One year in: lessons learned from building our passive house (part 1)

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Valuable elements may be easier to experience in art and in anticipation than in reality. The anticipatory and artistic imaginations omit and compress, they cut away the periods of boredom and direct our attention to critical moments and, without either lying or embellishing, thus lend to life a vividness and a coherence that it may lack in the distracting woolliness of the present.
— Alain de Botton

It’s been almost a year since I’ve written. And just over a year since we’ve moved into our new home. Quite the hiatus from someone who promised ‘many posts to come...’. After the big milestone of moving in, I needed to catch my breath and simplify, part of which meant time off from writing, and time off from the house.

This might sound crazy, because from the outside: we did it! We accomplished what we set out to do and we have a beautiful house, that’s built so well it would standup against the apocalypse, and is performing to Passive House standards. But it was a lot to take on, more than we could appreciate at the time, or if we did, we just didn’t have the time to process any of it. So when we were actually settled in, and things started to slow down, instead of feeling relaxed and grateful, I had itchy feet and was looking for the next thing to tackle. Which was difficult for Mark, especially, who wanted to feel relaxed and grateful, and fully deserved to.

I knew that the big rocks were in place, and the rest would settle. It was a struggle for me to settle into this knowledge, however. I just wanted to move in and be done with it already! We had walls and running water, but there was still landscaping to be done, railings needed to be designed and installed, doors to go up, paint to get applied, basement finished, garage built: the list goes on and on. Not to mention artwork, furniture, and the other nice-to-haves in a house. I did not relish the idea of putting our dingy old second-hand furniture and ikea as-is finds in our new, designery modern house. For all our efforts, we’ve been living in a mostly finished house, even after one year of living in it.

This past year, I’ve needed time to connect with the house, in real life, and come to terms with the anticipation and expectations I had placed on it, versus the reality of a house being just a house.

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What were some of the expectations I had placed on our home? At the outset, it was going to:

  • Be one of the ‘greenest’ (low energy) homes in Canada.

  • Disrupt the building industry and get built entirely unconventionally.

  • Reflect our shared design sensibilities and the embody quality to the touch and space.

  • Have integrity. And modest restraint.

  • It would jump start Mark’s architecture firm. Because who doesn’t dream about being their own client?

  • Make us excited about living in Ottawa, somewhere, frankly, we never saw ourselves settling.

  • Act as an ode to my father. He passed away shortly before we got married and started our family. Our house, in spirit, would be a monument to him — something that would make him proud. For it was he who introduced Mark to building science, which unbeknownst to him at the time, set him on a course to find his passion — houses like ours.

  • Cost less than a traditional custom build. I wanted to prove to the internet that regular folks could do what we were doing. With a little gumption and a lot of will, that you could do it too!

Our expectations read more like aspirational goals. It’s in our nature (Mark and I) to aim high. Something’s not worth doing, unless it’s done right...and then some. I’m glad we had such high expectations for our house. In differing ways, and to varying degrees, we feel we actually achieved all of them.

I’m not sure what value you, as a reader, may have garnered from this post. It’s mostly just been therapeutic for me to write. It’s recognition for me that we took on a lot, and managed to survive, family intact, with a truly incredible house. I’m able to appreciate it more now, one year in.

Key takeaways

  • Don’t say to yourself ‘when ___________, then things will be fine’. Because they won’t be. Find a way to make the ‘now’ enjoyable. It will make enjoying the ‘then’ much easier. Accept and enjoy the ongoing process of building.

  • Let go of perfect. Houses are never square. The entire finishing process of a house is an act of deceit—masking the scars and imperfections that lie beneath. No one else will notice the details that keep you up at night. (And if they do, they’re not worth inviting back!)

  • Don’t expect to get everything 100% on your first try. Even though we knew this, in theory, reality was that we also saw this house as our one-shot—our big opportunity to get everything right. We wanted to go all in, with little compromise.

  • Reframe failures into learnings (duh - right?). Consider a next time. And if there is no next time, simply what did you learn? For example, we learned that building a 2’ thick wall is much more difficult to make square, because you need to square it in 3D vs. 2D. Good to know.

  • Rome wasn't built in a day. Your house will not be finished when you move in. It probably never will be. Thinking that if you build or buy a house brand new means you have less maintenance and TODOs is foolhardy. If you own a home, there will always be jobs to be done.

