For anyone who missed our last tour, and for those geographically challenged, Mark will be live-streaming this upcoming Thursday (June 2) at 11 am EST. You'll have to download the Periscope App to tune-in. Follow @marktrosen. Highly recommend you do so because you can ask him questions and interact as he walks you through the house.
Our daughter Josie turned two today. It was a reminder that over two years ago, our house-building adventure began. The wheels were set in motion when we found out we were pregnant with #2 and knew we would inevitably outgrow our little house. We purchased the lot across the street from us and so it began. It feels like we’re finally hitting the home stretch. With the house and the trying baby-rearing days. The baby days are over. Sniff. I very much look forward to the many adventures in our new house, however. Move-in day can’t come soon enough, which should only be a couple months off.
One of the most exciting site-visits for me came last week, when I saw some of the cedar siding up on our North wall. It looks fantastic! The strapping went a bit slower than we had hoped because the shell of our house is actually a lot less square than we had hoped/thought it was. Graham and crew from Vessel woods are doing a bang-up job resurrecting the issue. I cannot wait to see the siding across the rest of the house. Should take a few more weeks of work. They will tackle the front façade last, so I’ll have to hold my breath until then. At least I have our amazing blue doors to tide me over. The Hermann’s were back on site last week to install them.
Mark finished installing the Zehnder flex ducts throughout the house. At the moment, it looks like the sentinel robot from the Matrix has taken up residence in our walls. The install went pretty smoothly. However, in sorting out the layout for our mechanical room, Mark realized he ordered the Heat Exchanger in the wrong orientation. So we’ll have to swap it out before it gets installed.
Mark was also busy taking deliveries, making decisions, juggling a million moving parts and covering for me on the home front while I was away in NYC for work (and play). Busy is the understatement of the century. His brother Brian is in town now to help out. He’s mostly here to help with drywalling, but that’s not set to begin for another week or so. We’ll find plenty to keep him busy with in the meantime. Including hang-time with his two little nieces. Brian watched the girls on Saturday so Mark and I could both be present at the open house tour.
We had a great turnout and lots of great questions. Thank you to all who made it out, it was a really exciting day for us to meet and talk to people interested in this kind of stuff.
A few people have been surprised that we’re opening our house up to tours like this. And I guess it’s not really a normal thing to do. But then again, nothing about our house is ‘normal’. The more I learn about building, the more I believe that we should pay attention to how our houses get built and what goes into our walls. When the drywall goes up, all is hidden. When the siding goes up, all is hidden. How can you tell the difference between our house and another new build going in down the street? You can’t. Unless you look at the drawings or look for a certification like Passive House. What better opportunity to see what’s inside a wall than to see it under construction? So I guess that’s why we’ve been opening our house up the way we have been and will continue to do so.
The next open house tour will likely be when the house is complete. It will be a house like any other at this stage, albeit fantastically comfortable and incredibly beautiful. The house won’t feel like a science experiment, and all the thought, cost and planning that went into our walls happened because it’s simply the way it ought to be.
Btw, if you missed out on the open house tour, but are still interested, post a comment or send us a message. We both realized, in hindsight, that we totally should have Periscoped (web streamed) the tour. If we give another any time soon, we’ll be sure to press record and/or pass along an invite.
We are planning to have an open door tour day this coming Saturday, May 14th. Our doors will be open from 10am until 3pm, and I'll be giving a walkthrough tour at 12pm.
Please come by and check out our Passive House build! This will be the last chance to tour the house before drywall starts. It's a great opportunity to see into the walls and mechanical systems. There's no need to sign up in advance, please just come by at your convenience.
Looking forward to seeing everyone in a week!
What: Wander House open doors tour day (Passive House infill project)
Who: Mark and Meghan Rosen will be on site all day to answer your questions and show you around. Mark is the Architect, Passive House Designer, Owner (with Meghan), and Builder on this project. Check out plotnonplot.ca and beinc.ca for more information on Mark's architecture and consulting firms.
