Friday, 27 March 2015

0.34 ACH @ 50Pa - We passed the first test!

Ross Elliott and Stephen Magneron from
Homesol Building Solutions collecting the numbers
from our initial blower door test.
It's was a pretty exciting day here at Turtle Falls yesterday. After months of building in record cold temperatures we finally reached the stage where we could put the house and its airtight barrier through its first blower door test. I have to admit I was a bit nervous. Tests have always jarred my nerves and probably always will.

But as the title of this post reveals, there was no need to be nervous. The guys from Crane Building Service have done an outstanding job so far building their first passive house, which was amazingly designed by Chris Straka at Vert Design Inc, modeled to achieve passive house standard by Homesol Building Solutions and the airtight installation of superior quality passive house certified windows and doors by Herrmann's Timber-Frame Homes. Ras and I extend our greatest gratitude to all the guys for their continuing support and careful attention to all the details required to get us on the right path to passive house certification.

One of the most important features of a passive house is it must be airtight to within 0.6 air changes per hour under a pressure of 50 pascal (0.60 ACH@50Pa), meaning that it will take one hour for 60% of the volume of air in the whole house to be exchanged or about an hour and 40 minutes for one complete air change. Little ol' Casa Tortuga and its band of brilliant builders achieved a mid-term test score of 0.34 ACH@50...pretty good indeed.

The meticulous men from Crane's Building Service
(l-r) Lee Ostrom, Mark Raison and Al Paige.
0.34 ACH@50Pa...well below the 0.6 required. 

To put that number in perspective, as tightly sealed as Casa Tortuga is it would take about three hours for one complete air change and this means that in the dead of winter with all the ventilation and heating systems switched off, a passive house would typically lose about 0.5°C per day, stabilizing somewhere between 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F). And that's if the sun isn't shining.

Now I'll compare that to the house I grew up in...(sorry mom). Mom has been a real sweetheart to allow us to live with her during this crazy cold winter while construction continued. As much as we love Priscilla, winter is just too much for her thin-tinned walls to handle so mom graciously took us in. I must tell you that my childhood home is easily 100 years old and has had some updates over the years including a new kitchen addition, windows and furnace. I don't ever remember there being any insulation top-ups though. One cold night I noticed that the furnace was running almost constantly so my inner geek thought it might be fun to time this furnace cycling. It ran for 20 minutes, stopped for 3 minutes, ran for 20 minutes, stopped for 3...all night long and all day long for as long as those nasty -27°C days (and some -32°C) lasted. This house was losing about 1°C every 20 minutes with the heating/ventilation systems on. Compare that to the anticipated (systems off) passive house heat loss of 0.5°C per day. It makes the grief we have gone through with construction and weather delays worth every moment when I look at everything from this perspective.

So let me go back and show you some of the reasons we achieved such a good number.

The excellent triple-glazed Gaulhofer passive house windows installed by
perfectionists Adrian & Andreas of Herrmann's Timber-Frame Homes.
 These guys had smiles on their faces all week while installing in nasty
cold temperatures, even when they had to apply sealing tapes with
ungloved hands. I think they must be part polar bear! Fun guys.
Look at all the beautiful sunshine. But you know what sunshine in January
means in Eastern Ontario, eh? Minus 27°C (-17°F) or worse!  Ah, but days
like this make for some cozy temperatures inside a passive house.
The completed airtight envelope. This one inch of foil-faced insulation board
 is really all the wall/ceiling we have at the moment. The 6" (15cm) of Roxul
on the inside and 16" (40cm) of dense pack cellulose outside is still not
installed but we were reaching temperatures as high as 24°C (75°F) and
 maintaining at least 13°C (55°F) even in the -27°C (-17°F) weather,
using just one electric construction heater.
28" (71cm) of cellulose has been blown into the attic space
 by Green Giant Design Build. When settled, it should sit
 at a depth of about 25" (63cm). The R-value of the
insulation above the ceiling is closing in on 90.
The 2x6 space below the airtight foil barrier is the service chase for electrical
wires and ventilation ducts. All lights/ducts can be installed in the ceiling
 now without compromising the airtight envelope.

That's all for this post. Next up will be a smallish rambling about the heat and ventilation system for Casa Tortuga. I've lost count of how many times we've had to endure the comment that a house should not be so tightly sealed..."houses need to breathe, ya know!"

