Wednesday, August 6, 2014

"Uhhh Uninhabitable!!!"

Well, as soon as spring hit, we started discussing when we would be able to move into our house. As mentioned earlier, being the cheap people that we are, the thought of saving the $800/month for rent/, was definitely appealing. Originally we had hoped that by May long weekend we could move into our house…but that was just not going to be possible. By June, we moved into our house, though it still had no flooring, lighting, cupboards/countertops…etc, etc. We had two of our toilets hooked up the day of our move and our very kind and selfless brother-in-law was painting our doors and ceilings the same day we moved into our house. For the first two weeks we set up our tent-trailer in the garage and lived in there. I guess technically, we should not be allowed to even be living in our house yet…but quite truthfully, we couldn't really handle our rental house anymore. Plus, we never saw Jeremy as he was spending all of his time at the house. It was decided, that although our living conditions would not be ideal over at our new house, it still was probably going to be better for our family than continuing to rent where we were. So this is the state of our house when we moved in more or less. We were surrounded by drywall dust, tools, and the mess of being in the middle of a construction zone. One Sunday evening I went to a stake fireside for Quest that was coming up. I ran into one of the leaders from another ward that we had met last year at camp (when we had just barely started to build our house)…She asked if we had moved into our house yet…I said, yes, we just moved in this past weekend…but it isn't quite done yet…I struggled finding the words to explain where our house was at in the process…so I turned to my friend/the yw president in our ward and said "how would you describe our house"… "UHHHH, Uninhabitable!!!!" was her response. Yep, that does pretty much sum it up. Never a dull moment that is for sure. I just hope we all keep our sanity by the end of this.

If you Build it they will come

Well, for over two years our family of 5 + dog lived in a one bedroom "barn house". This was the living room/kitchen (not even enough room for our table and so we have been using a coffee table to eat our meals for the past few years). Living in such a small space --we had to get creative…There was a mattress on the floor in the closet that Walden or Chaim would alternate sleeping on, and we divided the one bedroom with a curtain to try to make it into two. I will say it was manageable--ish…definitely by the end we were all going a little squirrally in our cramped little quarters with three wild boys that literally (at least for a while) were raised in a barn. In the midst of all this Mayhem of building and living this way, we also decided that since Walden was getting older we might as well have our fourth right away before there is too big of a gap… A difficult decision at first with the mountain of work ahead of us still with the house-- I explained and re-explained to Jeremy that if I am pregnant I will be no help to him at all. I basically become useless for 9 months when I am pregnant. I spelled out to him that I would no longer be doing the trips to the dump, or this, or that or this or that…basically, he would not be able to count on my help much at all until sometime after the baby was born. I know some women handle pregnancy much better than me, but I become a total pansy who can barely cook a meal half the time. Still, with all this laid out we decided to grow our family. By late January I was at the site going over the electrical for the boys room with our Electrician. I explained I wanted a main centre light, a light in the closet and then showed him a picture of the built-in-bunkbed wall that we were going to do. 4 built in bunk beds each with it's own reading light….sort of something like this….(The plan is to keep all the mess in one room…plus I think it will be super cool and fun) He didn't seem to get the concept and said in a sarcastic tone…"But you only have 3 kids"…. So besides family, and being barely pregnant, our electrician was one of the first to know we were expecting our fourth. At this point we were not sure if it would be a boy or girl. Knowing that a girl would eventually need her own room and may not even use the fourth bunk, we forged ahead with our plan for the boys room…(me--secretly hoping for a boy--if we build it "he" will come) And that seems to be the case as in 3 weeks (okay, I am being optimistic…5 weeks, we will welcome our 4th boy to our family)…I just hope we have a kitchen sink before baby comes:) Anyway, this is one of my favourite rooms in the house and I can't wait until it is finished.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Decision, Decisions, Decisions