When: Saturday, May 14th 2016, 10am-3pm (tour at 12pm)
Where: 105 Bayswater Avenue, Ottawa, ON
Wow, it’s been a couple weeks since I’ve provided an update. The house has been relatively quiet with only one or two people working at a time. That has since dramatically changed…
Nathan, from Ackland Plumbing, has finished the first rough-in phase for plumbing. We’ve got spiffy (BPA-free) breathable supply pipes running through the house, and a purple one which supplies the grey water. He was explaining to me how, just 10 years ago, a different kind of plastic pipe was getting installed in Canadian houses, one which does not breathe and where water stagnates and becomes unsafe for drinking. Insurance companies will not insure these houses and lawsuits are being filed against the building code. Lesson learned: what seems like a good idea today, may very well prove to untrue tomorrow. And wet things need to breathe, trapped moisture is the enemy of building. I digress. Back to our house.
Nathan managed to carefully maneuver all supplies and drains in and between our open floor trusses and walls. The design of our house helped to facilitate this, with Mark stacking all the plumbing and electrical to one side of the house, over the mechanical room. (This poses absolutely no risk Myles btw (comment from previous post), it’s actually a really clever thing to do when building because all utility runs are minimized in terms of materials and labour). We’ve received numerous compliments on Nathan’s handiwork and it passed the plumbing inspection no problem-o. He’s as excited as we are to have a neat and tidy mission control in our mechanical room, where we’ll go copper for added ‘wow’ factor. Good stuff.
Speaking of passing inspections, we also passed our building envelope inspection. Hooray! We were nervous about this one because we weren’t sure how the inspector would feel about forgoing the traditional Tyvek weatherproof house wrap for our wood fibreboard. The wood fibreboard is more common in Europe and is not often seen on our side of the pond. Mark provided specs to the building inspector and explained it to him. We’re fortunate to have an experienced and open-minded official. But there’s no doubt to anyone walking through or around our house that it’s a well-built, thoroughly considered house.
And back to the mechanical room. Hans from Pinwheel Builds met with Mark and dropped off our new Zehnder HRV and heat exchanger along with coils of flexible plastic pipes, which are to be our house’s air ducts for circulating what little heat we require. It’s a pretty groovy system. We won’t have any gross floor ducts, bulkheads or metal work in our house. All you’ll see are small 8” diameter circles mounted to the occasional wall and ceiling to circulate air. Mark went over his plan with Hans and has started installing the ducting himself. Unboxing the parts was better than Christmas for Mark. He was so excited.
From here on out, Mark will be spending as much time as possible working on the house himself. He bought himself a spiffy new pair of Carhartt overalls for the task ;) In addition to starting the ducting, he finished the parapet (a fancy word for structural railing) on our flat roof, cleaned up the front and back yards, and hosted another tour. This last one saw around 30 people who joined as guest of Malcolm Isaacs, who runs the local Passive House courses and is a director of the Canadian Passive House Institute.
On the backend, we ordered our kitchen. Another hooray! Finally. There were a few back-and-forths during the homestretch, which prolonged the process, but were key for getting the details ironed out. We’re really excited about it. We ended up going with Astro Design Centre and have had a great experience working with Dean Large. He ‘gets’ us, in terms of design, and was able to add real value to our design experience, which we really appreciated. Astro also had the finishes we liked the most, at the best price. For example, a gloss white was the same cost as a matte white (typically gloss costs more). And we don’t want any hardware, we want recessed handles (a no hardware look typically costs more). We went with the Astro house brand in white gloss for all the cabinets except those on the backside of the island. The backside of the island faces the living area. For these cabinets we chose a sand-blasted (i.e. textured) brown ash. Haven’t ordered our countertops yet. That’s next.
Following suit, we made a decision on our wood flooring and placed the order. We’ve decided to go with white ash from the Wood Source. The same white ash that the city of Ottawa has felled throughout the city to thwart the Emerald Ash Borer. It will be sympathetic to the island wood. We also decided to order some extra wood for the sloped ceiling, which spans our open space, over the master bedroom and loft. A slatted wood ceiling will allow for clever lighting hacks. We’ll be able to hide much of the hardware behind the wood so that we only see what we want to see and can get away with using less expensive fixtures at no aesthetic compromise. It will also look incredibly beautiful. It’s a win-win.