More later,

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Turtle's pace Downgraded to a Snail's pace

It's been months since I've written a post and I'm having trouble knowing where to begin. It will seem to you, from the photos, like a lot has been accomplished here at Turtle Falls but then when I remind you that the last post was August 22nd you may wonder what is taking so long. I wonder that every day too even though I'm livin' the dream. 
The number of roadblocks we have encountered can truly get us down at times. Weather, architectural design flaws, architectural detail omissions, weather, material delays, painstaking attention to air-tightness details, weather, health issues with the building crew, not having enough building crew, engineering omissions and the delays associated with waiting for new engineered details. Oh...and did I mention weather? We are now just waiting for the winter to kick into high gear. That should really help with our schedule!
Sarcasm aside, we are happy to have a crew that takes the time to do things with care and attention to detail. We are confident that we are getting a very well built house. Now, if only we could find them a faster turtle!
Here are some photos of what's gone into building passive house Casa Tortuga to date:
One inch (2.5cm) thick polyisocyanurate board (foil-faced foam) is glued
on every stud and nailed to the exterior side of the stud wall.
One inch (2.5cm) thick high density Styrofoam is installed where floor
joists/rim boards will sit.
Then all seams are taped with Siga Rissan for air-tightness.
The first section of wall raised. Yeah! The seam between wall sections gets
taped from the inside to continue that complete air-tight barrier.
Corners get wrapped with foam board and taped
 before the section gets moved to its final spot.
A bead of adhesive gets applied at the floor...
And the wall section is lowered over the anchor bolts and onto the
adhesive, completing the air tight seal at the floor.
Steel beams and massive window headers are boomed into place.
A rare moment of joyful-jumping and exuberance when weather and
construction speed are playing nicely together.'re too cute!
All seams taped. High density styro on the tops of all walls (you may need
 to zoom in to see that detail) to which the ceiling polyisocyanurate boards
get taped. Once that polyiso is in place, the continuous air-tight bubble of
foam around the living space will be complete. It will eliminate
all thermal bridging as well.
Trusses and roof sheathing finally arrive.
What's with the weird looking window openings, you ask?
Before I get to windows...
the concrete gets two coats of elastomeric waterproofing membrane.
The window bucks are built to accommodate the windows in the 23" (58cm)
thick walls. It looks rather odd right now but once the exterior 16" (40cm)
of insulation gets installed they will look like any other window.

I realize this post is getting excessively long so I will end here for now. You can see from the photos the amount of detail that you will not see in conventional building. Details...just one of the items in the list of why this project seems to take forever to go anywhere.

More later...giddyup turtle, winter is fast approaching!

Friday, 22 August 2014

The Big Bunker Theory

No doubt some of you have heard of the Diefenbunker. Most everyone who has visited Turtle Falls while the rebar was being installed wondered if we were building the next Diefenbunker. Oh wait...that would mean it might be named the Harperbunker. Hell way!! I'll admit there is a lot of steel in this house and I suppose if you use your imagination you may see some similarities in the following photos.
The Diefenbunker under construction 1961. Courtesy of
The TurtleBunker under construction 2014.
(Sorry PM Harper, you cannot have your name on this bunker!)
21,000 linear feet of rebar in the slab and walls equals about 10 tons.
The Diefenbunker has 5000 tons of steel. Not even close!
Forming the TurtleBunker walls.
So why so much steel, you ask? The concrete slab is a full 12 inches (30.5cm) thick sitting on a 14 inch (35.5cm) floating bed of Styrofoam. Concrete not only shrinks as it dries but continues to expand and contract with temperature changes. The rebar reduces the amount of cracking the slab will endure over its lifetime and helps distribute the weight of loadbearing walls. No saw-cut contraction joints were allowed to be cut in this slab, as specified by the engineers, probably because these saw cuts would likely have to be about 3 inches (7.6cm) deep and would therefore cut through the top layer of rebar installed just 2 inches (5cm) from the slab's surface.

The walls required a similar seemingly over-abundance of rebar. The back wall of the house will be a retaining wall for the hill behind it. Since the concrete is only 6 inches (15.2cm) thick, standing 10 feet (3m) tall, the steel needed to be plentiful and steadfast. There will be massive amounts of pressure against that back wall once backfilled. And even though every last person who has seen the rebar for this house has shaken their heads or rolled their eyes in disbelief and asked us if we are building a skyscraper...or the next Diefenbunker...or if we've just lost our minds all together, we simply smile inside and feel a great sense of security knowing this house has been engineered to last. Nuclear attack, earthquakes and hurricanes be damned. Why should governmental figures be the only ones allowed to hunker down in a bunker when the outside world gets a little out of control?

We have so many names for this house: Casa Tortuga, The Turtle Palace, TurtleBunker. But maybe it really needs to be named Castle Tortuga. At one moment during the removal of forms from the walls the whole scene reminded us of a castle. Yes? All we need now is a moat and a drawbridge.

Castle Tortuga in the making?
A stressful, yet successful pour complete.

Notice all the little nibs left behind from the form ties both inside and out in the above photo. Since we will be installing a rigid insulation on both the inside and outside of the concrete, each and every one of those nibs needed to be knocked off. Fun times at Turtle Falls consisted of nib-knocking for days...and days!

The last nib gets knocked.

