Step-by-Step: cabinets, bathroom tiles, interior trim

The first couple weeks of our build were filled with moments where big changes appeared seemingly overnight. George (our builder) warned us that later on things would seem to slow to a crawl because the changes would instead be small, but significant ones. True to his word, there have been few big changes these last couple of weeks, but things are still moving forward.

At the end of the last post, I noted that our kitchen cabinets had arrived. They are all in now (minus the drawers and doors because those go in after the countertops).

Back wall of the kitchen. On the left is the cabinet for the combo wall oven, on the right is the cabinet for the fridge and a pantry unit. In the foreground is the breakfast bar.

Back wall of the kitchen. On the left is the cabinet for the combo wall oven (with cupboards on top), on the right is the cabinet for the fridge (with cupboards on top) and a floor-to-ceiling pantry unit. In the foreground is the breakfast bar.

Careful viewers will notice that the wall oven cabinet actually extends into the skylight opening. That skylight was an afterthought, and only later did we realize that the kitchen cabinets would extend into that space. After playing around with mockups, I decided it really didn’t bother me a bit and I much preferred having the cabinets go up to the ceiling rather than leaving a gap (those gaps are a big pet peeve of mine; they collect huge amounts of dust, are a pain to clean, and have even been known to sprout tacky, plastic trailing ivy plants!). I doubt anyone will really notice (except you, now that I’ve pointed it out!).

The west side of the U-shaped kitchen area. This includes a corner cabinet a cooktop cabinet, and a small tray cabinet (not shown).

The west side of the U-shaped kitchen area. This includes a corner cabinet a cooktop cabinet, and a small tray cabinet (not shown). The empty space on the left is for the dishwasher.

The east side of the U-shaped kitchen area. This is a corner cabinet with two 3-drawer cabinets. On the other side of this wall is the breakfast bar.

The east side of the U-shaped kitchen area. This is a corner cabinet plus two 3-drawer cabinets. On the other side of this wall is the breakfast bar.

The "middle" part of the U-shaped kitchen area. This large cabinet will hold the sink (to the right is the dishwasher alcove, not shown).

The “middle” part of the U-shaped kitchen area. This large cabinet will hold the sink (dishwasher goes on the right).

Kids' bathroom vanity with tall towel cabinet.

Kids’ bathroom vanity with tall towel cabinet. You can really see the knotty pine design here.

Ensuite vanity (floating cabinet).

Ensuite vanity (floating cabinet).

Guest bathroom vanity.

Guest bathroom vanity.

After the cabinets were in, the countertop people came by to measure for the quartz countertops.

Meanwhile, work began on the interior trim. My original plan was to have all the trim (baseboards and trim around the interior doors) in wood, but I ran into two problems. First, most of my doors are hemlock but some will be painted fiberglass and others have pine trim so I wasn’t sure which wood species to use. Second, I found out just how expensive wood trim is! So we decided to go with regular ol’ primed wood trim, which will be painted the same colour as the walls to blend in. After a few mockups, I chose this trim design.

Trim for interior doors, and a sample of baseboard (bottom left).

Trim for interior doors, and a sample of baseboard (bottom left).

As of this writing, all the door trim is done (including two door frame repairs that had to be made when it was discovered that the openings were too small for the doors…and although I feigned ignorance, I have a sneaking suspicion that I gave the framers the wrong dimensions – I had meant to check them from my list later and I think I just forgot! oops!).

Work also began on tiling the master bathroom. Choosing tiles for this room was really difficult. I found the floor tiles early on, but I wanted a warm, white tile for the walls of the shower and the tub surround and for some reason that was really hard to find! Grey is a super trendy colour right now, so all the whites I found were either tinted with cool, grey undertones or just too stark and shiny for my tastes. After several trips to tile stores, I finally settled on some porcelain tiles that looked creamy and warm in the showroom, and coordinated nicely with my floor tiles.

The tile on the right of this sample board went nicely with my floor tile (shown lying flat on the table).

The tile on the right of this sample board has undertones to match its coordinating cream tile (which I didn’t use), and it went nicely with my floor tile (shown lying flat on the table).

However, when they went up on the walls, the off-white paint made them look decidedly dingy in places. This bathroom faces north, so it doesn’t get much light, but the tiles will look different when the ceiling lights are installed (and turned on), so I’m hopeful they will work out.

The shower floor tiles are just 3' square versions of the floor tiles. The wall niche will be finished with the same tile that is on the shower wall and tub surround.

You can see the difference between the white tiles when they are in the light (on the corner of the tub) compared to when they are in a darker area (on the walls). And of course they will look even different when the lights are on!…The shower floor tiles are just 3″ x 3″ versions of the floor tiles.

