Thursday, December 18, 2008

local news update & next steps

We just received word that the local NBC Channel 10 'Green Rehab' segment should be airing either next Wednesday, December 24th or the following Wednesday, the 31st. We will be posting a copy on the blog, so don't worry if you miss it.

This week we've been continually trying to get PGW to turn on the gas, which has required calling them numerous times. Supposedly the foreman has us on the schedule today (third time this week) to install the meter. Hopefully, today is the day and we'll have some heat!

As soon as all the drywall is mudded and taped and the systems are operational, our contract with Merlin, our GC, will basically end. He'll turn the house over to us to wrap up, as our plan has been to handle purchasing & installing most of the finishes and fixtures ourselves to save money. We will retain Merlin to help us occasionally, as his expertise and advice will be essential in the areas where our experience is lacking. I'll feel much better having him and/or his subs close by when it comes time to install the plumbing fixtures (something we've never done before) and a number of other items. Toilets are one thing you definitely want to get right the first time!

Over the holidays, Merlin's coworker, Nate, will be prepping the drywall openings and pre-cutting most of the trim for the doors and windows. After we get back into town, our first task will be to begin installing the trim around all of the openings. The baseboards won't go in until after the bamboo floors are laid. Our trim detail is going to require quite a bit of work as we are going with what is sometimes called a "museum trim" detail - where the trim board is actually flush with the drywall (opposed to being applied on top of it) and there is a 1/4" reveal where the edge of the trim meets the edge of the drywall. If this sounds confusing, no worries...we will explain this later in more detail.

Bill Curran is now fabricating our steel stair and is set to install before New Year's. This will be quite a milestone and we'll be sure to post before/after and progress photos.

We also have some exciting developments to share related to Southern Liberties branching off into the realm of custom furniture design and fabrication. We'll share more about that in January.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Starting to look like a house...kind of

In case you didn't make it to the Open House, here's shot of what the main living space looks like with most of the drywall up, as of a couple of days ago. You can see the sawhorses and plywood that served as our layout table for the Open House as well as the sections of drywall we left off to show various internal elements of the project. That's Emily casually posing at the bar and providing some scale.

Tomorrow we start on all the prep work for the window and door trim.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Thank you...

A big thanks to everyone who braved the cold weather last Saturday to join us at our Open House & Construction Tour. We estimate that at least 60-70 people participated which was an amazing turnout! We've also received emails from quite a few people who weren't able to make it. After the holidays, we'll pick another Saturday afternoon to give anyone else interested in touring the house the opportunity to stop by before we get too much farther along.

Tomorrow morning we're filming a news segment with local NBC news anchor Terry Ruggles about green rehabs in Philadelphia. As soon as we have more information about when the segment will air, we'll post it here!

Next on our plate: ordering the kitchen cabinets, fabricating the custom steel stair, & finalizing the remainder of the plumbing fixtures in the house.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Open House & Construction Tour today!

Don't forget to stop by this afternoon for our Open House & Construction Tour! We're looking forward to hearing everyone's feedback and suggestions as we enter the next phase of the project and start getting into the installing the final finishes, fixtures, and working out the remaining details.

While we weren't able to get our furnace hooked up yet, the house will be nice and toasty with a temporary heater in the basement. And Dunkin' Donuts is just a block away if anyone needs to use the facilities.

We're looking forward to being able to work at night and on the weekends, now that we have power. The other night, I saw the house for the first time with lights on through the all windows. I must was pretty impressive. Now that all the masonry openings have been cut along the side and remaining windows are in, the whole building has taken on a much different feel, especially at night. We've made some progress on the water as the meter is installed, but we can't get a temporary sink/toilet hooked up until the sanitary line is completed.

Looking forward to seeing everyone soon!

The sheet rock has been installed

Yesterday the drywall crew arrived bright and early. We were expecting 3-4 workers, but instead a crew of 6 was waiting in front of the house with their tools in hand. We had all the drywall staged in the house the previous day right after it arrived from Green Depot. These guys work amazingly fast. By mid-afternoon, they had finished the 3rd floor, most of the 2nd floor, and were starting on downstairs. Our contractor decided to go with 4'x12' sheets instead of the standard 4'x8' ones. When hanging them horizontally, we ended up with less waste as most walls in the house are not more than 10' or 11' in length.

The bathrooms are wrapped with water-resistant board on both the walls and the ceilings for extra protection (it's not uncommon to find it used only on the walls).

While I knew this stage would be a big milestone in the project, it always surprises me how much drywall can transform a space. No matter how many times I go through this process, it's exciting every time. There's something about being able to 'see' the walls that makes the house seems much more finished than before. We're leaving the drywall as is for now, without taping and mudding the joints as we know that we have just one day before the open house. We also left certain areas open throughout the house, without any drywall, so that people can get a sense of what's underneath and see some of the structure and building systems.

Now for the final clean up....urh,...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bio-based Insulation in action!