  • Let a house be a house. Building is an all-consuming process. It’s great to shoot for the moon, but at the end of the day: remember that your house is not your life! Don’t put pressure on it to be anything more than that.

There will definitely be a 'next time' for us. 

Cold and sunny: temperature and kWh consumption

When designing a Passive House, we use the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP) to model the energy performance of the project. The PHPP considers two different design days: clear/cold and overcast/mild. Ottawa winter days follow these patterns very consistently. Yesterday was a prime example of a clear/cold day. As I mentioned in the last post, our heater shut off for 11.5 hrs during the day, even though the temperature outside never got above -12˚C.

Here is the chart of yesterday's temperatures. There are 2 indoor temperatures being monitored: the Book Nook is on the east side of the house outside of the master bedroom, and the Loft is on the top floor of the house. You can see that the temperature in the loft starts to rise noticeably as the sun gets around to the West, and starts to come in through the large lift-and-slide door in the loft.

And here is the electricity consumption (downloaded hourly from Hydro Ottawa's website). You can see the drop at 9am and the ride at about 9pm — this is the 4kW heater turning off then back on. It's interesting to notice how, even as the heater shuts off at 9am, the temperature in the house climbs steadily from 7am through to about 4pm! 

Construction week 52: occupancy

 The empty state prior to move-in

The empty state prior to move-in

On September 2nd, exactly one year after the city granted us our building permit, they granted us occupancy. It was a roller coaster leading up to it, which has left us completely shattered, yet elated to finally be living in our home. Two and a half years after the land purchase, our long journey is winding down. Sure there are still outstanding tasks, like trim and doors, but I’m feeling very little motivation to take action on them just yet. I think we need some room to breathe and reflect on the fact that we’re in, and that we actually did it. Was there every any doubt? (Yes...lots of it...).

This post won’t have too many pics because of how crazy the week was. And how cluttered the house is with moving boxes and Ikea Pax boxes hijacking the spaces. We’ll do a proper photoshoot once we’re fully moved in and set up. For now, if you’re curious, come to the open house this weekend. We’re busy assembling these Pax closets to shove the aforementioned moving boxes inside of, to give the illusion of settled. Even with the outstanding finishes, the house shines through. Details for the event can be found here: http://greenenergydoorsopen.ca/events/wander-house-passivhaus-tour/

So what happened in the final week? It’s still a bit of a blur, but I’ll attempt to recount.

Floors
The floors were oiled with a one-coat product called Rubio monocoat, in a clear finish. It went on well but meant no one could walk on the floors for 24 hours. So we didn’t! It really brings out the character and grain of our white ash. And matches our brown ash cabinets remarkably well. We were keeping our fingers crossed they would. 

Clean up
We hired a post-construction clean up crew to get rid of the construction dust and make our windows sparkly clean. Even though our house remains somewhat of a construction site. 

Ground source heat loop
We had it charged by a heating contractor from R&B Heating. Meaning he filled our loop with a glycol solution, the loop we lay prior to foundation. We’re still calibrating and trying to get our entire heating and cooling system sorted. Mark will elaborate on this for us eventually.

Occupancy
On Monday, an inspector came out and did a walk-through. He failed us on a few points, including temporary railings, hand rails, bathroom doors and exposed ICF foam. We spent the following few days addressing the deficiencies. Reinforcing our lower deck railings and blocking access to our rooftop. Extending handrails. Installing a temporary bathroom door. And installing drywall in our future basement suite.

On Thursday, a different inspector came for the revisit. The new inspector mostly looked at the list of outstanding items provided by the previous inspector. He was also going to conduct the plumbing final. This new inspector required our plumber, Nathan, to run a bowl test. According to Nathan, bowl tests are an Ottawa anomaly. The test required Nathan to start punching holes in our drywall. He couldn’t find what he was looking for and eventually had to climb up on our roof to conduct the test. The inspector didn’t stick around the 10 minutes it took Nathan to do this, so we had to get both of them back the following day, Friday.