Ensuite bath floor tiles. These will be clear-coated with a sealer, which is just for aesthetic purposes since these porcelain tiles are fine for flooring, but it will make them look darker, as illustrated by the three tiles in the "top" row here, which were wiped with a damp cloth to show the end results after sealant is applied (we also decided to ditch the white trim along the wall and replace with wood baseboards).

Ensuite bath floor tiles. These will be clear-coated with a sealant, which is just for aesthetic purposes since these porcelain tiles are fine for flooring, but it will make them look darker, as illustrated by the three tiles in the “top” row here, which were wiped with a damp cloth to show the end results after sealant is applied (we also decided to ditch the white trim along the wall and replace with wood baseboards).

Tub surround is almost done.

Tub surround is almost done. The Schluter trim pieces are in “titanium” to coordinate with the floor.

My next post will provide updates on exterior work.

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Step-by-Step: inside and outside

These last couple of weeks have seen various changes, large and small, on both the interior and the exterior of the new house.

After the drywall guys were done, the painters came in. They did the primer and the first coat of paint on the walls, and they finished the ceilings. After all the interior finishings are installed, they will come back and do another coat of paint on the walls.

Panoramic view of the south side of the house. From L to R: den, living room, dining room, kitchen.

Panoramic view of the south side of the house. From L to R: den, living room, dining room, kitchen.

In the photo above, you can see some of the polished concrete floor. It’s all covered in drywall dust right now, but I still love it! (we are leaving the protective mats on the high-traffic areas for now). And if you are wondering why the pony wall in the kitchen has not been drywalled, it’s because that will be covered with the same material as the kitchen cabinets. You can also see how much the paint colour changes in different lighting scenarios. It’s an off-white paint with yellow undertones, which really show up at the back of the kitchen.

Master bedroom with ensuite to the left.

Master bedroom with ensuite to the left.

It's fascinating to me how much paint colour changes with different lighting. Here, in the walk-in closet, you can clearly see the yellow undertones of the off-white paint I chose.

It’s fascinating to me how much paint colour changes with different lighting. Here, in the walk-in closet, you can clearly see the yellow undertones of the off-white paint I chose. This is the same colour throughout the house (i.e. same as the photos above)

After the painters were done, work began on the master bathroom. The tub surround was built, and the backer board was put up in the shower and painted with a blue waterproofing substance.

I had to stop using our tub last year because a leak developed. I can't wait for my first soak in this tub!

I had to stop using our tub last year because a leak developed. I can’t wait for my first soak in this tub!

The little pipe at the top is for my rainshower head. The handles are located closer to the shower door so I don't have to reach under the water to turn it on. There will also be an adjustable height shower head in the centre of that wall.

The little pipe at the top is for my rain shower head. The controls are located closer to the shower door, under the wall niche, so I don’t get soaked with water when I turn it on. There will also be an adjustable height shower head in the centre of that wall.

Meanwhile, on the outside of the house, our beautiful cedar soffits were installed, the vents are galvalume to match the roof and gutters.

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After that was done, the scaffolding was removed and construction began on the east side of the deck:

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Another great shot of the cedar soffits.

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Around the same time, the portable mill guy arrived to turn our logs into lumber. These logs are from trees that were taken down as part of the site prep.

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The western redcedar logs were milled into boards that will be used on our deck. People have asked me about whether the boards need to be cured. After talking it over with the miller and my builder, we decided not to have them trucked off to a kiln for drying. The boards will be placed very close together so that, as they shrink with age, the gap between them won’t end up too big. We are going for a rustic look, so the rough sawn boards will simply be sanded on the surface when in place.

We also ended up with some lovely hemlock boards – not sure what we will do with them just yet, but my interior doors happen to be hemlock, so I might have enough to use as trim.

The balsam wasn’t good for much, so we will likely use that as firewood.

Finally, we had some Douglas Fir which we are going to use for flooring in the master bedroom and walk-in closet. That will be milled into tongue-and-groove boards and then kiln dried. Douglas fir is a softwood, but some people – such as myself – enjoy the patina that such woods take on after years of use. It’s not common to find solid wood floors anymore, and they can be sanded and refinished later on if necessary, so I’m pretty excited to have them in my house and from our own trees!

This week, the crew was finally able to start finishing the exterior insulation. Most of it had been done already, but they waited for the deck to be finished to do that end of the house:

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And on the inside of the house, the kitchen cabinets started to arrive!!!!

You can't really tell much about them yet, as these are the parts that will not be exposed. The doors and more cabinets are coming over the next couple of days.

You can’t really tell much about them yet, as these are the parts that will not be exposed. The doors and more cabinets are coming over the next couple of days.