Designing/Decorating or picking all the colours and details for the home is one area where I think a lot of people have a real talent for…I not so much. Truthfully, after awhile, all the decisions seem a bit overwhelming for me. Originally our plan was to just try to copy the house of our friends that we were patterning our house from…we made some changes to make it more energy efficient (which sadly probably took away from the aesthetics of the house), but we thought if we just did what they did it would probably still end up looking alright….. here is a pic of their lovely house…it is perfect!!! However, when we ordered our soffit material we did not have a picture of their place and went by memory…(it was white right?????). We ordered and started installing our soffits and then decided to do another drive by of our favourite house…Nope not white at all (oops!!)….Yikes now what were we going to do…I panicked a little and then decided to find something that hopefully would work with the soffit material we had started with. Probably would have helped to have someone professional help pick out some of the colours and material choices but hopefully it will all come together alright in the end.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Geesh, sorry about all the negativity---Some positives….

We did hire a father/son team for the month of December to help us get our ceiling ready for all the insulation we were going to be putting in there. They were wonderful…a little slow,and a little pricey (we paid them and paid for their accommodations while they worked in our area) but they were thorough and totally nice and honest and I was happy when they asked us to talk to our other trade worker who was working that month about his language as they did not feel comfortable with inappropriate language while at work. I appreciated that. They were Seventh Day Adventists and were happy for the work and were happy to work over the Christmas holidays. In January the son went back to school and we were still waiting on our trades before we could seal up the walls with drywall. They were pleasant to work with and great to get to know. They also got us ready for putting in all the insulation in our ceiling. We did R70 in the ceiling which was a tonne of blow-in insulation. By late January/early February, with the ceiling insulated…we were ready to turn on at least half of our Geothermal system. As mentioned earlier we did a hybrid forced air/radiant heat Geothermal system and the radiant heating downstairs was able to be turned on. Finally we were able to get heat in our home…was it going to work?????? It did. Just having the Geothermal radiant heat in the basement on was able to keep the house at a consistent 21 degrees C. Only half our system was running and our house was staying fairly stable and comfortable…or a least more so than it had been. This put us ahead and Jeremy started to be able to plunk away on tiling the bathroom floor and starting to build some of the bathroom vanities. It was starting to feel like there was progress again. Finally by February we were ready to have our drywallers come in. It finally started to feel like progress again.

