Archives for category: Details

A short post after a long day. Also a productive day.

After relative quiet on site–over the weekend it was just me and Jesse, with Matt coming out a few times as well–we had a hive of activity today. Jesse kept cranking away on the brackets, while Alexi and his crew got started on the roof.

The SIPs panels arrived on two semis first thing in the morning. From there half the crew did some final prep (I even got in on the action again, using a router to detail the beams) while the other guys organized 45 panels into the right order. At up to 700 pounds each, this is no small trick.

We rented a big crane for the day to get panels into the most difficult corner of the house. Good call. And while the crew hoped to get a few more panels installed, we covered our daughter’s room, the guest room, bathroom and a bit more.

Starting a SIPs roof is a bit like starting a tile job. The first few pieces take longer. Why? Well the first panels set the geometry and rhythm for the rest of the project. If you’re off a bit on the first few, you’ll be off a lot by the last few.

Tomorrow should see big progress. I’ll be back at work, but it should be fun to swing by afterwards. The crew expects to have most of the house covered by the end of the day.

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Complete!

Sadly, this is the first post in a week. Not sure how that happened. Oh yeah, now I remember. Work has been busy, and we’re also building a house.

Good stuff has been happening though. Jesse Oviatt has been cranking away on getting the roof support brackets in place. More on this in a second. And Alexi and his crew worked Thursday and Friday to prep a few things before the roof panels are delivered Monday morning.

I spent this past weekend working with Jesse. I think he was happy for the help and it was fun to be on site, even if it meant working 10 hours a day. We made a ton of progress too, which always feels good.

To be clear, the work we are doing isn’t typical framing work. It’s more like the lovechild of cabinetry and bridge building. It’s fussy work. Were you to look around our work area this weekend, you’d see tools typical for framing a house–circular saws, framing hammers, squares, etc. But you’d also see two routers, a set of woodworking chisels, a japanese pull saw, files and a custom made wrench.

Our architect, Matt Melcher, came out for a few hours on Sunday to work with us. He marked the beams that need to be cut in the morning, installed a slope plate, checked measurements, and helped me cut a rabbet into one of the beams with a router.

This was shocking to Jesse. He had never seen an architect do actual work on site. What can I say? Our boy has some skills!

It’s hard for me to put in words how happy I am with the big “Y” columns. They’re insanely beautiful. I’m not sure how something that massive can look so elegant, but it does. And between the fir, the galvanized metal and the concrete, we have a pretty stellar group of materials working together.

You might expect that because I was on site for so many hours that I’d have a ton of pictures, but I don’t. At least not great ones–mostly taken with my phone. But here you go…

Hopefully the SIPs roof will go up without too many hiccups.

Oh, special thanks to our neighbors, Greg and Jackie, who risked their lives to help us install the posts. With the steel attached those suckers weighed at least a couple hundred pounds each. Not fun.

Saturday was the last warm(ish) day we’ll have for a while. It was also the day Mikel pulled off the last plywood form from our retaining walls. Something tells me he was pretty happy about this milestone. I spent the morning working with him, pulling brad nails from the forms and cleaning a few things up.

Misha: Happy to pull the last form.

Because it was a bit warmer I also pulled off more cedar boards from the concrete. This is tough work to be sure. We’ve had so much wet, cold weather, and the cedar is swollen and partially frozen into the concrete.

Part of why I wanted to do the work now though is because the concrete isn’t fully cured–it’s still “green.” Because of this, the ribs between the cedar boards are still fragile, so when I pull off the boards some ribs stay in tact, while others break off. And I like this look.

The work was much easier than last weekend though. It’s amazing what 10 degrees can do.

Finally, a more complete view of the wall, sans cedar.

Wood grain, concrete ribs and aggregate.

Just a snapshot, but I like the composition of this one.

I a recent post I mentioned that Jesse Oviatt is cutting slots and chamfers into our glulam posts to accept the new brackets. He invited me over to check on progress.

