Square footage and magic

Window bench

Window bench

Apparently we've been misleading people when they ask us 'how many square feet' our house is. We've been guesstimating it at around 2,000 sq ft, when in actual fact, it's only 1,530. It just feels like a very generous 1,530, which, in my mind, so clearly establishes that good design can make a space feel larger.

Square footage is a funny thing. We understand it as a measure of how big a home is — how much usable floor space there is. Stairs and unfinished spaces are not included in its calculation. Neither are the open-to-below spaces, like we have in our house. So although the floor plate is around 900 square feet (30' x 30'), actual usable space is less than.

Square footage also comes in to play when you talk about costs. It's common to break down the cost of a build into a cost per square foot measure. This is an altogether different calculation, measured using outside dimensions. Maybe another discrepancy in our estimation has something to do with the fact that our walls are so thick. 

Those thick walls are one of the key design features that make our house feel so much larger. Each and every window takes advantage of them, which is where the intersection of passive house principles and good design principles align. For example, in our kitchen, the entire 20' length of the window will be fitted with butcher block in the sill to double as a counter and become any chef's dream prep space. With our sliding doors, the floor actually bleeds through the wall, until it meets the glass, effectively extending our floorspace by an extra two feet. And in our master suite, we have a picture window with a sill at bench-height, which we're building out further to become a comfortable, cushiony, window seat. So we're reclaiming square footage with these little tricks, even if they're not technically considered usable square feet. Magic!

Also, don't ask me about our build right now. I am sooooo ready to be done. Still so much to do. I'll talk about it when I'm in a better emotional state. 

Construction weeks 26 & 27: windows and air barrier

gaulhofer-lift-and-slide

We have windows! The Hermann’s installed those that could be man-handled and lifted into place by hand on week one, and the remainder on week two with the help of a crane.

Getting the house sealed in and weather proofed is holding us back at this point so it feels good to have them in place. And damn they’re fine. Feels like a legit house now. It’s a thing of beauty.

The crew also finished off the wall cavity insulation and started installing the air barrier, which is a layer of OSB (oriented strand board -- comes in sheets like plywood) that gets taped at all the seams with a special Siga membrane tape.

And some photos:

Window delivery

Window delivery

Our glass

Our glass

Mark and Andreas trying to give high 5s while holding up a 2000 lb window in place

Mark and Andreas trying to give high 5s while holding up a 2000 lb window in place

The thickness of our triple-pane kitchen window. NO backyard baseball games.

The thickness of our triple-pane kitchen window. NO backyard baseball games.

Kitchen window install -- Justin and Andreas

Kitchen window install -- Justin and Andreas

Rear elevation avec les windows

Rear elevation avec les windows

Front elevation with temporary door

Front elevation with temporary door

The loft window lift-and-slide

The loft window lift-and-slide

What else of news?

There have been some headaches around getting our second construction mortgage withdraw because our unconventional build is being treated as conventional. We hope things have been ironed out, but have yet to receive the monies in our bank. This is a longer blog post for another time. Argh.

Now our shell is 95% complete. There are still a few items outstanding:

  • our attic and flat roof need insulating (blown-in cellulose)

  • some wood fibreboard is missing on the outside (because of how the walls were lifted)

  • some weather-proof taping to be done on the seams of the wood fibre board

We need to start making decisions ASAP on a lot of things. Our kitchen will need 10–12 weeks at the factory, which means we are already behind the 8-ball. Our lighting and plumbing fixtures need sorting too. We have yet to make these decisions and already decision fatigue has set in.

If I’ve made light of building a home, in any way, you have been misguided. It’s not for the weak of heart or will. One the one hand, I’m ecstatic to see our home coming together and to reach these huge milestones. One the other, there is still so much to do. It’s a massive source of stress. In some ways though, it feels like the homestretch (before the homestretch). And when I walk into our home, I am in complete awe. I love it so much, which definitely helps to ease the stress. Looking forward to ticking some key decisions off the list.

 

Construction week 20: 3rd floor framing

There's snow in the house. We always liked the idea of bringing the outside - in. But this is taking it too far. Wah-wah.

There's snow in the house. We always liked the idea of bringing the outside - in. But this is taking it too far. Wah-wah.