Prior to the revisit-revisit by inspector number 2, there was a brief moment where Nathan was worried that someone punctured one of his pipes because they weren’t maintaining pressure. At this point, I tuned out because I didn’t want to know. I was busy directing the movers on where to put things, while dealing with pangs of fear that my family would be looking for a hotel room for the weekend. That’s right — we moved in on Friday morning, without our occupancy permit in hand. While I was moving, Mark and Nathan were hurriedly running around the house. I’m not really sure what happened in the end (Mark and Nathan figured out there was not enough water in one of the traps, and once corrected everything was good), but when the inspector returned that afternoon, and we finally got our permit. 

Move in
Suffice to say, we are moved in. And a million pounds lighter. The pain and torture of working back-to-back-to-back-to-back 16-hour days is slowly fading. (Yes, Mark and Graham worked these kinds of hours, staying until 3:30 am installing the final set of stairs.) Of me feeling like a house widow/single parent for the past two and a half years. The financial and emotional toll of building a house is incalculable, but so is the joy and sense of accomplishment that it brings us to finally be in it. As is the experience and growth Mark has gained as a professional. And most of all, the benefit to our children as they grow up in a healthy home, designed for them. You can’t put a price tag on that, and you might just say it was worth it. This house certainly was. 

It feels so good to be home. 

For once, I can say that I’m looking forward to winter. To see if this Passive House thing really works...

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ottawa-canada-passivehouse-architect

Construction week 51: the final countdown

The one week (less than!) countdown begins. Our official move day is Friday, September 2nd. My daughter's 4th bday. Sure to be a memorable one.

Our ceilings aren’t the only destination for wood in our house. Wood on the outside, wood on the inside. I’m starting to think of our house as the ‘wood box’: where a simple, honest shape meets a simple, honest material. Anyways, this week was focused on floors and stairs. Both receiving the full white ash treatment. 

Stairs
Our super-awesome-carpenter-guy Graham was tackling stairs. The stairs are three inch thick slabs of white ash (from the Wood Source). They have been designed to be supported by the stair metal brackets Mark had made and installed. The wood requires a small channel carved into its ends, so it can slide onto the bracket, sandwiching it, and hiding it so that the wood ‘floats’.

And this is where I segue over to Graham praise. He goes above and beyond. We are incredibly lucky to have him on our project. He possesses the same passion and care for quality and craftsmanship as does Mark. For instance, in order to carve our stair channels, he needed a better tool for the job, a Festool. He couldn’t find one in Ottawa, so he drove to Kingston to purchase it (hour and a half drive), drove back, and took a lesson on how to properly use it that same night. He was on site the next day figuring our how to precisely carve these channels at varying subtle angles, in order to get them just right. And he did. He also makes a great DJ. No Chez 106 on our site.

The only stair hiccup was a small mistake made by Mark with measurements. One floor riser was ⅜” taller than others, which apparently isn’t ‘to code’. I’d bet none would be the wiser if we kept the ⅜” difference, but to the uncompromising Mark Rosen, this surely wouldn’t do. So we had all the stairs planed down ¼” so that each step is now at 100% equal height. Unfortunately, we had to bring them back to the Wood Source to get them done. So all the work on the stairs won’t pay off until early next week and the temporary stairs had to get reinstalled. Wah-wah.

 Stairs go in

Stairs go in

 Stairs come out

Stairs come out

Floors
Drumroll…

 

 

 

 

 


No squeaks! Rejoice rejoice! 

A full glue down was the trick for our 5” white ash, site finished hardwood. We used two different polyurethane flooring glue because the local supplier, Dragona, didn’t have enough in stock to do all in one brand. We used both Maipei ultrabond eco 995, and Roberts 1540. We also stapled, but only when necessary to keep the boards toight. 

Mark, Graham and Sebastian have been working on the floors, burning the midnight oil. Working until midnight the last three nights in a row. We rented some machines to sand the floors down ourselves too. We were going to hire out the finishing job, but we’d have to wait until Wednesday to do so. And with our September 1st move-in coming up, we just couldn’t. 

Everyone unanimously vows, repeatedly, that this would be their first and last glue-down hardwood floor + finishing install. The glue was the worst. Thankfully, they are also in unison upon the fact that they look bloody fantastic. 

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ottawa-canada-passive-house-architect

Oiling the floors happens this week.