Jesse is a super-meticulous guy and he’s definitely paying attention and making suggestions about details on our project too. When I pulled up he was doing some work with a Japanese pull saw–not something you see people working with everyday.

He started the project by building a router template to help speed up the process. Judging by how clean the mortises look, I think it’s working well. It’s still early, but Jesse’s making progress and he is genuinely excited about the project. We’re definitely fortunate to be surrounded with the team we have in place.

We also talked about a couple of details (big surprise). Jesse is ultimately going to cut a 1/8″ chamfer on the slots at a 45 degree angle. This is super subtle, but will be quite nice.

Someday when I have a bit more time I’ll put up some other examples of Jesse’s work. In the mean time, if you need a builder or carpenter for a project, you can e-mail Jesse. [oviattconstruction (at) live.com]

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Jesse showing how the metal plates fit into his mortises.

Jesse was the only human out at his shop today, but luckily he’s working under a watchful eyesocket.

Jesse's supervisor.

A busy week at work has kept blogging to a minimum, so apologies for the lack of updates. Plus, crappy weather and a set of bolts we need that won’t be in town until Monday have slowed things down a bit.

There are actually a few things happening though. Smitty sent a text and picture of the back of his truck as he was leaving the galvanizer. Later that day I stopped by the site and noticed a green tarp. What was below? Something very heavy. Very silver. Very awesome.

On the macho scale, 1,000 pounds of galvanized steel pretty much pushes the needle to 11.

The brackets are beautiful though. Every time I talk to Matt, I say some version of, “those things are crazy.

Jesse Oviatt has also been hard at work cutting mortises (a fancy word for a slot) into 6″ x 6” fir posts to fit into and on the new brackets. Jesse is a seriously talented guy. I may stop by his shop this weekend to grab a few pics. The combination of the massive steel brackets and natural wood should be frighteningly beautiful.

In the mean time, here’s to a great weekend.

 

Watching the house come out of the ground has been fascinating. We spent almost three years in the design process before breaking ground. This translates into many hours spent looking at one-dimensional pieces of paper and talking through details, with an aspiration of one day–some day–seeing an actual house emerge.

We even built our own house model using foam core, glue and balsa wood.

A Christmas break project from two years ago. Note the rookie move of gluing the "beams" on the wrong side of one section of the roof.

L & K helped by making a clay weimaraner and furniture.

I’ve heard some people compare the design and building process with giving birth. Part of me has thought that this is a hokey idea. I’m not so sure anymore though.

We’ve invested so much time on not just the big concepts of the house, but in smaller details like understanding how the roof connects to the retaining wall or how two pieces of wood on our kitchen cabinets will meet. Seeing these details become real three-dimensional objects and structures has been far more exciting and satisfying than I could have imagined. And I went in with pretty high expectations.

Here’s an example: the brackets that carry the posts that will attach to the roof.

Early in the design phase we talked about these in very general ways. They’re in a really visible part of the house/courtyard, so we wanted to do something special, but early on they were pretty non-descript drawings. Why? Well there were bigger things to work on, plus my guess is Matt hadn’t yet figured out how much load they would need to carry. On top of this, “special” can mean elegant and minimal, or it can mean something massive and articulated.

The idea behind the brackets began to evolve. I even sketched some ideas based on what we talked about to give to Matt, which could very well be included in a book titled “Bad Client Drawings.”

In any case, the general idea for the brackets began to evolve. You can see this below in the wire frame schematic.

As Matt worked with Paul, our structural engineer, the brackets were put on steroids and the design emerged more and more.

A detailed set of drawings were developed next (in fact many sets of drawings). Matt then worked with metalworker Sean Smith to come up with a plan to build them.

Finally, yesterday Sean sent me a text message with the picture below.

So yes, in a way we did give birth to this thing. From general design discussions, to sketches on a blank sheet of paper, to architectural drawings on a computer, to Sean in his shop with a welding mask, torch and hundreds of pounds of steel, a team of people made this happen.