And finally, the interior doors are going in! They are made from hemlock – I got them on sale for half price and I think they are absolutely gorgeous!

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After the doors are put in they will start on the baseboards, trim, and window sills. Meanwhile, on the outside, they will finish the insulation then put up the rainscreen and the siding (I’m so excited about that part!). The cabinets will be installed by next week, then the countertop folks will arrive to measure everything. Things are really starting to come together now, and I’m beginning to see the end in sight! I’m getting very excited about moving in!

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Step-by-Step: drywall

The last two weeks have belonged to the drywall team. Really – with all the fans and heaters there was no power left for any of the other crews! And although the process is somewhat lengthy (putting up the drywall, taping, mudding, and sanding) the visual change from the brown walls of insulation to the bright walls of drywall has been truly transformative!

BEFORE

BEFORE

AFTER

AFTER

 

Panoramic shot of the master bedroom (ensuite off to the left).

Panoramic shot of the master bedroom (ensuite off to the left).

 

Looking into the kitchen area from the living room.

Looking into the kitchen area from the breakfast bar.

Looking into kitchen/dining area from den off living room.

Looking into kitchen/dining area from den off living room.

At the end of each day, the team set up fans and heaters to cure the drywall mud. It contains a lot of water, so this was necessary to ensure the walls could be sanded and re-mudded the next day. After a few cycles of mudding and sanding, they applied the final coats of mud this past Wednesday and then left the fans and heaters running over the next four days. Tomorrow they arrive to finish off the final sanding and we’ll have smooth walls ready for the painter, who arrives Wednesday!

 

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Step-by-Step: windows, doors, decking, and more!

This past week was very exciting, as the windows were installed. We spent a bundle on these windows, but they are well worth it. Besides being made of durable fibreglass, they come with a lifetime warranty that includes accidental breakage. All the advice articles I read during the planning process said that the one place NOT to skimp is on windows – get the best you can possibly afford. Replacing windows is an expensive operation, and good windows will pay for themselves by providing better insulation. I chose to go with Milgard Essence windows, with a powder-coated exterior finish in Cinnamon (a lovely rust-red colour) and real wood cladding (pine) on the interior side.

The first window is in! This is a double-hung window (opens from the top or bottom), and both windows tilt inwards for easy cleaning.

The first window is in! This is a double-hung window (opens from the top or bottom), and both windows tilt inwards for easy cleaning.

A simple casement window in the kids' bathroom.

A simple casement window in the kids’ bathroom.

Real pine wood-clad interior frame.

Real pine wood-clad interior frame. Oil-rubbed bronze hardware.

Dual sliders for the den (left) and a single slider for the master bedroom (right).

Dual sliders for the den (left) and a single slider for the master bedroom (right).

My big splurge was on a pair of sliding French doors that lead from the living room out onto the future patio. My husband teased me for a long time about how much they cost, but when he saw them installed he agreed they were well worth it.

Dual sliding French doors.

Dual sliding French doors.

They are the first thing you see when you walk into the house through the main entrance, and I think they really make the view that much more lovely!

It's difficult to get a good shot with all the backlighting going on here.

It’s difficult to get a good shot with all the backlighting going on here, but hopefully you get a feel for the wood finish in this photo.

Because the door from the dining room to the covered patio is visible from the living room, I chose a door that matches the dual sliders.

Dining room door to covered patio.

Dining room door to covered patio.

The other doors – one for the main entrance, one for the family room entrance, and one for the laundry room – were not part of the Milgard series. They are all fibreglass doors, but the laundry room door has a flat primed surface while the main and family room entry doors have a wood-grain finish.

The white door leads to the laundry room. It will be painted red to match the windows, and eventually a dog door will be installed here (after the yard is fenced).

The white door leads to the laundry room. It will be painted red to match the windows, and eventually a dog door will be installed (after the yard is fenced).

When I ordered the wood-grain finish doors, I was told we could stain them just like wood. But after they arrived and I met with the painter, he said that it is very difficult to do a good job because the fibreglass just doesn’t take stain the way wood does. When I said that the ones in the showroom looked pretty good, he noted that they were done in a factory environment with equipment that the average house painter does not have. He strongly recommended that I choose a solid paint colour rather than trying to replicate the look of real wood. The salespeople did tell me that the trim around the doors is made of real wood and will take stain differently than the fibreglass doors, and that I should be prepared for that (some people paint the trim a different colour, but I don’t like that look), so a solid paint colour would solve any issues arising from that. I’m still debating whether to go ahead and try the stain anyway – it can always be painted over later if I don’t like it – or to just embrace the solid colour and find something nice that would work with the red windows and cedar siding (I’m thinking midnight blue might be nice).