Appliances
With the exception of our laundry machines (because the wood floor has to come first), all our appliances have been installed! So what appliances did we choose for our Passive House build? I’ll write a separate post on this. For now, just know they are in. Mark was boiling water every 10 minutes, and timing it, on our new induction cooktop. He even took video to show me, on the first night in was installed, and now I’m posting it here for everyone to see. It's just about the least exciting 4 minutes of your life, but not for Mark. lol.

 Our downdraft ductwork. Yowzers!

Our downdraft ductwork. Yowzers!

Temporary railings
We had to install some temporary railings to get occupancy. Must admit, we cried a little on the inside putting the hideous, weathered plywood up on our mostly finished house. But at least it’s safe and will get us to permit. It should only be a few weeks of us living with them in this state until the permanent railings are ordered and installed.

 It hurts!

It hurts!

Yard cleanup
I wish I had thought of Kijiji earlier on in the build. I used it to get rid of all our extra building material. And it was so easy! People will take anything. Especially if you say it’s free. It would have saved us a whole dumpster of waste, at least. Lesson learned. Now that most of the extra building material is off the lawn, it’s starting to feel like a proper house (our landscaping is on hold, so it’s a massive weed garden, but it’s better than a building supply lot).

Plumbing
Toilets, faucets, showers, bathtubs, drains, heat exchanger connections, floor drains, condensation traps, backflow valves. We’re ready to pass our plumbing final inspection, which will take place on Monday. Our diswasher and espresso machine still need to be hooked up, but aren’t required for occupancy. I’d like to take a moment to admire Nathan’s skills. Our mechanical room is a work of art. Look at all the cool copper handiwork. It really adds to the engine room feeling of the house. Of all the beautiful spaces in our house, it might just be Mark’s fave :)

 Check out our sweet stack

Check out our sweet stack

Occupancy
And finally, our occupancy. We called for the city to come on Tuesday. Usually they are required to come within 24 hours of a request. But for some reason, they were overbooked, and we couldn’t get anyone out this week. So someone should be coming on Monday. We were really hoping for someone to come on Friday, to give us an idea on what our weekend ‘occupancy to-do’ list would but unfortunately, no dice. 

Move
Meanwhile, while Mark’s working on site into the late hours, I’m at home packing boxes. I pulled the trigger and managed to find a moving company less than a week in advance of the move date. The thought of moving all the boxes and furniture ourselves, with all the work remaining at the house and all the work to date, was enough to shatter me into a million pieces. Phew! When my mom was visiting last week, she was with her Australian boyfriend, who trained with their military once-upon-a-time. He expressed concern that we were starting to show signs of severe exhaustion akin to his military training where they push you until you break, and then keep pushing. Maybe. But at least we have our new spa to unwind in at the end of the long day :)

 Ahhhhhhh

Ahhhhhhh

Construction week 50: the sistine chapel

ottawa-canada-passive-house
ottawa-canada-passive-house
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ottawa-canada-passive-house
ottawa-canada-passive-house
ottawa-canada-passive-house

The majority of our week was spent on the 7-step wood ceiling (see last weeks post). With our move-in date looming, and tasks remaining, I wanted to cut corners and time (patience is not one of my virtues). But thank goodness we didn’t (and thank Mark and Graham’s overruling expertise). It looks so damn good. It brings sense of nature and warmth to all the man-made, hard lines on the inside. It rewards you at the end of your winding staircase journey. And I get to wake up each morning looking at it. Much nicer than a boring ol’ white ceiling.

Track lighting has been installed where you see the larger black gaps. We’ll be hanging several pendants off the tracks over the void. Once we get the fixture order in.

Apart from the ceiling, I painted the girls rooms. They chose their colours, and I surprisingly love them! Purple and green. Our plumbing fixture install continued. And our tiling is 98% complete. The kids had their first bath in the house over the weekend. And we had our first dinner party with my mom. Take out pizza on the roof deck.

We did a major cleanup over the weekend in prep for the week ahead. Stairs and wood floors. Hoping third time’s a charm.

Construction week 49: 2 weeks until occupancy

In order for us to move in, we need to obtain an occupancy permit from the city. This does not mean our house will be complete, but means it has all the necessary mod cons for us to occupy it safely. We’re prioritizing tasks that will get us to occupancy. We will have toilets, for instance, but no Interior doors. 

Here's the roundup from week 49.