A Major Project Stand Still--Working with the Trades--My Bitter Rant

Well, by the end of September progress on the house really slowed down. We had had a fellow doing our stucco exterior… a whole drama in and of itself. I did not want to hire him. He had a criminal record and had been in jail and his parolee was going to need to check in with us. I had heard a few stories and was not interested in having him around our site. However, D. (our contractor that helped us over the summer with the concrete pours) said that he was the cheapest we would find and he would keep him in line. Of course Jeremy did not want to consider any other options as it was clear that our Stucco job with J. would indeed be cheaper than any other crew we could hire. During August/September…things seemed to be working fine (but D. was still in and around our site a bit--which helped keep him in check)…by October working with J. became a real headache. Our agreed upon pay period of every two weeks, turned into every day, plus they would need their car filled with gas at the end of each day to get to and from the site. Each week there would be another sob storey, and he was also becoming unreliable at showing up at work or putting in a full days work. If Jeremy ran late after school they would wait outside our house for the money until he got home. This never made me feel to comfortable, but it took a real turn when I showed up at the site one day and overheard their conversation (they were working behind a tarp to keep the heat in and did not realize I was there). Anyway, it was incredibly inappropriate and disturbing and so I told Jeremy I was not comfortable at the site while they were there anymore. I also did not want them coming to our rental house anymore waiting for their daily cash. Jeremy relayed the message and reiterated our previously agreed upon 2-week pay period arrangement. However this chat had little impact and a few days later they sat outside my house for 2 hours--even after I had told them several times that Jeremy did not have cash on him today and he was in meetings and would be home late. By the time Jeremy came home I was mad. Jeremy was out there politely trying to resolve the situation, but I was already in full blown mother-bear mode. I slipped on my jacket and stormed out and gave them piece of my mind. I let them know I had heard their conversations the other day on the site and frankly it was very inappropriate and disturbing and I did not even feel comfortable going to the site or having them around my house. I let them know I had police officers in the family (okay, maybe a little dramatic) and that I don't trust people and when they behave this way red flags go up for me. I told them if it were up to me they wouldn't even have a job at our site and if they don't shape up I was more than happy to find someone else to finish the job. I also explained to them that when they do not show up for a full days labor (and I know when they are coming and leaving the site as our rental house is on the same road), and then expect to be paid for a full day that that is theft and I was tired of it….etc etc etc. After my rant I stormed back inside (locked the doors again) and let Jeremy deal with the rest. They apologized for their behaviour at the site and said they would do better. After that they put in a few more weeks of work and then they just stopped coming to the site altogether (by this time it was getting colder…but we would still get texts saying "on our way"…or "Will be there tomorrow", but they never showed up. All of their mess and supplies were still at the site so we knew they would come back sometime…but the exterior of the house would stay as is until later in the spring. The hardest part of this was when he left he had just started our South side…So all of our South glazing that was meant to help heat our home in the winter was completely not available over the winter as J. had left the scaffolding and tarps up across the whole south side of the house. As such over the winter we had no solar heat from our south windows and particularly frustrating no light…essentially we were working in a cave. It was a nice break not having to deal with all the disfunction and drama of having to babysit them, however we still had plenty of other drama to deal with. None of our other trades seemed to want to work at our site. We were now ready to get moving with our plumbing and electrical and shift our focus to the