This door will be the one we use the most. It's located next to the future carport, and leads to the family room and kitchen. It will be painted red to match the windows.

This door will be the one we use the most. It’s located next to the future carport, and leads to the family room and kitchen. It will be painted later, thus the odd colour.

The main entry doors. These are located by the guest parking area and lead into the foyer and living room. They will be painted a yet-to-be-determined colour (I'm leaning towards midnight blue).

The main entry door. This is located by the guest parking area and leads into the foyer and living room. It will be painted later.

Main entry doors from the inside.

Main entry door from the inside.

In order to get up high enough to finish some of the exterior work, the crew had to begin work on the deck (we could have assembled scaffolding but it didn’t make sense to spend money on that when the deck needed to be built at some point anyway). See, the house was intended to be a one-level rancher, but the build site dropped away on one side. We decided to make use of the space underneath for a workshop, but I wanted a visual break between the two stories to emphasize the one-level architectural design of the house. I decided to add a deck that wraps around that side of the house, connecting ground level on the front side with ground level on the back side. The siding will also be different on the lower level to further separate it from above.

Part of the deck will be built using our own lumber. The support posts are 6 x 6 Douglas Fir beams we had milled shortly after we moved onto this property, and the decking and rails will be milled from cedar logs that were felled more recently in preparation for the build.

Framing up the deck. Those vertical posts are Douglas Fir milled from our own trees, felled when we first bought the property to bring some light to our house.

Framing up the deck. The vertical posts are Douglas Fir milled from our own trees.

Since we did not have boards wide or long enough for the horizontal support beams, we chose to use Yellow Cedar for these.

Our builder first told me about yellow cedar when we were discussing the board and batten siding (I was hoping to use our own cedar but we didn’t have enough). I wasn’t aware we had yellow cedar here, but apparently we do. I learned that yellow cedar is much stronger than western red cedar and, accordingly, it can be used as a structural element. It is also very durable, insect-resistant, and tolerates moisture well. Like western red cedar, it will eventually turn grey with age. I decided to use western red cedar for the board and batten siding because I thought the yellow against the red windows would be too much of a contrast for my tastes, but I was happy to bring yellow cedar in for the deck framing. I must say, it is absolutely gorgeous and I am really in love with this wood! I’m now trying to come up with ideas for using it as part of the interior finishing…

Those horizontal beams are made from yellow cedar. I'd never heard of it before, but now I'm quite in love with the stuff!

Those horizontal beams are made from yellow cedar. I’d never heard of it before, but now I’m quite in love with the stuff!

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Currently, the point at which the land starts to slope downwards (to the right) is in front of the sliding doors, but when the backfilling and final landscaping is done, the ground will extend further out to the right to meet up with the deck and give us more level patio space on this side of the house.

The sub-contractor who was supposed to do the interior insulation bailed on us, so our builder had his crew do the job. This meant taking them off exterior wall and deck duty, however, because the drywall team was on a tight schedule and had a specific window of availability for our job: the interior insulation had to be in place before they arrived. The guys worked through part of the long weekend last week and were here again this weekend making sure it was all done.

The exterior walls have Roxul Comfortbatt on the inside, which is fitted between the 2 x 6 studs just like regular insulation. With R = 22 on the inside and another R = 12 on the outside, our walls have R = 34, which is higher than the minimum R = 22 required by our local building code.

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The ceiling has two layers of Comfortbatt, a 6″ layer of R = 22 plus a 7″ layer of R = 28 for a total R value of 50 (the code minimum here is 40). Since so much heat loss takes place through the ceiling, I felt it was important to get those R-values up. Using mineral wool instead of fibreglass was expensive, but I felt it was worth the investment due to the superior properties of Roxul, such as being highly resistant to rodents, insects, and moisture. The heavier weight of the Roxul meant the guys had to attach the vapour barrier first in order to help hold the batts in place.

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We also installed Roxul Safe ‘n Sound, a soundproofing batt insulation that fits between internal 2 x 4 wall studs. We used it in wall separating the master bedroom from the den, so that if one of us is watching TV in there it won’t disturb whoever is trying to sleep. Also, it provides some added privacy if guests stay the night (the den doubles as a guest room). We also put soundproofing in the guest bathroom. It’s not that far from the main living space, and it’s embarrassing for everybody when you and your guests can hear someone peeing!

After much hard work they are ready for the drywall crew, who arrive tomorrow morning. The drywall sheets and supplies were dropped off on Friday. It’s going to look very different inside once the drywall is in place, and much more like a real house. I can’t wait!

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Step-by-Step: External Insulation

The Roxul Comfortboard arrives!