As alluded to earlier, the house is buzzing again this week. Siding has begun amongst other exciting things. Do stay tuned and lookout for another Mark Periscope. He broadcast just today. And hope you’ll join the next house tour!
Hope you enjoyed last week’s videos. I sure did. Gave me a break from writing. Writer, I am not. Here goes again:
It’s been a couple weeks since my last construction update. We sent the Cornelis Grey crew away last week. We’ll be bringing them back in a few weeks, once we have more work for them. In the meantime, our plumber Nathan from Ackland plumbing, has begun his rough-in work. He's installing a manifold system? It's cool, or so I am told. And Mark, as you may have seen via Periscope, has begun our ventilation layout.
We walked through the house with our electrician, Yves from Portage Electric, to get a feel for our electrical plan in real life. Wow. When you’re lucky enough to be in a position to decide where to put a switch, and what turns on what, you realize what great ‘power’ you have. And what a massive effect the electrical details potentially have on the user experience and enjoyment of a space. It would really suck to be searching around for a switch that was un-intuitively placed. Or if an unsightly 6-switch was in the middle of a feature wall. What makes sense on paper does not always translate when you’re physically walking through a space.
It also forced us to consider what sort of ‘smart’ lighting/electrical systems we might want to consider. I love the idea of walking into a space and having the lights automagically turn themselves on. Imagine no wall switches? Or lights that learn our behaviour. Will these technologies date our house vs. a tried-and-true analog wall switch? As a happy, budget-friendly medium, we’re looking into Lutron’s Caséta system.
And do we need “cat 5” cable for our internet? If we want to watch Netflix really really fast? I was under the assumption that regular ol’ wifi would suffice for our entire home, but now that the question has been raised, do I want it? Do I need “cat 6” to future-proof? Our neighbours building up the street included some empty PVC pipe behind their walls, for easy wiring access, should they require something they forgot or doesn’t exist yet. I’m going to lean towards less wires = good, whether or not that’s proves to be true. Time will tell.
There are a lot of moving parts that need to come together over the next few weeks, starting with the plumbing, which will carry on for much of this week. Then ventilation followed by electrical. Yves helped us to understand that his job becomes much simpler if he can reuse or follow some of the previous installs. The bigs rocks go in first, then it's easier to fill the gaps with the sand. Or something like that...Once those inside jobs are all finished, we get to cover up those walls with drywall. We’re flying Mark’s brother in from Nelson BC to help us out with the drywalling. He’s a pro, and a Rosen, so it’s bound to be good :) Only 3 weeks away!
We're still placing orders and making decisions on the back-end. We are so frustratingly close to ordering our kitchen. There have been quite a few back-and-forths to nail it down. All of our siding material has been ordered and work is set to begin next week. Really looking forward to that getting under way.
Mark’s sporadically giving tours of the house to various groups. He loves doing them, even though it’s a time-suck. We’ll be setting up another public tour some time in the next couple weeks, likely on a weekend. You’ll be able to see what’s running through our walls before we cover them up. We will post the time and date later this week.
One last thing: it’s spring! With the warmer weather, it now feels relatively cooler when I walk inside the house. Neat-o. Same principles apply to cool our house as it does to heat it. We enjoyed our first picnic of the season out on our rooftop deck. Fealt great.
Before any of our electrical and plumbing work begins, we did a blower door test. This tests to see how air-tight our house is. The test we did was only a preliminary blower door test to ensure that our walls are on track to hit the target, even though not all of our windows and doors are completely sealed yet. We did some temporary taping in a few locations in order to perform the test. We also only performed a depressurization test this time (PassivHaus requires both a depressurization and pressurization test). This is because the temporary taping would have failed under pressurization.