Deck
The deck platform and stairs are finished, with the exception of the final stairs to ground level. We need our final grading to be completed first, which should bring our number of stairs down to 2 instead of 4. We also need some railings. These will most likely be temporary railings, to get us to occupancy.

 Looking down from the roof deck

Looking down from the roof deck

 Railings still to come

Railings still to come

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Tile
Benjamin was at the house and finished laying the tile in our bathroom. It was a lot of tile, extending all the way to the ceiling (which will get the special wood-treatment soon). It’s quite dramatic.

 In progress

In progress

Countertops
Our island counter was installed. And quickly covered as to not incur damage. We chose Caesarstone because it's zero-maintenance.

 Caesarstone in Concrete colour option

Caesarstone in Concrete colour option

Electrical
We have lights! Now there’s no excuse for us not to work late. Most of our fixtures are in. Minus a few feature lights. Thank you Yves, and sorry for choosing pot lights that tore up your hands during the install :(

The best tip we received for lighting was to consider what you want to light. With stairs, for example, it's important that the stairs are lit, so you can see where to put your foot, and not the entire stair well. And with general room lighting, it's the walls that need defining, so direct your lights towards the walls and not the middle of the room.

 Stairs are beautifully lit

Stairs are beautifully lit

 Look Ma, no pendants!

Look Ma, no pendants!

Plumbing
We have a toilet in the house! This is majorly exciting for me. I don’t have to use the porta-pottie when I’m working on site anymore! And we can finally get that thing removed. The remaining fixtures will be installed this week.

 This little throne I call my own, I aim to keep it neat. So darn your soul, pee down the hole, and not upon the seat. ~ classic outhouse quotes

This little throne I call my own, I aim to keep it neat. So darn your soul, pee down the hole, and not upon the seat. ~ classic outhouse quotes

Vanities
Mark assembled and mounted our bathroom vanities. We opted for Ikea vanities. We went through multiple explorations, trying to find an alternative, but just couldn’t stomach the associated costs. We almost pulled the trigger on a custom bent metal vanity that we designed, but in the end, it left us with too many unknowns (and no drawers). In our bathroom, we have an Ikea base that we’re pairing with a Caesarstone counter and Toto vessel sink. It will be partially custom, in this case. It will look great, but I really wish that Ikea made a 1 drawer depth vanity. I prefer the proportions, but am sure the extra drawer will be put to good use.

Ceiling
Mark and I had this crazy idea that our sloped ceiling would look fantastic if it were clad in wood. It seemed like a good idea at the time. And I’m sure it will become a good idea again, after all is said-and-done. But now? It’s a lot of effort. 

The order of things is a follows:

Step 1: lay plywood
Step 2: level and strap ceiling
Step 3: paint everything black
Step 4: install lighting tracks
Step 5: oil and stain ash planks
Step 6: mount ash on strapping
Step 7: admire hardwork 

Graham and Sebastian helped to progress the ceiling over the weekend. Finishing off the strapping in our bedroom and bathroom. They moved on to the main space, over the void, and set up what they nicknamed ‘the death trap’ – a precarious platform to help them reach across the 2-story open space (aka. void) that exists in the middle of the house. It isn’t actually as precarious as the name makes it sound. The hope is that they finish the strapping tomorrow, leaving the death trap setup for Mark or I to paint everything black. Yay. 

It really will look fantastic…

 Inspiration photo — our ceiling should look something like it

Inspiration photo — our ceiling should look something like it

 I see a ceiling and I want it painted black

I see a ceiling and I want it painted black

 The so-called 'death trap' or 'widow-maker' spanning the void 20' up

The so-called 'death trap' or 'widow-maker' spanning the void 20' up

Landscaping
We’re working on a landscape plan with Rebecca James, an architectural technologist with a horticulture degree. Landscape design doesn’t pay the bills, so she does it on the side of her regular 9-5. Because she loves it. My kind of girl. We’re happy with what’s she’s shown us so far. 100% we won’t have landscaping for occupancy, nor this year for that matter, but we want to set up the design now, so we know what we’re working towards in the future. I wish it could all happen RIGHT NOW!!!!

Project management
On the project management side of things, we’re hoping to finish electrical and plumbing this upcoming week so we can go for our next construction mortgage withdraw. In the meantime, we’re racking up lots of travel points on our credit cards. One of these days we’ll want to leave Ottawa and our new house, so those points will come in handy. One of these days...

