- My 1973 Vintage Home - A "fixer upper" with a view Part I | Part II
- My Office Addition
You can read more about David's remodel experience and learn valuable knowledge about green building standards, materials and best practices in his book Green Remodeling.
Schedule Extra Time to Do the Job Well
Be aware that when working with a variety of trade contractors there will be times when you are behold to other people's schedules. It can sometimes make the time allotted for your job unrealistic — and unattainable. Scheduling too much in too small a time frame will inevitably stress out you(and everyone around you)! Someone on the crew will likely make a mistake under pressure and the whole process (including fixing rash mistakes) will take longer than if you had allowed for extra time to do the job well.
January 20, 2003 - Preserving the Natural Environment
One of the reasons I am so committed to green building is to protect big trees. I love the big things on the planet including big animals and big trees. They stimulate my imagination to envision what the planet used to look like before the industrial revolution started reducing the absolute numbers of all of the above. The loss of large life forms on earth reduces the humans to a lesser species by letting us believe that we can conquer nature. I believe that we are more human by preserving and protecting the ancient things. How can we remember our place in the larger ecosystem if all that is left is second growth forest and tigers in a zoo?
I've been in the construction industry long enough to know what a vice-grip the forest product industry has on wood production. Their approach is to cut the last of the big stuff as fast as possible before regulation gets in the way. Once a forest is clearcut, it becomes a plantation, perhaps for corn. The ecosystem is fundamentally changed. The plants and berries, and animals that live on them, are gone. The very soil bacteria that support the forest ecosystem changes. It takes hundreds of years for an ecosystem to return to a stable state after it has been clearcut. The forest product industry likes to brag that there are more trees in the US than there were when pilgrims landed but they are tree farms. In reality, we have far fewer forests and animals than there were then.
One of the most upsetting things I've learned about forest versus tree farms is that the forest products industry managers shoot bears to protect their "agriculture". And that's why I have chosen to use many of the engineered wood products and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC-certified lumber on the office instead of tradition wood framing. Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) are the first step.)
January 20, 2003 - Working with Structural Insulated Panels
We've been moving dirt for weeks. It looks like a war zone, with foxholes everywhere.
While we're digging I am sending design plans to the SIP manufacturer in British Columbia who will precut the panels. I chose this SIP company because they "dry build" the entire structure inside their warehouse to make sure all the panels perfectly fit my office's complex architectural form. One of the downsides of working with SIPs is that when they don't fit together, it is a real pain — you end up cutting the panels with a chain saw and Styrofoam dust flies everywhere, resulting in a less-than-perfect fit in the end.
To complicate matters, the panel installers only have one week to complete my job, or a little less than a month after the day we broke ground. It puts immense pressure on the architect, the panel salesman, and me to work out all the details in such a short time.
January 21, 2003 - Heavy Equipment Day
There is considerable drama around the arrival of the panels. We scramble around to make sure the top plates of the walls are perfect, that the steel beams over the garage door is secure, and that miscellaneous objects are out of the way. The road to the house is filled with big trucks and heavy equipment day after day, most charging by the hour. The crane that would unload the truck and move the panels to the driveway is $150 per hour. I feel pressure to get the job done quickly.
As the SIP truck arrives, I am amazed to think that there is an entire building stacked on the bed. The neighbors are already starting to collect on the next door lawn and film crews from the city of Boulder and the SIP manufacturer are set up to videotape the entire production. There is a crackle of excitement in the air.
The panels are all marked according to their order of assembly: floor-1, wall-6, roof-3. The crew segregates each set by the order they will be placed, and the crane operator keeps that boom moving for two hours without missing a beat. The first floor panel is in place before we know it. Floor-2, floor-3...they all fit perfectly! There isn't half an inch to spare in 35 feet. The first anxiety attack is over. The crew screws down the entire perimeter of the floor panels and lays down the bottom two-by-eight plates for the wall panels to stand upon. In two hours I have a new floor for the office and there is a ceiling on the garage for the first time in a month. Just as I was getting used to the "topless" garage experience...
January 22, 2003 - Walls are Up
This morning the wall erection goes even faster because the panels are smaller and it only takes two guys to install each one. By the end of the day we have walls — it is just amazing!
January 23, 2003 - Working with Engineered Wood
The large, open architecture of the addition requires many large beams both for support and for decorative purposes. The "prow" is able to overhang the driveway because of the large 7" x 14" beam that supports the weight of the structure. A similar 7" x 14" beam is required for the beam over the driveway to hold up the deck. Any beam that size, or for that matter down to 2" x 10" lumber, comes from old growth trees. To avoid cutting any old growth trees, we are using a variety of engineered wood called Parallam, or parallel laminated lumber. Parallam is made from cellulose that is stripped from aspen trees and then reassembled into wood beams. The final result is much stronger than pine or fir beams cut from old trees. It is also stunning — with stain it adds a bold architectural accent.
January 24, 2003 - Measuring the Process and Materials
Today we install the beams that hold up the roof panels. I am excited to get these beams up, but I'm also feeling a little stressed. Building is always a complex series of activities that must follow a critical path — something has to be in place before you can take the next step. This is particularly true with structural work. Excavation must be complete before concrete can be formed and poured. The concrete has to cure before you can put a load on top of it. All of the utilities must be installed before you can backfill the dirt against the concrete foundation. The structural wood has to be in place before you can put a roof on it — and so forth.
At 7:00 A.M. I go outside and count the beams to be sure they are all there. I measure each one and compare it to the plans. When I get to the major roof beam, the longest beam and the beam all the other beams attach to, I am horrified to realize that it is two feet too short! I feel like screaming and telling everyone to go home. It is the first thing to go in and it is the one that was custom manufactured for our job. I had asked my carpenter to double-check all the beams a week ago and I assumed he did. He didn't. It's like the old joke, "Sorry boss, I cut it twice and it's still too short." I measured it again and it was still two feet too short.
So, now I had a huge problem! The panel crew has today and tomorrow to finish the job before they leave the state. The beam took two weeks to special order. The roof panels are the most complicated part of the job and only the panel crew has the special tools to the assembly. It looks like the project is going to stop here for who knows how long.
Desperate, I know one person who can save my project. Jeff Booms from County Line Lumber. Between begging, praising his prowess at the impossible, and bribery, he finds the only beam this side of Idaho that fits my specifications. He delivers it just in time — the SIP crew doesn't even know it was missing.
Whew! I know now the angels are on my side.
The beam is lifted off the delivery truck and into place at the very top of the roof peak. The carpenters spend the rest of the day cutting and lifting the big beams into place. By dusk we are ready for the final roof panels.