The PassivHaus Standard requires an air tightness of 0.6 ACH50 or better. ACH50 stands for Air Changes per Hour at 50 Pascals of pressure, or the total number of times that the entire volume of air in the house will be exchanged through leakage at a given pressure. 50 Pascals is roughly 5 times the pressure that a house would experience on a cold winter day due to difference in temperatures between the inside and outside, so the test ensures that performance at everyday pressures will be ensured.
The results? We achieved 0.47 ACH50 on the first try!! We are very happy with this result. We will retest the house after the last few windows are completely installed to see how we can bring this result down even lower. The lower this number gets, the smaller and more effective our heating and ventilation system can be.
Choosing our Passive House appliances was no simple task. Our decisions we were largely garnered by a couple very important Passive House principles, in addition to the normal stuff you’d look for in an appliance: cost, performance, reliability, aesthetics, noise level, etc.
1. Low energy use
We have to ensure that our house’s energy demands are under a certain value in order to meet the Passive House standard. We calculate this with the help of the energy modeling software, which requires many different input values. Some, of which, are the EnerGuide ratings for our appliances. They tell you the annual energy consumption of the model in kilowatt hours. The EnergyStar program publishes a ‘most efficient’ list every year, which is a good place to start looking.
2. No external ducting
Here’s where our list of options gets dramatically reduced. With our house, we are not venting to the outside (heaven forbid we penetrate the air barrier). As a result, we must find recirculating options for appliances that otherwise would (vent to the outside), such as the range hood ventilator and our clothes dryer. Oh, and since we have no external ventilation, this precludes us from considering a gas cooktop because open flames without external ventilation is a ‘no-no’ for building code.
At first these may sound like Passive House trade-offs, but in fact, Mark and I are seeing them more as ‘trade-ups’. Because why would you want to throw all that warm air (aka. Heat, aka. Energy) out of the house when you could recycle it and feed the energy needs of our house from within rather than pull from the grid? I sure wouldn’t.
With that in mind, here’s what we decided to go with:
Whirlpool 7.3 cu ft. HybridCare™ Ventless Duet® Dryer with Heat Pump Technology
The most efficient dryer on the market also happens to use ventless heat pump technology. The same heat pump technology that operates our domestic hot water tank. Bam.
We’re simply getting the matching Whirlpool washing machine.
Bosch 500 series - SHP65T52UC
Bosch dishwashers also use heat pump technology, making them pretty darn efficient. This one is whisper quiet, which we like, especially considering our main floor is rather open-plan.
Bosch 500 Series 30” Induction Cooktop
We are so excited that induction technology has made it to the consumer world! There are so many great things to say about induction. It uses magnetic conduction, which is instant, consistent, precise and significantly more energy-efficient than ol’ thermal conducting cooktops (gas and electric) which throw away much of the heat they produce. And best of all, you can put your hand on the burner immediately after taking the pot away. Who hasn’t wanted to do that before?! Well now you can.
Whirlpool convection 30” white - WOS 92EC0AS
Best Cattura Downdraft 30” - D49M30SB
This was by far our most complicated appliance to figure out. Our cooktop is in the island — we like to cook and be part of the action. We have a very large, very beautiful window spanning the length of our kitchen. The last thing we wanted to do was to put a space-aged, over-the-island range hood hanging down from the ceiling, disrupting our lines and views out the window. In order to avoid this, we needed to find a downdraft ventilator — one that sits in the island itself — with a recirculating kit.
Downdraft ventilators are widely regarded as inferior to mounted-above styles because they aren’t able to catch as much of the steam, smoke, and heat, that naturally rises. Even though downdrafts are not quite as effective at removing air, this is less of an issue for us thanks to our induction cooktop. A gas cooktop uses combustion to heat, a natural byproduct of which is smoke (which is why you’re required to vent to the outside with a gas cooktop). With induction, smoke and other pollutants are only a byproduct of forgetting the pot of boiling pasta on the stove too long, which reduces the number of contaminants our blower has to extract from the air. For the most part, our ventilator will only have to remove steam and smells. Any pollutants will be cleared, prior to recirculation, with a charcoal filter.