interior of the home. Our plumber who had started with us and who Jeremy had helped install the septic field with was not interested in coming to our site any time soon. I think after the septic field experience when he realized how much money we saved doing so much of the labor ourselves, he was not interested in working with us (unless desperate for work) as he could charge out and make a lot more money just doing it all himself. You see, it became clear to me that unless there is a shortage of work, the trades could really not be bothered to come to our house unless they were going to make a mint…However we planned to do work ourselves and cut costs where we could so in the end…I guess being cheap or trying to save money ended up being a hang up with the trades…(Don't get me wrong, it is not like we were ripping our trades off or trying to get a steal of a deal…they were still charging their rate…Our plumbers $85 dollars/hour rate was completely respectable and we paid all our bills on time) however he realized that on our septic field alone by having Jeremy do so much of the work we saved over $10, 000, which meant he was not making that money for him…his interest in our project quickly waned. This became a big problem with our electrical fellow to. We had worked out a rate etc. with him. It was agreed upon. However, work in the fall for our trades picked up and they were not hurting for jobs. Because we were cheaper and willing to do so much ourselves, the incentive to come to our site just was not there for them because they could make more money elsewhere. We also did all of our shopping and purchasing of materials for both the electrical and plumbing supplies…of course this saved us money but the plumber and electrician were not able to get the mark-up on materials that they charge when they supply the materials. After waiting a month and a half for our plumber we finally talked with him on the phone to try to pin down a time. The best he could tell us was maybe sometime in the new year but he wasn't sure when. We could not wait anymore--especially on such a loose commitment. We parted ways, found a new plumber, applied for another plumbing permit for our house and again, it was a hidden blessing. The new Plumber was out of lethbridge and was recommended to us by the Geothermal company we were working with. He would travel to our location…His rate was fair (perhaps even a smidge cheaper than our local guy), he was fair, decent, honest, but the best part was a great plumber that understood geothermal systems. He so far is my favourite Trade and one we recommend to anyone and everyone. Our Plumbing frustrations in the end turned out to be a real blessing as our previous plumber new nothing about Geothermal. Our Electrical guy was frustrating because he would always give us a date when he would be coming and then never show up. This went on for weeks and weeks. I would notice his truck for entire weeks at D.'s new house he was building and finally I asked our electrician why he never came to our site. He basically told me that D. is a General Contractor that gives him a lot of work and so he feels more of a commitment to make him happy than us….Again he said he would be to our place before Christmas, but it never happened. It then turned into after the new year, but again it was weeks and weeks before he showed up…and when we would get him it was usually just for an hour or two before he would leave. Sometimes he would leave his young assistant behind to do a few jobs for us, but it was definitely a SLOOOOWWW moving job. I guess that is the advantage to having a General Contractor. They deal with all the headaches of the trades…and they have more pull with the trades than we did. Our tin-smashers and HRV duct work fellows came from Lethbridge and they were great. However our walls were held up and we were unable to move on to drywall until our electrical and plumbing was tied up. In the end we had more luck with Trades from Lethbridge or out of town than we did with our local guys. And in the end I missed just being able to plunk away on it ourselves. Turning the house over to the trades brought a lot of frustration and for me bitterness whereas when it was just us working on the house we had no one else to blame or be bothered by but ourselves. I was looking forward to taking the house back and being done with our trades and doing the work ourselves again.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

