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...