Our heads are down and we're ticking tasks off our lists faster than new ones are getting added. It's looking promising *knock on wood* for us to make the occupancy call on Aug. 23rd. My mom is visiting from Vancouver this week and has taken our kids to a cottage. I got to spend the whole weekend working on site, And will have my evenings to contribute this upcoming week too. Miss the kids like crazy, but won’t have much time to do so. Lots of site tidy-up and painting on my plate. And getting ready to move. Hopefully for the last time.

Construction weeks 47 and 48: sprint to the finish

We’re in the midst of the push-for-occupancy phase, which I mentioned in my previous post. There are many moving parts that need to come together. Our biggest challenge has been staying on top of things and ensuring that the things that need doing, get done. Which is why I’ve been MIA on the blog. There’s a ton to catch up on.

But first, we had a rooftop picnic with the girls tonight (on our newly finished rooftop deck!). When we arrived back at our just-ok rental house a few blocks away, Josie started crying. She said “I no want this house”. Ha! I guess we’re all getting a wee bit anxious.

Stairs and screen wall

 Stair brackets installed against screen

Stair brackets installed against screen

 It glows

It glows

 Climbing plants to be installed at a later date :)

Climbing plants to be installed at a later date :)

Our stairs are designed to float between the wall and a 2 storey metal screen wall. So before the stairs themselves can go in we had to install the screen wall and metal bridge. Mark tackled this over a couple of weekends with some great help — huge thanks to Rob Villeneuve, Steve Dufresne, Mike Davis, Graham Dorey, Nick, and Gary Sharp (again! Gary, we owe you so much for all your help on our home). The metal screens support the bridge and the stair treads, and the bridge and stair treads stabilize the screen. Mark installed temporary treads so that the stairs are usable until the finished treads can be installed.

Kitchen install

 Island – facing the living space

Island – facing the living space

 View of the pantry wall (with our fridge in the way)

View of the pantry wall (with our fridge in the way)

We have a kitchen! And it’s gorgeous. Ordered our kitchen from Astro and had Kosta do the install. He was a pro. Took him 3 days. We have a combo of a white, glossy laminate for the functional kitchen drawers and a brown ash, sandblasted finish, on the doors facing the living space. For more on our kitchen design and layout, read this post.

Our counters will be installed next week. We decided on Caesarstone, in a dark cement finish. The counter is from Solid Decorum. And we have some beautiful ash butcher block from the Wood Source for the sill-come-counter under the window.

Tiles

 Living room tiles (pre-grout)

Living room tiles (pre-grout)

 Bathroom floor tile (pre-grout)

Bathroom floor tile (pre-grout)

The majority of our floor tiles have been laid. With the remaining to be completed and grouted over the weekend. We have quite a bit of tile in our house. In our bottom floor entry, and our main floor living space, we went with a dark, larger-format tile, arranged in a staggered pattern Mark designed. We’re really happy with them. In our upstairs bathrooms, we opted for a 1” x 3” black tile on the floor, which conveniently hide our linear drain in the master bath. And a larger format white subway tile on the walls. We’ve got a lot of wall tile in our master bath because of our sloping ceilings. Really look forward to seeing it go up – next week.

We’ve also been very happy with our choice in tile contractors. Flowtopp. Highly, highly recommend them. Tiles was sourced from Ceragres. We used Gate on the main floors (in Licorice), Unit on the bathroom floors (black), and I forget for the bathroom walls…

By the way, we aren’t concerned in the slightest that we’ll have cold toes on ceramic tile. We won’t have any thermal bridging thanks to Passive House. We also have a lovely area rug we purchased on our Moroccan honeymoon (years ago now, wow) for the living room, to soften up all the hard surfaces.

Priming and painting

 Looking down the void our bright white walls

Looking down the void our bright white walls

The house has been primed and painted. Quelle difference. It’s starting to feel like a finished house. We went with Benjamin Moore, Chantilly Lace, in a flat finish (aka. white). We understand that an eggshell finish cleans more easily, but wanted to make sure that when light washes against our walls, they’ll look smooth and dreamy. Flat does a better job at hiding blemishes. We enlisted the services of Michael Fenton, who helped us paint our last house as well. This man knows his paint.