serious catchup--Heating System

Before I forget (or block it out of my traumatized mind:)) I really need to continue capturing some of these details of this adventure. I have been terrible throughout this process with taking pictures and keeping a record of all that we have done and been through trying to build our own house. By fall, we were pretty much at lock up. We had the roof on, the windows in, and the doors on. Things were looking good. It was now time to coordinate plumbing and electrical and get some of those trades moving. However, we still had one big glitch looming over our heads…the heating of our home. We had been so busy over the summer in building mode--waking up, putting in long hours working on the house, going to bed and repeating the next day that we really did not have a tonne of time to do our research. As mentioned previously we were really hoping to build as energy efficient as possible…(still trying to aim for passivehaus even if we didn't quite get there on our own we wanted to apply as many of the principles as possible). I had also just recently read a great book called The Leap An excellent and inspiring book, that made me reluctant to even have gas as an energy source for our home. Being inspired/brainwashed, we began to look at other options. Our ideal goal was to be able to set up our house so that perhaps someday, with the help of solar panels we could be self-sustaining or off-grid. Jeremy, found a fellow in Utah that was doing solar thermal heat. He designed a system for us after a few phone calls and we discussed it with our plumber, him and us over a conference call. The gist of it was that we would have a 2000 gallon water tank in our storage room that would be heated by solar panels on the roof and thus heat our home (we had already installed the radiant in floor heating tubes. However as part of the conference call we learned (by accident on their part as the Utah designer put up a cost sheet) that the actual price of this system and the price that we were going to have to pay after it went through the hands of our Canadian supplier was going to be an $8000 increase, just for the switching hands to get this system across the border. That was a substantial markup in my eyes. Well, if there is one thing about both Jeremy and I that has motivated this project is our insistence to save a $dollar. Okay, we are super cheap…hence the reason we decided to build and do so much on our own. Needless to say the extra $8000 "handshake" cost between the american supplier and the Canadian dealer did not sit well with us. Not to mention I did not like the fact that a swimming pool (more or less) was going to take up my entire storage room…so luckily we were out and decided not to go with that system for heating our home. A HUGE blessing as it would have been a big mistake and would not have met all of our needs. In the computer modelling that we did for our house, Overheating was a concern in the summer months. We did so much south-facing glazing to try to maximize the passive solar heat gain to our home, but in the summer we were going to be running the risk of overheating. This being said, we did not want to have to rely on the traditional air-conditioning (more energy consumption) to mitigate this. It was well into the fall, and by this time our Contractor D. as mentioned earlier was annoyed with us (particularly our lack of organization over our heating system) and so he jumped out of our house and started building another. We had discussed Geothermal a few times (as it would handle our heating and cooling of the house) but never gave it too much attention due to the fact that we knew about 4 other people that had had it and did not seem to think that it worked very well. Out of desperation I was in talks with our local gas company again…"How soon could we get our gas hooked up?" He kind of scolded me on the phone because he had come out and talked to us in the summer about hookups and we sent him away confident we wouldn't be needing gas…now he felt like throwing it back in my face and said he was in no rush to get to our site (more or less) and we would just have to wait. I may have cried a little, perhaps overwhelmed, perhaps annoyed at his smugness, perhaps embarrassed that we were crawling back to the "energy enemy" and caving and hooking up our gas anyway. It was super frustrating. It also annoyed us that just to get a gas line 70 feet long to our house was going to cost us over $7000 just to bring gas to our site. Again we are cheap, but when we looked at the other gas companies in the area like Dinosaur gas who were not allowed to service us because we were under ATCOs jurisdiction the cost of the other companies was a mere fraction of what they were charging us. Literally thousands of dollars simply because we were stuck using one gas company and there was no competition…they could charge whatever they wanted. Desperate I called and talked to Energy Smart in Lethbridge. We had been talking to TeraAlta in Medicine hat about other heating options as well and so both companies gave us a geothermal quote. Energy Smarts was cheaper but we were not convinced on geothermal yet--hearing so much negative reaction in our own little circle. So that weekend we piled into the van and headed to lethbridge to actually see what all this Geothermal hype was about. We walked around the Energy Smart building that had been retrofitted for Geothermal…felt the air coming out of the vents, heard the schpeel, but were still not convinced. We wanted to know what an application in the home would look and feel like, particularly what the electrical cost to run the system really looks like. Our Neighbor in Rolling Hills who had geothermal had mentioned that in the winter months he was paying almost $400 between heating and lighting his home…a huge cost he contributed to geothermals inefficient heating. Rudy at Energy Smart drove us to his brother's house who had geothermal heating. We walked through, hung out in the mechanical room looking at the system and then he even showed us his electrical bill…$150/month for heating and lighting his home. That seemed reasonable, particularly if you could offset some of that with solar panels. It was with great pleasure that I went into our local gas company and canceled our application for natural gas to our property…we were doing Geothermal. I was so anxious and nervous about this decision, especially because Jeremy had decided that he wanted to lay the pipes ourselves to save even more money on the geothermal system. This did not sit well with me. I wanted the pros to do it all so that if it didn't work, they would be responsible. I didn't want to take any chances especially since we had already heard so many people that were unhappy with their geothermal systems. Jeremy was not convinced and so by early November him and I were stretching out hundreds of feet of geothermal pipes across our property and into the neighbouring snow-covered field while the boys sat in the van watching a movie on the laptop. We found a local excavator that came and helped us dig the trench for our horizontal geothermal lines and we spent a wet, snowy and very cold weekend digging up our entire back yard and mucking around in a enormous trench that curled around our property placing the lines. The trench was 10 feet deep and the sides had to be scooped a certain way so it would not cave in on us and so it seemed even deeper. Again, being too cheap for even babysitters I guess, our boys were in the van with the laptop watching a movie while we embarked on this latest project of insanity. At one point I decided I needed out of the trench to go and check on the boys…but soon discovered it was too deep and I was unable to get out on my own…It was strange (I had been caving before and wasn't claustrophobic or scared) but suddenly (perhaps just cold, wet and overwhelmed by this project), I started to panic and even cry a little…I told Jeremy that I needed out of the trench and the excavator lowered his bucket for me…which I climbed into and he lifted me out of the hole. Yikes…this was crazy!!!!! The boys were happy in the van, but I was a ball of nerves. Our whole backyard was dug up with a dirt pile in the centre as high as our house. All this mess and craziness and was this even going to work???? I was not convinced at this point.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Up and up we go...