A few days ago, the crew from Northend Barriers arrived with their trendy Bio-Based trailer and generator, ready to knock out our little row house project in just a day.

We were lucky to get them, as Northend is currently booked straight through the spring, installing BioBased on a number of very large jobs. Because our project is several months behind schedule, we were afraid that we might have lost our place on the list. After a few pleading phone calls from us and our contractor, reminding them that we've been in touch periodically with schedule updates, the good guys at Northend finally agreed to fit us in between two of their larger jobs. Two men dressed from head to toe in white jumpsuits arrived mid-morning and stayed on until nearly 9pm to finish the job. The suits are primarily projection to keep the guys clean and adhesive-free. The foam itself is not hazardous to the touch but is very sticky.

Check out this stuff out in action!

After learning more about the cost difference between closed cell and open cell spray foam, we specified a combination of the two for the project, depending on the thickness of the wall, its location, and the desired R-value. By making these changes, we were able to reduce the overall quote by about 40%. The closed cell foam is roughly twice as much money as the open cell, and we had originally planned to use closed cell throughout. Finally, something has turned out to be LESS expensive than we had anticipated. It's a good thing.

After installation, the foam is shaved off so that it's level with the studs, and fills the void between the studs. In reality, the stuff is rarely perfect as there is some variation in depth and consistency (at least in our case). We had the crew save the scraps, which can be used to fill up any major gaps- such as behind pipes or other hard to reach areas- or thrown into a typical unconditioned attic space to beef up the existing insulation. We have a few quirky spaces where new and old construction meet and were able to fill in a few holes by using the leftovers, and a few cans of that off-the-shelf expandable foam. We still have about 8 bags left in the back yard and will probably offer it up on Craigslist or Freecycle soon.

By the end of the day, the only casualty was our truck, which had been parked out front for a few hours. Turns out there was a small gap between the brick facade and the cornice. The foam made its way through the crack, through the air outside, and down onto the side of our truck. The foam part came off easily, but the adhesive part was the problem. It looks like it will scrape off of the glass fairly easily with a razor blade, but we're still waiting to hear back from our contact at Northend Barrier (Tom Purcell) to find out how (and if) this stuff can be removed from the truck body without damaging the paint job.

The lessons learned on this job (other than keeping the truck far, far away) are that next time we would strongly consider waiting until the heat is turned on to spray the foam. The next day, we noticed several places where the foam pulled away from the studs about 1/4" due to the temperature differential. The foam is heated and pressurized in canisters before being sprayed into the wall cavities. The house itself was definitely cold, especially so after sundown, when the work continued late into the night. Because of the scheduling difficulties, we were hesitant to wait any longer and it was unclear when the next opportunity would be to get a crew. We filled some of the gaps ourselves the next day but Northend has agreed to come back and hit the larger areas. We decided to hold off on "taping and mudding" the drywall for a few days so we could simply remove the drywall screws and pop the boards off in the areas that need more insulation.

The other downfall to the spray foam is that it could make rewiring extremely difficult (especially the #1701, the closed cell). Also, for architects that are used to working with precise, exact materials, this stuff is not going to be in your comfort zone. The stuff is messy and blobby and the control is modest at best. The overspray can't help but get in places it shouldn't, like J-boxes and around pipes. It has a life of its own. I admit, it does take some getting used to. The performance is where the spray foam excels- we've been able to achieve R-20 in just a 2x4 stud wall. And in a renovation project, we feel comfortable knowing that the foam is going to keep the old envelope (and the new) super tight and efficient.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Drywall...with a conscience

A colleague of mine at Philadelphia University recently told me about a new drywall plant in PA that is actually built right next to a coal-fired power plant in order to readily capture the synthetic gypsum byproduct for use in their drywall. I am looking into sourcing all our drywall from this plant.

United States Gypsum Corporation
Lycoming Mall Dr
Washingtonville, PA 17754
(About 2.5 hours from Philadelphia)

The facility produces wallboard using recaptured gypsum, uses 100 percent recycled paper for the surfaces of the finished wallboard products, recycles 100 percent of its production waste and feature a closed-loop liquid effluent system, which translates to zero discharge into nearby waterways. It was purposefully located right across the road form the Montour (coal-fired) Power Plant. At the power plant, scrubbers (the environmental controls that remove the sulfur dioxide from the emissions of coal-fired power plants) work by spraying a mixture of crushed limestone and water onto the exhaust gas before it goes out the plant’s chimney. The limestone and water react with the sulfur in the plant’s exhaust to form synthetic gypsum, which is collected and shipped to the USG facility that is across the road from the power plant.

OR...if that doesn't pan out

Green Depot actually stocks drywall that contains 95% recycled coal ash that they get from another Pennsylvania drywall plant (also USG, I believe) that employs the same process as the Washingtonville plant, it's just not right across the street from the power plant.

The price per sheet is virtually the same as any other drywall. We are going to look into both options but seeing that we need have drywall on site in two looks like we might be giving Green Depot a call. It's nice to know they're close by.