come

Susi and me in Santa Elena, Yucat√°n, Mexico in March.

The past five months have been a whirlwind. One of the casualties has been this blog. I can't say that I am certain I will continue forever, but as long as there is work being done on the house I will make occasional posts. The fact that there haven't been any posts is indicative of the pace that work has been progressing here. Since we moved in (late November) work has slowed to a crawl. This has been a mixed blessing. Up until the move-in date I was practically killing myself working on the house to get it ready: lots of long weekends and late nights (see this post for example. Of course I had help, too, from family and friends.) The result was that when we DID finally move in the house was done ENOUGH that we could live comfortably in a state of incompletion. The down side was that once we moved in I could no longer work nights (kids tend to wake up when you run power tools...) and the mortgage payments kicked in, necessitating Susi getting back to work on available "free days" like weekends and my holidays. So I pick away at jobs as I can, trying not to stress too much about the details.

Here is a summary of what I have been able to accomplish in the five months or so that we have been living at BHB:
- hang all interior sliding doors and pocket doors (they still lack finish and hardware...)
- finish laying all floors: slate tile in entry way and front hall, kids' bathroom/WC, wood floor downstairs hallway, guest loft (I still have to get the coin-grip rubber flooring down in the laundry room).
- sand and finish all wood floors and stairs/railings
- build top for fireplace/wall in living area
- build office (rough, but functional at this point)
- continue to sheathe over the OSB panels with barn board (I'm REALLY getting sick of this job; and I am not even half way)

We are now trying to figure out what to do about the outside. It's currently a mud pit and looks awful. We have little money to spend, but really have to address the issue. We have long-term plans for landscaping which we cannot afford to implement at this time so we will probably just try to get some grass growing to hold everything together, give the kids a place to run around, and keep the neighbors from petitioning for our expulsion from the 'hood! I think we are close to moving on this; I will post some pictures when we do.

Overall, we are so pleased with how everything is turning out (everything save the debt, that is...) The kids are really happy here and are rapidly developing a neighborhood gang of children who love spending time together (outside!) There are kids all over the place, and some for every age range from 9-10 year olds down to 2 year olds. Everyone has a buddy. Happy kids=happy parents, right? As for the house, it has exceeded our expectations on every level. We had our architect Noah of Jasonoah Design-Build to the house this weekend for his first visit since we moved in. It was really rewarding to walk around with him and explain all the ways in which the space he and his partner Jason designed for us WORKS. And it really does. The house is comfortable, spacious but not big, relatively easy to keep neat and clean, and is just a beautiful space to live in. Sure there are some bugs to work out still, but even in it's unfinished state it is a pleasure to live in. All in all, we are very, very pleased.

So, those within driving distance, we are still planning on inviting you for an open house one of these days. No, we're not waiting until the house is "done", life just seems to get in the way. At this point I think we are shooting for the end of school, late May, early June. Once we land on a date, I will send out invitations. But don't feel you need to wait till then; we love hosting and showing people around, so give us a call and come on by. The barn door's always open for friends and family.

More to come soon...