Our second floor (third if you include the walk-out basement) has been framed in. The cold temps have definitely come with challenges. We're using an adhesive on the edges of the wood fibre board that needs to be warm to be malleable. So we've rented space heaters to keep a small section of the basement warm for the adhesives. And there's snow on everything.

It's so bloody cold. Went out there for half an hour last week and my toes almost fell off. Props to construction workers in this city. It's unreal. And then I go sit in my cushy, warm office job, feeling slightly unworthy. Respect.

We took some friends on a tour of the house this past weekend. They had their children with them. The five year old said, "Mina's house looks like Elsa's* castle because it's tall and there was snow inside".

* For those of you who don't have a child, Elsa is a snow queen from Disney's film Frozen.

The third floor joists should be going in this week. In the meantime, Mark and I are trying to work out some design details for the inside, of which there are many. He's working on our kitchen & bath layouts so we can get them priced out to make decisions. We're agreeing on all the big picture items, so hopefully that bodes well for when we have to start selecting finishes.

He's also working on our HRV design. Where the fresh air and exhaust vents will be located. It's fascinating stuff. I'm working on a post with fancy visuals to help illustrate the concepts. I'm also doing a bit of research in to automated home technologies – ways to make the house smart. If anyone has any knowledge in this, please share! Just because the house is low-tech (crudely-speaking), doesn't mean other areas of the house have to be. Lights that learn? Maybe.

Dwindling winter daylight. Pano of the second floor.

Dwindling winter daylight. Pano of the second floor.

Rear elevation.

Rear elevation.

Views of the city beyond the tree and rooftops.

Views of the city beyond the tree and rooftops.

Periscope winter framing

The build has been frozen over the holidays, both literally and figuratively. So has my writing. Admittedly, I've been feeling frustrated that we weren't able to race ahead while the going was good (with the weather). I had hopes and dreams to be closed in before Christmas. Alas. There's a learning curve to be had with our wall system. And we've only had 2 or 3 guys out working most days. The second floor framing is coming along nicely now. We're full steam ahead in the new year. Whoooot! Attempting to stay warm and carry on.

2nd floor takes shape

Joists and hangers and LVLs galore

Joists and hangers and LVLs galore

The joists and beams for the second floor are in! Today we start installing subfloor and railings. It's really exciting to see the views taking shape as we get higher!

This is the open space over the dining room, and the start of our tall south window

This is the open space over the dining room, and the start of our tall south window

Getting closer and closer to the canopy of our silver maple! 

Getting closer and closer to the canopy of our silver maple! 

Construction week 14: first floor framing complete

The sun sets over another week. 

The sun sets over another week. 

The last two walls went up this Monday. Here is a Periscope from the weekend with a special guest star appearance. Teaser: it was me. We put the final touches on the walls together. 

We are counting our blessings lately for all this "warm" weather. 

Construction week 9: ICF walls

Our basement concrete ICF wall sandwich.

Our basement concrete ICF wall sandwich.

Our house has taken shape! This week revolved mostly around setting up our ICF walls, which Mark discussed in his post from earlier this week

On Friday, we filled them with concrete. Our guys from Cornelis Grey leveled and troweled excess as they went. We rented a concrete vibrator to help ensure the concrete made it all the way down to the bottom of the hollow ICF walls. However, we may skip this step next time 'round, seeing as how the concrete had no trouble making it down and the vibrator actually cause our walls to bulge in a couple small sections. (These bulges are easily remedied, however, by shaving off some of the foam prior to gluing the exterior layer of additional foam. Still...the perfectionists in us would prefer no bulging.)

I was ecstatic to finally be able to walk inside our future home, the first floor at least. I can start to visualize where everything will be. Très cool. 

We posted a site sign over the weekend. Fortunately, our site, with all the construction material lying out on the front lawn, didn’t suffer from any Halloween pranking. I was a little paranoid that our port-a-pottie would be tipped or our foam would be toyed with. We should be able to clear up the front yard this upcoming week, or week thereafter, by backfilling the foundation and freeing up the backyard for materials storage and site facilities. And to make room for our neighbors fantastic front yard skating rink. Yep, winter is coming. Fortunately, the forecast looks pretty decent for the week ahead (no snow yet). Great framing weather! Next week will be another big one. Lots of change as we go up another level.

Wood and hammers and nails — oh my! 

Cheeky site sign.

Cheeky site sign.