The Roxul Comfortboard arrives!

Previously, I described the unique wall system we designed for this house: a vapour-permeable wall using conventional materials and construction techniques. This week I got to see the wall go from drawings to real life as work began on the external portion of the wall (the internal portion is simple mineral wool batt insulation sandwiched between 2×6″ studs).

The first step was to put a layer of house wrap over the plywood sheathing. This particular house wrap is vapour-permeable but does not allow liquid water to pass. It is meant to protect the sheathing from any rain that might make it behind the cladding. It wasn’t necessary in our case since we have a 3-inch thick layer of mineral wool insulation between the sheathing and the cladding and we had already planned to put house wrap on the outside of those layers, but code requires it and since the membrane is vapour-permeable we didn’t feel it was worth the effort to get out of doing it.

First layer of house wrap.

First layer of house wrap.

Next, vertical 2 x 2 furring strips were nailed to the studs, and strips of 1.5″ thick Roxul Comfortboard were cut and fitted between them. One of the many advantages of mineral wool insulation is that it is not as “squishy” as fibreglass insulation and is therefore much easier to cut. More importantly, mineral wool does not loose insulative effectiveness when compressed. So the guys could make sure it fit nice and tight between the studs.

First layer of external mineral wool insulation.

First layer of external mineral wool insulation.

Next, horizontal 2×2″ furring strips were nailed to the vertical strips, and another layer of 1.5″ Comfortboard was placed between them.

On the right is the vertical layer. On the left is the horizontal layer going over top.

On the right is the vertical layer. On the left is the horizontal layer going over top.

First layer going up on the left, second layer on the right.

First layer going up on the left, second layer on the right.

Attention to detail!

Attention to detail!

Even the corners were covered.

Even the corners were covered.

The whole thing was then covered with a sheet of house wrap. This was taped to flaps of housewrap that had been laid under the sill plate (bottom of the wall) and the top plate during the framing process. The end result is the entire wall of insulation plus furring strips is encased in housewrap. Even though mineral wool is unaffected by moisture, the furring strips will probably appreciate staying dry.

The red tape attaches the outer layer of house wrap to the inner layer, creating a fully enclosed structure.

The red tape attaches the outer layer of house wrap to the inner layer, creating a fully enclosed structure.

The board and batten siding will be attached to the horizontal furring strips. In order for the guys to see them when the time comes (since they are covered in house wrap), special staples were placed along the nailing lines. The staples come with a rubber flange to seal up the hole created by the staple. The bright green colour makes them especially visible. They also used these to mark the window and door openings.

Green gaskets mark the staples that show where the nailing lines are for when the cladding is attached.

Green gaskets mark the staples that show where the nailing lines are for when the cladding is attached.

The walls are now ready for the windows to be installed. I can’t wait to see my beautiful windows out of the box!

 

 

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Step-by-Step: Polished Concrete Flooring

At the end of my last post in this series, work had begun on polishing the concrete floor. This process involves numerous steps. First, the concrete must be “sanded down” (that is not the technical term) until the surface is very smooth. This is done with diamond cutting discs that, like sandpaper, come in various degrees of coarseness. This process exposes the aggregate (little rocks) in the concrete, which were pushed down into the slab when the guys who pour it do their magic with the long boards to smooth it out and remove air holes from the surface layers. Personally, I love the look of the exposed aggregate – it gives it that look of raw, natural materials that I am going for in this home.

Before photo.

Before photo. The light brown bits are sawdust – the floor was washed before beginning the polishing process.

After "sanding". If you look closely, you can see the little "rocks" of exposed aggregate.

After “sanding”. If you look closely, you can see the little “rocks” of exposed aggregate.

Next, a “densifying agent” was applied to the concrete. This serves to harden the concrete and make it less permeable so that it won’t stain easily. We were told, for example, that if you spill a cup of coffee on the floor and wipe it up within a few minutes there will be no stain, but if you left it overnight it would stain. After that, the concrete was polished using steadily finer surfaces until we achieved the level of reflectiveness we wanted. I did not want something too shiny, so we had him stop at 800-grit. The next level up is 1500-grit which would have been more like a showroom.

Before I show photos of the finished product, I wanted to say that while researching this topic it was really difficult to get an idea of what colour, exactly, the floor would be when it was done. This is for two reasons: first, the materials used in concrete vary slightly depending on what part of the world you are in and where the sand and other ingredients are sourced. Second, taking photos of this stuff is really hard – at least for those of us who are not professional photographers! The light can change the look of the floor in a photo dramatically, even though when you are standing in the house the floor is a consistent finish. This is illustrated in the series of photos below.

In this photo, the colour looks almost orange, but in reality it is quite different.