So, our next floor of ICF was ready to go. Again this was a busy time, hence I have very few pictures. At first it seemed as though we were moving faster than before, and I thought we had really figured out a great system. Soon, we had many more window and door bucks that did slow us down a little. We were moving along so quickly at first that we had 4 feet in what seemed like no time at all. With blue skies we were eager to keep going and try to get as much ICF laid as possible. The rule is however that once you have 4 feet of ICF laid, you need to start bracing the walls. With such a beautiful day and great progress being made we completely overlooked this rule. Come mid afternoon, I looked at the sky to the east and saw complete blackness. A storm was rolling in and it was coming fast. Before long, our calm, clear day, was suddenly extremely windy, with lightning and rain. The wind actually blew down the 4 feet of our North wall and was working hard to undo all of our efforts on the East wall. We scrambled to get the braces up and in place in time to save the rest of our ICF walls from blowing over. Luckily, though hectic and insane, it was all saved and we managed to repair our North wall without to much effort (thanks to our overzealous use of zip ties, the wall stayed pretty much together when it fell down and only a few pieces had to be repaired. Things were moving along. Around this time D. had recommended a local young fellow to help us with the ICF. Dan had done a little ICF work before and D. thought it would help us move things a long. Jeremy, was happy for the extra set of hands, and I was happy to have someone else around to help with the ICF, especially when we got above 5 feet and needed the scaffolding up again. As mentioned earlier, not being a fan of heights, looking over the edge of the top of the house while standing on the scaffolding was not my favourite feeling. He was a welcome addition to our little crew…bringing it from 2 to 3. The last concrete pour for the walls was completed just before the end of the summer. Soon Jeremy would be returning to school and the hours we were going to be able to commit to the site was going to drastically decrease. D. came on board with us for the Month of September. He and Dan were able to put on the roof system and trusses in a few days and finally our house was starting to come together. Around the same time another fellow named Joe came on board with us. His job was to help wrap the house in the EPS sheets (extra 4 inches of styrofoam) and then he was going to do the stucco. Things were still moving forward. In the summer we had spent a few days digging a trench for the electrical lines to the house, and laying the large wire so it was ready for the electrician to set up our electrical boxes and help us get electricity to the site. Jeremy also spent several days working with the plumber and the backhoe operator installing our septic system. The money he was able to save doing this job instead of having someone else do it was incredible and well worth his efforts. On days when heavy equipment was on site (such as the back ho) it really did not make any sense for the boys to be around so we had a "free day" on those days. That being said, it usually was a day to catch up on the very neglected chores and work that was required at home at the place we were living (or at least sleeping at). Looking back though I appreciate Jeremy's can-do attitude and his interest to do and brave any task. With his attention to detail I am confident that many of these jobs were only made better by having Jeremy so involved in each and every step of the house. It really seemed as though things began to derail a little when it was time for him to go back to work (another story for another post). At any rate, we had dug a hole and placed our cistern, Jeremy had spent a few days installing our septic field, we had electricity, the walls of our house were up, and the summer was over. Not to bad for 2 months work. We spent the evenings at the site, prepping for the basement and garage slab pours. We had hired a company to do 6 inches of 2 lb closed cell spray foam for insulation underneath the basement slab. Once the spray foam was in place we snapped the lines for our in-floor heating (radiant heating) and while the boys watched a movie, Jeremy and I spent a few evenings laying the in floor heating lines in our basement and garage. Once this was done, D. was ready to do our last and final concrete pour, our basement slab and our garage slab. At this stage, the weather was starting to turn. We needed heaters to help dry the concrete. It was a long long day for D. but he did great work and we had an actual basement floor and garage floor. Because we were doing the labor ourselves for so many of these tasks, at times this would frustrate D. as I think it held him up a little on certain tasks. It is not like there was not other jobs to complete while he waited for us to finish ours, but for a busy contractor who is used to cranking out the houses in record time, our involvement began to become a bit of a source of frustration for him at times. He often questioned and disagreed or discouraged our reasoning for certain choices…the extra 4 inches of EPS around the whole house made absolutely no sense to him (as with most people…He was not shy about saying what a stupid idea it was and he felt that we were going to run into all sorts of problems with it, one of which was going to be that it would not pass inspection. Worried, I called the inspector who came out, looked at it and had no qualms about what we were doing. But D. found other things to gripe about and generally did not seem to happy with our site anymore. One of those things was our Heating System. We were really hoping to stay completely away from gas hookups entirely. We had explored several heating options but as we were so consumed with the tasks and work each day at the site during the summer, we had not committed or completely figured out how we were actually going to heat our house…(admittedly not a minor detail to leave for the last moment). As such, while we figured some of our details out, D. started building another house in town and was off our site. Not to big of a deal as we had electrical and plumbing to tackle anyway. And of course…what to do about our heating…..