There are several companies that make these downdraft ventilators, with recirculation kits, that actually pop-up out of the counter to heights as high as 18”. They are all luxury brands. I’ve had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that our downdraft vent, which is inferior to overhead vents, was going to cost as much as the cooktop and wall oven combined. This is one case where design has trumped all other options.
On the ‘up’ side, however, we can take advantage of the recirculated air and improve the overall experience of working in our kitchen. How, you ask?
We will be mounting the fan blower and charcoal filter in our mechanical room, effectively removing any noise from the kitchen itself. No more shouting over a noisy fan motor. And by moving the warm cooking air into the mechanical room, we will be augmenting the energy source for our domestic hot water heater. Our domestic hot water tank is a heat pump model, which pulls heat in from the surrounding air through a compressor and into our water. The surrounding air (in our mechanical room) becomes slightly cooler as a result. Our downdraft air supply will help make-up some of that heat lost to the hot water tank, and reduce our requirement to pull from the grid.
Make sense? I’m not surprised if it doesn’t. I’ll be posting a video of Mark explaining this to me with helpful diagrams likely tomorrow....
So there you have it. Some big decisions made. Each decision turns out to be more of an ordeal then at first glance. I know more about dishwashers now than I ever thought I needed to know. But I'm glad I took the time to do the research and understand. As we are doing with every aspect of our build.
I should also note that we purchased a Consumer Reports Online subscription for the duration of the build to help us with some of our research. It’s been most helpful so far in choosing our appliances. http://www.consumerreports.org/
After 30 weeks of construction, our interior wall cavities are nearly complete. They will contain our electrical and plumbing 'behind the scenes' as to not breach our Passive House air barrier. But before we can call up the electrician and plumber, The Cornelis Grey crew has a few more interior jobs to finish up first. We also need to make some key lighting and plumbing decisions. Decisions decisions.
On that note, we crept a little closer towards making some other big decisions. The biggest of which is our siding materials and install. We’re going with black hardie panel on the inside core, and natural cedar on the enveloping sleeve.
We want this inside core to feel as if it were rising from the earth, as one monolithic shape. Mark is typically not a huge fan of hardie board, especially in our case, because the standard flashing details (at the corners and between boards) can feel clunky and disjointed, which works against the unbroken, monolithic shape we were hoping for. But the price and practicality of hardie panel is hard to beat (vs. cement board). Never one to compromise, Mark has designed some custom flashing for between the boards and corners. He’s also craftily designed our electrical panel (where the meter sits on the outside of the house) and eavestrough system as well. We’re getting it bent and cut out of matching black metal. Metal is pretty cheap, even when it’s custom. It’s details like this that we hope will shine through in our house.
The cedar sleeve is the protective wrapper hugging the house. It echoes our living space and forces inward focus, which stems from our love of courtyard architecture. The black hardie-paneled core grounds the house, while the cedar screen lifts it.
We drove out to Smiths Falls this weekend to take a look at some cedar. There are so many benefits to cedar siding. We plan on allowing ours to age naturally, which will turn it from a warm blond wood to an soft silver colour. It’s super no maintenance, is water and insect resistant, and lasts a lifetime in its natural state. It’s also grown locally and milled to our specs. What’s not to love?
I've explained a bit of the 'why' behind our siding choices. But there were certainly many other factors that played unto our decision-making. You may have noticed we have two brightly coloured neighbours? If you haven’t, one is canary yellow while the other is straight-up orange. On the one hand, we could have followed suit and painted it a wacky bright colour, becoming Ottawa’s very own ‘painted ladies’. But on the other...we’ve decided to contrast them by keeping things natural and neutral, while complementing them with a solid ultramarine blue door. We’ll be introducing more colour with our front yard planter boxes and decking, which will incorporate some rusty-coloured weathering steel. The house will probably recede as it ages gracefully and settles into it’s new home on the street.
And last but not least:
The preliminary air test was completed.
Stay tuned for the results, hehe.
Hint: we passed with flying colours.