In this photo, the colour looks almost orange, but in reality it is quite different.

Same spot as the photo above, but in a different light.

Same spot as the photo above, but in a different light. This colour is more true to the real finish.

This looks shinier than it actually is.

This looks shinier than it actually is.

 

This is a good representation of the actual colour of the floor. The roll of paper is a protective surface that was laid down after the floor was done and dried to protect the finish while all the other tradespeople come to do their bit (drywalling, paint, etc).

This is a good representation of the actual colour of the floor. The roll of paper is a protective surface that was laid down after the floor was done and dried to protect the finish while all the other tradespeople come to do their bit (drywalling, paint, etc).

I want to give a shout-out to Rami and Oscar of Concrete Evolution, who did our floors. They worked tirelessly to give us what we wanted, and were a real pleasure to work with. Rami explained every step of the process and helped us decide whether or not to go with added finishes like dyes or colour overlays (we decided not to because we wanted a more natural look).

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Step-by-Step: interior walls and the things that go in them

The last couple of weeks on the build site has seen a lot of work, but not much that is “photo worthy”. The main show-stopper is our metal roof, which is now complete.

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You’ll notice there is also a chimney. The fireplace folks came while the roof was going up to install the top portion of the chimney (the part that sticks through the roof). The actual woodstove will not go in until much later.

Inside view of the chimney section

inside view of the chimney section

Fireplace vent through to the outside wall.

Fireplace vent through to the outside wall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the roof complete and the concrete floor fully cured, the framers arrived to put up the interior walls.

Interior walls going up. This is the wall to the family room, with a pass-through window to the kitchen.

Interior walls going up. This is the wall to the family room, with a pass-through window to the kitchen.

Next came the electricians, ventilation crew (bathroom fans, clothes dryer vent, range hood, and HRV system), and plumbers. It was a beehive of activity, and I was up at the site a LOT. This is the stage of many small decisions: I wanted to double-check on the location of the outlets, light switches, cable outlets, HDMI/ethernet cables, lighting, etc. although they provided lots of great input and ideas. My favourite thing is the separate electrical panel that will hook up to our generator. If we lose power (which does happen from time to time), we will still have a working fridge, running water (well pump), and a few electrical outlets to charge the essentials. My husband’s favourite thing is the two NEMA 14-50 outlets that will charge a future electric car or run some heavy equipment in the workshop. With everything wired in, the place is really starting to look like a house rather than just a structure.

The showers can't fit through the doors, so they had to be installed as the walls were being framed up.

The all-in-one showers can’t fit through the doors, so they had to be installed as the walls were being framed up.

The bathtub arrived with the showers, although it won't be installed until later.

The bathtub arrived with the showers, although it won’t be installed until later.

All the peoples!

All the people!

Wires and pipes and electrical boxes, oh my!

Wires and pipes and electrical boxes, oh my!

When they were all done, it was time to bring in the concrete finishing crew, who need the place to themselves for a few days. I’ll write more on that topic in my next post.

Polishing the concrete floors.

Polishing the concrete floors.

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Step-by-Step: concrete slab and metal roof

Leaving our mark on the laundry room floor.

Leaving our mark on the laundry room floor.

After a bit of a lull, it is another exciting week on the build site.

On Monday the concrete guys arrived to pour the slab. They freaked out our builder, George, when they drove 3 metal spikes of rebar right through our oh-so-carefully designed sub-flooring (they use them as a mark for level in the middle of large sections). When he saw it, apparently George said (referring to me) “Omg you guys, she is going to kill me.” But he made it right – he removed them and filled the holes with spray foam and taped over the vapour barrier, and they were able to come up with a more unorthodox (yet still effective) way for them to measure the height of the pour. Between that and the “crazy-thick” insulation we had laid down, George was on the receiving end of some heavy (but good-natured) teasing from the concrete crew. But they have worked together on many projects so it was all in good fun.

A familiar sight by now: cement mixer and pumper truck.

A familiar sight by now: cement mixer and pumper truck!

The pouring begins: this was quite the operation, with guys moving it around, raking it flat, and troweling along the edges.

The pouring begins: this was quite the operation, with guys moving it around, raking it flat, and troweling along the edges.

Smoothing out the edges near an exit door.

Smoothing out the edges near an exit door.

They did a great job navigating around all the plumbing lines.

They did a great job navigating around all the plumbing lines.

Finished! Now it needs to dry.

Finished! Now it needs to dry.