Pretty amazing. We’re open to suggestions about what to name our new baby.

A short post since I’m out of town visiting family, but I received a couple of cool text messages today.

But first, yesterday’s big pour was an all around success. 90+ yards of concrete (or 10 concrete trucks, if that’s easier to visualize).

Matt passed along a picture of the first forms coming off. I just have one for now, but more to come when I get back. I’m pretty excited to check this out.

A lot of the concrete "ledge" will break off, kind of like what you see in the lower left. At least I think that's what happens. Credit: Matt Melcher

Sean Smith, who is fabricating our steel brackets, sent a second message, with the description, “Did someone order a bomb shelter?”

Bomber. Sean says the bolts are as big as the palm of his hand. Crazy. Credit: Sean Smith

Indeed. These should do the job. 70 pounds each, and that’s just the first part of the base.

Anyway, another good week of progress.

After a solid month spent working on concrete forms, Wednesday morning the big concrete walls will be poured. Sadly we won’t be here for this, or the work on Thursday when the crew strips off forms to reveal the board formed concrete. Happily, we’ll be in California where it promises to be quite a bit warmer than the winter wonderland we have in Spokane. Two sides of a coin, I guess.

Over the weekend I also spent a bit of time installing a set of plywood letters to act as a kind of cornerstone within the long entry wall. If all goes well the letters will leave a clean impression in the concrete. Installation was a bit of a trick. Trying to manuever the letters, a four-foot level, a nailgun and pencil in between a grid of rebar was awkward at best. I think it will turn out well though.

I spent a couple of hours on site yesterday with the crew, talking about a few details and tending to important work, like picking up pizza to eat while the snow dumped on us.

Arkada and Jacob finishing up the final work, on the final wall. Nice.

When I’m not working, raising a family or helping to build a house, I spend time riding my bike–something I’ve been immersed in since I was 13. Bit of a non-sequiter, I know, but there’s in fact a link. On nasty, cold, windy, wet days on a bike, you create a  unique bond with your training partners. Difficult conditions enhance camaraderie. I think the same can be said for the guys on site. You could see that yesterday and over the past month or so. They’ve worked hard during a hard time of the year to work. I hope they’re as proud of their work as I am.

OK, on a totally different note, yesterday Contemporist featured the house below. I forwarded a link to Matt Melcher under the subject line, “second cousins.” There’s a definite common thread between this house and ours. It’s a different project, look, and likely budget, but fun to check out the similarity in floor plans and some of the details. (A long narrow house, big roof overhangs, similar window details, big glulams, etc.)

I’ve pasted a few images below (all via Contemporist). You can find the full set here. Kudos to Scott Edwards Architecture on a gem of a project.

The roof pitch may be a bit steeper than ours, but there's a strong family resemblance.

Circulation around the outside of the house. Love this.

Deep overhangs. Lots of glass. Fantastic.

 

Warning: A longer, more techinical post than usual!

It’s been pretty fascinating to watch the house walls go up. We get a lot of questions about how the structural insulated panels, or SIPs, are assembled, so I thought I’d write about it. There are other resources on the web that show examples of house assembly, but here’s how ours is working.

First off, if you’re not familiar with SIPs, they’re fabricated in a factory. In our case, the walls and roof were made by Big Sky Insulations/R-Control, in Bozeman, Montana. What you get when the truck shows up, is a huge pile of panels that are foam insulation, with oriented strand board, or OSB, on either side. So the panels end up looking like big green sandwiches, with foam as the tasty center.

The OSB has a green tint, but not green as in “we’re so special, we’re building green!” No, it’s a proprietary mildew and termite treatment. So we now have a 20-year warranty against all kinds of nefarious things. Which is a good thing.

During manufacturing, wiring chases are cut into each panel. These run horizontally at set heights (so it’s easy for an electrician to find wires for outlets or sconces or whatever), as well as vertically. Big Sky also ran chases to the exact location of every ceiling fixture. This isn’t essential, but should make life much nicer for our electrician.

Note the wiring chases.

