Thursday, January 23, 2014


One item, unseen in the finished project that we took very seriously was air sealing and insulation. The deltec package comes with 1" foam (R5) over the entire exterior to act as a thermal break and foam gaskets at framing and sheathing intersections. The Deltec page probably explains and shows it best.

The house walls are staggered 2x4 studs, used to make a 10" thick final wall, so lots of room for insulation, garage walls are just 2x4.

We used 4"spray foam on all exterior walls and filled the remainder of the cavity with cellulose insulation. The spray foam makes an excellent air seal as it expands into any cracks. Then a light cloth membrane was stapled to the studs so the dense pack cellulose is contained.

There is a lot of scraping and using a really, really long sawzall blade to trim excess foam off.

Interior walls filled with dense pack to provide some soundproofing.

The last step was to do a blower door test, which pressurizes the whole house to see how much air leaks out and where. The house was tight enough that we didn't have much to track down, but I got to wander around with an IR camera and look for cold spots and a smoke pen to find any spots where air was being pulled into the house.

One of the really interesting things about the last photo is you can really see how cold the studs are (if you click to enlarge). This is the garage and is 2x4 construction, so we have a lot of thermal bridging bringing cold  in. This is one of the reasons a staggered stud 2x10 wall really makes sense as that technique goes a long way to eliminating thermal bridging.

Where Wood Comes from Part 2

In part one of this post we got to the point of rough boards. Those boards have to be finished so they can be used for trim and ceilings (our intended end use).

We had seven dried stacks of rough cut, each about 1,000 square feet, so a pretty big finishing project.

The first step is to cut off any cracked or twisted ends. Most boards (even though we sealed them) needed 4 or so inched cut off each end.

Rough lumber isn't exactly straight, so next we clamped the board to a straight edged sled to run it through the table saw to give us one pretty straight edge. We would do a bunch of boards then readjust the table saw and pass them back through the table saw to straighten the other edge.

The below photos show a board prior to the first pass and after with one edge straightened.

Next the boards were run over the jointer to make a flat bottom, that can take 2 or 3 or 4 or more passes depending on how warped or how many knots are sticking up.

We tried to run boards with the cupped side down through the jointer as we could leave some rough spots that were centered on the boards as only one side of the boards was going to be seen.Below is a piece done going through the planer, with a fairly rough bottom side.

The next process was planing, again taking several passes through a machine that shaves the top off the board, taking a bit off on each pass till we have a fairly smooth top at the point where the board thickness is the same for every board.

For the majority of the boards (those becoming ceiling) were then sent through the tablesaw one last time to make a groove so the boards could be butted together. We did not do tongue and grooves that interlock as that would have been overkill for our use.

The last machine step was a pass or two through a sander to smooth out any machining marks and raised grain and minor surface issues. Below shows an unfinished cutoff end on planed and jointed boards. It also shows the clear difference between basswood (lighter on left) and ash (much more pronounced grain - on right).

Then the boards were sealed with landarc finish.

Then cut to length and installed.

Backing all the mechanical processes up was a custom rigged dust collection system. With 7 +-12'x4'x6' pallets of rough cut wood, each in excess of 3000lbs and a good portion of that being turned into wood chips and sawdust a solid dust collection system was critical to the operation. I took a cheapo Grizzly bag style collector, coupled it with a cyclone bought off ebay, used 55 gallon plastic drums to collect dust, piped the exhaust air out the back wall to avoid any filters, made one central vac attachment point that quickly switches from machine to machine, and most importantly put it in the garage space so the noise is not in the shop.

All the machines take maintenance, adjusting based on amount of variance of each board, sharpening/blade changing, lubing, dusting, emptying big containers of dust.

I learned that to make a bunch of trees into a big pile of finished wood means a REALLY lot of handling of each piece, a lot of sawdust, a lot of scrap wood for kindling.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Framing was generally fun and exciting as we could actually see how rooms would look and feel. It was a cold task for the carpenters as it happened before insulation (winter 2013, so a year ago). None of the interior walls are weight supporting, so they can go just about anywhere.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Vacation 2013!

K and I trecked down to Florida this week to visit her folks. It's been a good week, largely visiting, but we worked in a couple adventures.

The trip down was certainly one of them, we flew into the first snowpocolypse of the winter.....

Snow shut down most ways out  of Philly, but we got out on a last hail Mary to DC (which was not on our original itinerary) and got stuck there for a day, which was actually quite nice. We hit Chinatown for Dim Sum (which cannot be had anywhere around Central PA) and popped into REI to get a replacement for my backpack which was blowing seams out at a rate that made it unlikely it would live to get to Florida.