This was our chance to make our mark: we woke the kids up and dragged them outside so we could leave our handprints in the floor of what will be the laundry room (see the photo at the top of this post). That’s my husband’s hand on the top left, and mine on the top right, my daughter’s in the middle, and my son’s on the bottom. I added the year, and my daughter added the smiley face. They didn’t get why this was so important to us, but they will understand one day, many years from now. My son summed up the experience by saying: “This is my life right now – I get woken up early to go outside and stick my hand in dirt!”, which gave us all a good chuckle.

Later that day…

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Power troweling: this was only 4 hours later and they could walk on it already!

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Closeup of the power trowel machine.

And while all that was going on, the metal roofing arrived!

Why metal? Two big reasons: first, it’s extremely durable so we will never have to replace this roof in our lifetime; second, you can harvest rainwater from a metal roof without fear of petroleum-based contaminants leaching into the water (such as occurs with asphalt shingles). With our dry summers and growing issues around water conservation, that was an important issue for us.

After much consideration, I chose a clear-coated galvalume roof (coloured metal roofs are made from the same material, but with a colour application baked on top). I love the bright look of silver, and the raw nature of the metal fit well with the rustic elements of the house design. While coloured metal roofs are beautiful, to me they are more fitting for a traditional painted home, or one in a suburban or urban setting.The raw metal will be the perfect complement to our rough-cut cedar board-and-batten siding and red windows. This image below shows a home with very similar finishing, and is the original inspiration for my choice of roof colour.

The photo inspiration for our exterior finishing choices.

The photo inspiration for our exterior finishing choices. Our home will have the same siding and window colour.

Close-up of our clear-coated galvalume roofing. The metal has a very subtle speckled appearance, and the colour changes with the light in a way that I find really lovely.

Close-up of our clear-coated galvalume roofing. The metal has a very subtle speckled appearance, and the colour changes with the light in a way that I find really lovely.

They started with the lower-slope areas (view of the west side of the house).

They started with the lower-slope areas (view of the west side of the house).

Working around the skylights (view of north side).

Working around the skylights (view of north side).

They expect to have the roof finished by Friday – I can’t wait to see it all done! Meanwhile, we had a visit from the local fireplace shop to measure for our freestanding wood-burning stove. And the polished concrete guy is coming this week to go over our choices for finishing the slab. Stay tuned!

Categories: New House Build, Step by Step series | 2 Comments

Insulated Concrete Slab Foundation

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I knew early on in the design process for our (mostly) one-level home that I wanted a concrete slab-on-grade foundation. There are many good reasons to choose slab-on-grade. First, it’s less expensive than wood floor joists; second, the thermal mass works in conjunction with the passive solar design; third, I wanted the house to sit on grade rather than be elevated up a step or two; and fourth, I didn’t need nor want a crawlspace.

It has become very popular in recent years to install radiant in-floor heating into the slab. In cold climates, I’m betting this system is a delight. But my research suggests that in our climate, where the winters are relatively mild (and short), the hefty price tag of such a system (~ $20,000) would take decades to recover in terms of saved heating costs. Also, during the “shoulder seasons” we can have days where you need heat in the morning and evening but not during the day. In that case, a system that requires heating a large thermal mass may not be very efficient – it takes time to heat up all that mass, and time for it to cool down – so turning it off an on throughout the day is not an option. Finally, if the heat source is in the slab, you need to add extra insulation under your slab so that you aren’t paying to heat the earth below your home. For all these reasons, we decided not to go with in-floor heating, and instead spent a whole lot less money just insulating the slab properly.

Inspired by this article, my design called for 2 inches of rigid foam insulation under the slab and 2 inches around the vertical edges of the slab, as shown in this image:

In the diagram above, the walls are shown sitting partially on the vertical rigid foam insulation, which is not allowed under our building codes and I can see why – I would not be comfortable with that either. Our exterior walls must sit squarely on the foundation walls. However, since we were planning to have polished concrete flooring throughout most of the home, that 2 inches of vertical rigid insulation around the slab edge would be visible around the edge of our finished floors. I was willing to live with that to ensure a warm and comfortable slab, and we have a few ideas for how to cover it up when we’re done.

In the image above, there is a step built into the inside of the foundation wall for the foam to sit upon. Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication between myself and the framers, and our step ended up being too shallow. Instead of a 6-inch step (to accommodate 2″ of insulation plus 4″ of concrete slab), we ended up with a 4-inch step.

To remedy the situation, it was suggested that we lay the under-slab insulation alongside the bottom of the step, rather than having it sit on the step itself. But that would create a thermal break along the bottom edge of the slab, as shown in this fancy diagram I made:

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I knew from my research that the edge of the slab, which sits aboveground, loses a significant amount of heat, because the outside air can get colder than the ground in winter. So this was not an acceptable solution.

