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!
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.
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!
With the slab poured and the ICF well under way, I thought I would write a quick post with visuals explaining the construction methods and materials being used. I've created some images to go along with all the photos we've been posting to hopefully add some clarity to what you've been looking at so far!
The images above and below show the concrete foundation and foam insulation as it will be once completed. The image below has labels calling out the various layers.
The biggest difference between our foundation and a typical residential foundation is the lack of concrete footings. A typical foundation would pour strip concrete footings right onto undisturbed soil, then pour the concrete walls, and finally pour the slab inside the walls. In our home, the slab is poured before the walls and will actually support them, which is why it is so much thicker (8" instead of the standard 4") and has so much steel rebar in it. It is also completely contained within the foam insulation tray, eliminating any thermal bridging through the concrete to the ground. The end result of this is a concrete floor that will retain the heat it absorbs from the house above, rather than simply dumping it through into the ground.
The walls on top of the slab are made up of three layers. First is the ICF (insulated concrete forms) from Nudura. These are like Lego for grow ups. They snap together to form the walls and are held apart by integrated webbing. The cavity is 6" wide and on Friday we will be pouring it full of concrete. Watch for photos this week showing the alignment system that will ensure the walls are straight and true as the concrete is poured.
Once the concrete is poured and the walls straightened, we will be adding two more layers of foam from Styrorail to the exterior to build up the insulation value of the walls. The first layer has horizontal wood strapping embedded, and the second layer will cover this wood and effectively embed it in the middle of the wall. The foam will be glued in place using PL 300 glue, which is specifically formulated not to deteriorate the foam over time. The horizontal wood strapping gives us something to tie back into when we go to install our siding above grade.
Now let's talk about the big white elephant in the room: why so much foam? The amount of insulation is one of the trade offs required to achieve passive house performance on such a challenging site. Because of the limitations of orientation and south-facing window areas, we have to compensate by beefing up the thermal envelope more aggressively than you might find in other passive house projects. The final thickness was determined after several rounds of refinement of the energy model (using PHPP for those keeping track). The really nice thing about this configuration is that all of the concrete is on the warm side of the thermal envelope, where it will hold its warmth, and is protected from expansion and contraction. This alignment becomes especially important when we get to the design of the framed walls above...more on that soon.
Work started this week with more rebar — the critical metal mesh which reinforces our structural concrete slab. Once the metal work was complete, our structural engineer, Peter Campbell, came by to inspect and sign-off on it. Check and check. We were ready for concrete.
I am relieved to say that the concrete pour went really well. The team was great and the slab looks great. But this step did not want to happen. First of all, concrete is surprisingly expensive. We had a hard time assembling quotes. Ended up having our guys at Cornelis Grey tie and prepare the metal, ordering our concrete from one company, and a concrete pump truck from another company. A lot of extra coordination. And then on the day before the pour, our concrete team tried to cancel on us! Fortunately for us, Mark can be very persuasive and eventually it all worked out. Once underway, they had to pause work several times to clear leaves off the wet concrete, but otherwise all good.
On Friday, our Cornelis Grey team started installing the ICF forms for our basement walls. This work will spill over to next. And today we ventured out to the Herrmann's. We ordered our Gaulhofer windows and doors through them and they have been sitting in their immaculate warehouses for a couple months now. We finally found the time to visit them. Boy are they spectacular. And those blue doors! Swoon. They will be a joy to operate every day. Really looking forward to getting those installed. We’re still hoping to be closed in before Christmas.
This was a big week. We have a fab slab. Now it’s onwards and upwards — with walls! Speaking of those walls, I think it’s high time I get Mark to post a little something about them. There aren’t enough hours in the day.
And some more pics from the week:
Today felt like the first day of actual construction! After a lot of delay, digging, waiting and watching, today marked the first time I actually put on my boots and climbed down into the hole in the ground to start building our passive house. The first step: installing the ground source loop.
The ground source loop is 600 feet of high density polyethylene pipe installed in a continous loop 18" below our insulated foundation. The loop will eventually be filled with a brine or glycol solution and connected to a heat exchanger in our mechanical room. A small pump in the heat exchanger will move the liquid around the loop, picking up free heat from the ground in winter and free coolth in summer and using it to temper the incoming fresh air in our ventilation system. This gives us all sorts of wonderful benefits:
- the HRV's efficiency will be maximized in even the coldest winters
- no defrost cycle will be required to protect the HRV's core, as the ground source heat will provide enough pre-heat
- the incoming air in the summer will be cooled and dehumidifed
- the size of post-heater for adding the balance of the required heat for the house is minimized
In plainer terms, the ground loop makes heating easier in winter and cooling easier in summer!
The pipe we used is from GeoSmart Energy. It was quite easy to work with, even with the cooler air temperatures this morning. We ran the loops with roughly 2 foot spacing between them. Given the opportunity, an ideal install would likely use greater spacing and a deeper installed depth — to counter this we've installed more length than is propbably required. The spacing and depth are determined in part by the constrictions of our infill site, the size of our footprint, and cost. Going deeper is expensive (not only the digging, but the fill to bring the level back up for the foundation). The original design called for installation 36" below the foundation insulation, but by reducing this to 18" we saved over $4000 in compacted fill and labour. Definitely the right call.
We will be connecting the loop to the Zehnder ComfoFond, which plays very nicely with the ComfoAir 350 we have planned. The two units have been designed to communicate and work together well. I'm happy to stick with one manufacturer for all of the pieces of this heat exchange/ventilation system, which definitely has it's perks when it comes to maintenance and warranty.
I'm looking forward to connecting and filling the loop, but that will have to wait until the mechanical system is installled (which is still months away). Once we do, we will be able to play with the flow rates through the loop to optimize the amount of energy we are able to pull from the ground.
Next up we will be installing the engineered fill and all of the sub-slab plumbing and electrical. We are also looking forward to our first big shipment of insulation from StyroRail on Wednesday!
We ran in to a bit of a surprise during the dig. Was it buried treasure? No, no it was not. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Turns out our yellow house neighbours have a sewage pipe that extends out perpendicularly from their house and several feet on to our land — precisely where our foundation needs to go — before making its way to the street .
It needs to move before we can continue building our home. We lost some precious time last week trying to wrap our heads around the issue. Every house is supposed to have its own separate sewage connection that runs directly out to the street, and not across adjacent property. But the yellow house was the first on the block. These rules did not apply 130 years ago.
Work is starting up again this Wednesday so hopefully not too much time was lost. Doulos will be starting the road cut and servicing work.
We suffered an unfortunate knock last week. So hopefully we won’t be running in to more delays or ‘surprises’ this week. Argh feels more like F#$%.
Yep. It's a shitty pipe. That's for sure.
I was expecting something more high-tech — maybe a glass box that would be filled with soil and mechanically compressed and measured for PSI. Nope. The engineer went into the hole with a hammer, scraped it in a few places, touched some dirt and said ‘yep, good to go!’. We have a report stating our dirt is comprised of glacial till, silty gravel with clay, cobbles at a bearing capacity of 100 kPa. I guess he just knows. Who knew?