The guy in the above photo needed a bigger shovel. There's a lot of runway out there.

After two days and five planes, we made it to the land of white beaches and clear skies, Niceville, Florida! Once down here we spend a few days hitting some of the boardwalks, parks (Navel Live Oaks Park was pretty cool), beaches and seafood restaurants. All great and amazing how the area goes rapidly from super built up to wilderness.

Kristina's parents were excellent at giving tours of all the local sights, providing excellent restaurant picks and fun and relaxing evenings hanging out with them. 

We did one full day adventure on our own. A quick river paddleboard trip up to a super clear spring for some snorkeling (the water was in the 60's and air not much warmer, so it was certainly wetsuit mandatory swimming).

Me and our guide/instructor Gabe of Walkin on Water Paddleboards.

Paddleboarding was both easier and harder than it looks for us. It was easier to get started (and no fall in's) but I think would take a few trips to really be comfortable with. We will probably do another paddleboard trip sometime.

Freshwater Mullet

Freshwater Kristina

We have one more day mainly relaxing then we fly out of Florida into another storm that will probably strand us in Charlotte, so time for me to go google what there is to do with a day or so there....

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


This is going to be a pretty photo heavy post, so give it a bit of time to load.

One of the big projects started back in August of 2010, building of two ponds. Not lakes, or huge water, but big enough for fish and swimming. There are several springs that run for most of the year and feed them.

The site stripped of topsoil (which was stockpiled for later use). Amazing to see these photos from just over two years ago and to walk out and see what it looks like now.

The beginning of the pond, and foreshadowing of tribulations to come in the presence of a lot of rock in the soil/clay.

The upper pond, complete! The white pipe on the right is a dry hydrant. The tall white pipe is the drain, setting the water level. The black pipe against the far slope is the pond drain. Both ponds are 12+ feet deep.

Lower pond, also complete! This pond gets the vast majority of it's water from the upper ponds drain/overflow. So if the upper pond does not fill fully, the lowers water level will be very very low.

Seed all grown in. Looking good, but the water level is a foot or so low, as the drain pipe is sticking out of the water by that amount.

Hmmmm, upper pond also low and not filling anymore. It seems the upper pond, despite water coming in was not filling. So we drained the pond. Packed clay into an area where a seam of shale had been dug through and waited a season for the pond to refill. No luck, same problem. So the last possible solution was putting a liner in the pond so it can't leak.

The drained pond awaiting the lining! Rock piles were intended to be fish habitat.

First step is to strip the old interior and start with a solid base. A shelf was also dug around the edge of the pond. The Liner will have dirt placed on it there to protect the liner in that area.

The next stage is to lay very, very heavy fabric, basically very heavy landscape cloth, to protect the rubber liner.

Next the rubber liner is placed on the fabric and then another layer of fabric placed on top of that. Lots of protection for the liner.

All lined and very pretty, feels huge when walking on the bottom. This is when things got a bit dynamic. I started wondering why one would dump dirt back into the clean pond that was intended for swimming. One of the Envinity build crew suggested googling natural pool and that type of build made a lot of sense.

Basically one creates a shallow vegetative area for plants to grow in, by pumping water through that zone the water can be filtered. We create an ecosystem that promotes clean water and with luck filters it. 

A brick and block yard a few miles down the road was shutting down, so we picked up heavy masonry fire block on super sale.

The first layer of block has mortar to adhere a top row of block onto it. In that mortar is embedded a heavy plastic mesh, that will be buried under/in pond rock to keep everything held together.

On top of that we mortared a row of rock that I gathered from around the property.

The pond gravel back-fill being placed. We discovered that the cost by the tri-axle is only slightly higher than crushed limestone as many trucks are hauling gravel north to the shall drilling area of PA and were coming back empty, so adding the pond stone as back haul kept trucking costs minimal.

Getting there!

With grass!

 The water has been quite clear, there was some algal cloudiness in mid summer, but it faded rapidly as water temps fell in the fall. It will be very interesting to see what the water clarity is like in a few years.

It was awesome swimming this summer, it did stay cool and got downright cold rapidly in the fall, but I suspect will provide many, many years of swimming and recreating.

Our last step was to add fish! We added largemouth bass, sunfish, some sort of minnow and a few catfish to both ponds. Below the fish are bagged and adjusting to the water temperature.

Bag of minnows being freed!