Instead, our builder came up with this solution:

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With this setup, there is at least 2″ of insulation all around the slab. The upside is that we were able to take advantage of a deal on EPS foam from our local building supply store and get 3-inch thick boards for the whole slab for only $500 more (with the original plan, we would not have been able to accommodate an extra inch). We used the more expensive XPS foam for the slab edge insulation, because it has a higher R-value per inch than EPS. The downside of this setup is that the slab itself will be only 2 inches thick around the edges, and that might make it more prone to cracks. I’m not too worried about cracking, because with polished concrete floors you can have cracks polished over and they add a nice patina to the flooring. But to be safe, the builders added a layer of wire mesh around the slab perimeter, as shown in the photo below.

The slab install thus proceeded as follows, after tamping down the drainage rock (as you would do with any slab installation), the EPS foam was laid down and sealed with spray foam (see this post for more photos of that process). Since the ground is not perfectly level, but the top of the foundation wall is, the next step was glueing the top 2″ of XPS insulation to be level with the top of the foundation wall. The middle layer of XPS was then sandwiched in-between the top layer of XPS and the bottom layer of EPS, and any gaps were filled with spray foam (which has a higher R-value than the rigid foam, by the way).

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This photo shows the EPS foam (white) and the top layer of XPS (pink), which is level with the top of the foundation wall (hidden behind the house wrap). On the left you can see part of the middle layer of XPS.

When all the rigid foam insulation was in place, a vapour barrier was laid over the entire thing. It seems that in some regions it has become common practice to place the vapour barrier underneath the insulation. This article explains why that is a very bad idea. In short, concrete holds a lot of moisture, even when dry enough to use, and that water will try to exit through both the top and bottom of the slab. Placing a vapour barrier below the insulation will result in the EPS foam sitting in a pool of condensation, and although EPS foam is pretty moisture resistant, it was not designed to be continuously wet. With the vapour barrier above the insulation, the moisture will end up going out the top of the slab (and since my house has breathable exterior walls, that won’t be a problem).

The vapour barrier was taped to house wrap, which was installed underneath the sill plate when the framing began. This creates a continuous air barrier that starts under the slab (poured concrete is effectively airtight), goes under the wood framed exterior walls, and up around the exterior insulation (which I’ll describe in a later post). [note: in building terms, being airtight is not the same thing as being vapour resistant; you can have a wall that is draft-free but still allows water vapour to pass through]

The foundation wall error ended up costing us a bit more in labour and insulation, but overall it was a relatively inexpensive mistake. I enjoyed the problem-solving process, and I’m happy with how it all turned out. We ended up with R=10 perimeter insulation and R=12 under the slab (recommendations for our climate zone are R=10 and R=5, respectively). We won’t know until we start living in the house whether all my research and planning will pay off, but I’m feeling pretty confident that my feet will be happy next winter!

 

Categories: New House Build | 1 Comment

Step-by-Step: prepping the roof and floors

This past week the framers finished putting the plywood sheathing on the roof and they attached the fascia boards to the side gables. Meanwhile the floor crew finished tamping down the dirt, laid out the rigid foam insulation and vapour barrier, and taped it all up in preparation for the slab pour on Monday. I’ll be writing a dedicated post about our slab insulation setup, but for now I’ll just post some more photos!

Roof sheathing is done!

Roof sheathing is done!

The fascia boards are 2 x 8 cedar planks.

The fascia boards are 2 x 8 cedar planks.

This view shows the "pop-out", an architectural feature that I added for interest. I'm very happy with how it turned out!

This view shows the “pop-out”, an architectural feature that I added for interest. I’m very happy with how it turned out!

Three-inch thick Type II EPS rigid foam insulation (total R = 12) is laid down first.

Three-inch thick Type II EPS rigid foam insulation (total R = 12) is laid down first.

Spray foam is used to fill any gaps.

Spray foam is used to fill any gaps.

XPS rigid insulation was used around the perimeter.

XPS rigid insulation was used around the perimeter.

Vapour barrier over top of the rigid foam insulation.

Vapour barrier over top of the rigid foam insulation.

The slab is 4 inches thick except along the edge where it steps up to 2 inches thick. We added wire mesh to help prevent cracking where the slab gets thinner.

The slab is 4 inches thick except along the edge where it steps up to 2 inches thick. We added wire mesh to help prevent cracking where the slab gets thinner. The house wrap that went under the sill plates is folded over the edge. 

The roofing membrane is almost done, and the skylights have been installed.

The roofing membrane is almost done, and the skylights have been installed.

Monday will be a big day as the slab will be poured. On Tuesday the metal roofing arrives, so by end of next week the roof should be finished!

 

Categories: New House Build, Step by Step series, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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