The panels come mortised to accept a connector, and to attach to the sill plate.

OK, so the panels show up on a big truck, and the sill plate has already been installed.This is a 2″ x 6″ mounted to a piece of treated plywood. The plywood, I think, helps support the OSB.

Installing the sill

Each stack of SIPs from the truck comes with an inventory. Individual panels are also marked.

Our crew, with some guidance from the SIPs rep (also not essential, but a definite value add), began putting up walls. In theory it’s a simple process, but with our snowy/slushy/rainy site conditions, there were times that weren’t terribly fun for the crew.

The drawings from Big Sky show the panel layout, among other things.

The next step is running a thick bead of R-Control’s “Do-All-Ply” to the sill and the inside channels of the SIP. Essentially anywhere foam contacts wood, this caulky/gluey looking material is used.

Installing lumber into SIP

You can see the "Do-All-Ply" splooging out in this shot.

The panels are then lifted onto the sill. And they can get heavy. I think (although am not sure) that they’re five pounds/square foot, for the 6 1/2 inch wall panels. So our panels are between 100 and 350 pounds each.

Lifting the panel. Site conditions = far from ideal.

Once the panel is up, it gets nailed, through the OSB skin, into the sill plate.

From there, the crew installed connecting material between the panels, nailing it all together again. The type of connector varies though, depending on where the panels are, what’s attached to them (another panel or say, a sliding door) and the what the house needed from an engineering perspective. Our architect, Matt Melcher, worked through the engineering with Big Sky’s panel engineer, plus an independent structural engineering firm they hired.

Dennis messing with an insulated spline.

In our house, we’re using a combination of R-Control’s insulated splines, standard 2″ x 6″ framing lumber (where we have large window or door openings) and 6″ x 6″ posts (when we need to support roof beams). All together this creates a very strong and rigid system. In fact it’s stronger than a traditionally framed house.

Each panel is detailed for placement and how they'll be connected.

Big Sky cuts its panels to within 1/16″ of what is provided from our architect. And in my opinion, Matt came up with some very, very clever design details that play to the strengths SIPs offer.

For example, check out the details below. These are pockets that Matt designed into the panels. In a traditionally framed house, this is a fussy detail, at best. It requires a lot of framing work, and a lot of finishing work to make it look right. What we ended up with is beams, supported by the panels and surrounded by either insulation, or supported by a wood post. This makes beam installation really easy, removes figuring out how to insulate around the beam, and will create a very slick system for drywalling our ceiling. (More on this another time.) Anyway, it’s one of those very simple, elegant solutions that make the design nerd in me happy. Good for Matt. I love that he’s playing to the strengths of the materials we’re using.

The slick system I wrote about. This beam also has a nailer attached to it, which will be used to attach a clerestory window.

More beam detailing. This one sits on a 6" x 6" wood post.

Here's the end of our garage, showing the beam pocket, sans beam.

And then there’s the insulation properties. SIPs create a highly insulated envelope. We’ll be around R-30 at the walls, and R-50 at the roof. But to hear the company talk about this, compared with traditional fiberglass (or similar) insulation, we’ll have a “true” R-50. My understanding is that it’s impossible to install a batt of fiberglass insulation, or even field applied spray-in foam, without air leaking around the sides. With SIPs we don’t have this problem.

Finally, the last thing we get asked about–a lot–is cost. Without going into too many specifics, by working the design process, having a builder on board that was willing to work with an alternative building system (Carrie), and having a vendor (Big Sky) that really came to the table with great ideas, we were able to get the cost difference between SIPs and stick framing down to a couple of thousand dollars. The materials cost more, but labor to install is less–even in crappy weather like we’re having. And because of the excellent insulation we’ll have, it will absolutely save us money after a year or so.

Finally, a major tip of the hat to Big Sky. The panels have been absolutely spot on. As far as I know, we haven’t had a single panel that needed adjustment. To me this is no small feat. They’ve also been a lot of fun to work with, and that’s important too.