ERV and heater install

 Mission control

Mission control

 The hair dryer heater 

The hair dryer heater 

Mark is nearly finished installing the Zehnder ERV and ground source heat exchanger. The units are hung in place and most of the ductwork is connected. Our 4kW Thermolec duct heater is also in place. This is the heater for the whole house! It’s small enough for our 3 year old daughter to hold on her lap while she eats ice cream. Nathan from Ackland Plumbing will be priming our ground loop and connecting it this coming week. 

Hot water tank install
Nathan from Ackland Plumbing also installed our Stiebel Eltron heat pump hot water tank. It’s an 80 gallon tank that uses an air source heat pump to heat the water (meaning super energy efficient). It looks cool too.

Siding
Our siding is finished and looks fantastic. Thanks to Graham Dorey

 Final siding on the roof deck

Final siding on the roof deck

 That's a tall ladder

That's a tall ladder

Roof deck

 Our most-finished space

Our most-finished space

Our rooftop deck also looks amazing. Thanks to Graham Dorey. Who struggled with a strained knee, from a football accident and not the house, these past couple days. Going up and down a ridiculously high ladder with decking materials. 

We have yet to install a railing, which we’ll need for occupancy. The building inspector nay’ed our initial design, because it didn’t meet the building’s code definition of safe. He considered it climbable. He did say, however, that if we built a mock-up, he’d come look at it and assess the climbability in person. So that’s something we’ll be progressing next week. And/or we’ll look at redesigning it.

Front deck

 Helical piles going in

Helical piles going in

Our front deck build is underway. Step one was to get some helical piles drilled into the ground to support the structure of the deck. Why helical piles? To minimize root damage to our big tree out front. A more typical deck pile requires digging of a hole much larger than the post itself. Whereas, a helical pile requires a hole only as large as the diameter of the pile itself, which you see in the picture is quite small.

Step two was to lay some landscape fabric and gravel for underneath the deck. Mark did all the gravel moving himself in the humid, sweltering heat that is Ottawa in July. Deck build is set to start this weekend and continue over the course of next week, with Graham on the job. 

That’s all folks. I’m sure I’ve missed things so I’ll be sure to write more frequently over the final weeks to come. If for some reason you don’t hear from me, it’s because we’re building a house, and are busy building it.

Project management 10x

 Our latest project management software –  Trello

Our latest project management software – Trello

When Mark and I decided to move forward with the build of our home, we decided to take on the heavy task of acting as general contractors, together. We knew it would be a sacrifice, with extra hours into our evenings and weekends, but fingers-crossed, it would be a short-lived one. Since we had two toddlers already, we weren’t giving up any kind of social life to speak of. And we were both self-employed, with a good deal of control over our schedules (minus the toddlers factor). Shortly before breaking ground, however, an exciting full-time job opportunity came my way, as they do when you least suspect them, and I took it. Leaving Mark to handle the build almost entirely solo, with me acting as the annoying backseat driver, into our evenings and weekends. 

Full disclaimer: who am I kidding? I had/have no business acting as a GC anyhow, but I was ready and willing to learn. In any case, I resigned to understanding that I was contributing to the house in other ways. Making a steady paycheque and putting food on the table. Still, not quite what we planned for.

Mark has done exceptionally well, all things considered. There have been ups and downs in our learnings, from budgets extended to pigeons roosting. With the delays incurred due to the floors, and standing on site, seeing the state of things, I was starting to see our move-in date slip further and further away. I wasn’t about to let that happen. It’s crunch time. Our older daughter is going to school in September. Come hell or highwater, we need to be in the house in August. So we sat down together one night and project managed the shit out of our house.

If you remember from our previous project management post, our binder is in a state of disarray and our Gant charts have fallen behind (ie. pretty much non-existant). So for starters, we downloaded all the information that was in Mark’s head to a free tool/app called Trello. We’ve both had some experience with project management methods like Agile and GSD (get shit done, as my office calls it), so we borrowed some of these methods on our house. The list is a mile long, but we are getting through it, one task at a time. It will be done. Oh yes, it will. Every night we check in with eachother to see how we’re doing, what tasks need to be shifted or altered, and we’re getting shit done. We’re pulling together, in our race to the finish line.