I just wouldn't be a good Canadian if I didn't mention the weather. This summer has looked like the following picture every other day. We got one lonely week of solid sunshine somewhere between the first and second weeks of August. Ever since, we've been back to rain almost every other day.

This is the very tiresome scene we see too much of from Priscilla's window.

The ironic part about waterproofing is that things need to be dry to apply waterproofing materials. As you may have guessed from my weather report there was quite a waiting period before we could get to the waterproofing of the joint at the floor and wall. Once we did get our sunny week we wasted no time. The first step was an elastomeric caulk right in the joint. This product needed a week to cure before we could roll on the rubberized membrane. Mother Nature played nice that week and gave us just enough dry days to get this very important step done. Passive houses need to be very air tight and this sealing detail had to be done before we can proceed with anything else.

Those of you familiar with sealing joints for passive house may wonder why we opted not to use the more convenient tapes for this step. It turns out we have a few uneven sections in our floor where the water collects up against this joint and the tapes would most likely fail after successive water submersions thanks to all the rain we've been getting. Even once we get rolling with the framing it will be a while before the roof is installed and any rainwater would be impossible to remove from those collection areas once the 2x6 stud wall is in place. So we chose to caulk and roll! {groan}

Floor/wall joint is sealed with elastomeric caulk for water and air-tightness.
Tooling the caulk for better coverage and adhesion.
Rolling on the first of 2 coats of rubberized
waterproofing membrane.

Not all has been lost due to weather though. We have kept the crew busy with building the Turtle Falls workshop while we got the TurtleBunker prepped for them. Here's what they've been up to while we've been nib-knocking and waterproof caulking...

The Turtle Falls workshop is looking mighty fine. Nice work guys!

That's all for now. Pray for sunshine!

More later,

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Turtle's pace

You are probably wondering what is going on here at Turtle Falls. It's the first day of summer already and the progress with the building is moving along at a turtle's pace...thanks to the weather!

Yes, the weather is the gift that just keeps on giving. In the fall, the snow fell fast and furiously enough to halt our construction plans by mid-December. Now, incessant rain is messing with building schedules...big time...all over the county. The wet spring has delayed all construction around this area.

One would think we are building a swimming pool rather than a house. Check out the short video of trying to keep the water out of the foundation form so when the rebar guys do finally show up they don't have to install it wearing hip waders.

It's hard not to take it personally when the trades won't show for more than a day or two before they disappear again for several. I know they are behind the eight ball trying to keep all their other clients happy as well but it still makes us want to shackle them to the rebar (is that a bad thing?) and not set them free until something...anything...has been completed. By the way, has anyone seen the sun? It's pretty much a figment of our imaginations here at Turtle Falls.

As a side note, when the sun does make a rare appearance the roads become turtle obstacle courses. I guess they get tired of all the rain too and head to higher ground, away from flooded shorelines, to enjoy a brief moment of warmth and look for a cosy(?) spot for their future hatchlings. Can anyone tell me where turtles laid their eggs before roads were built? I can't believe the distances these creatures will travel to park their abounding back ends into the gravelly shoulders of roadways countywide.

The following picture is of Ras doing her bit for the environment by moving a substantially-sized snapping turtle off the middle of the road. The turtle was not impressed with her good Samaritan ways and did its best hissing and clawing imitation to scare the living daylights out of the point that you may notice that, yet again, a turtle is falling! Rest assured Turtle was not hurt in the making of this heroic effort. Ras nearly had a heart attack...but Turtle was unharmed. After Ras finally got Turtle safely into the ditch, who's to know if she didn't just turn herself around and trundle back to her tarmacked sunning spot.
Ras: "You'll be much safer over here."
Turtle: "Get your hands off me, human!" 

Enough about the turtles. On to the building. I was hoping to have much more to report by now...but I don't. So here's where we're at while we wait for the trades people to wade through their rain-soaked backlogs...
Installing vapour barrier over 14"(35cm) of Styrofoam insulation.
All seams and plumbing protrusions need to be taped for a watertight seal.
Rain would have filled this form like a swimming pool so
we tucked the vapour barrier under the form to allow water to run out.
Installing the rain!
Un-installing the rain...again! The shovel method doesn't work with the rebar.
Forming the notch around the perimeter of the slab required drilling holes
every 5"(13cm) in 2x6 lumber to accommodate the right angle dowels.
By the way, about 420 right angle dowels were bent on site.
Ras did a few dozen. Go girl!
The form as it sits today...almost ready for concrete. A bit more forming
work is necessary. More bracing is required as well.

And now we wait our turn for the crew to return to us. Promises have been made and broken for return dates. We are doing our best to remain patient. It is what it is...

"I ain't coming out 'til the rain stops."

More later,

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Anticipation... we are in the last week of April and the anticipation of starting construction again at Turtle Falls is growing, by leaps and bounds, with each passing day. It was a long, cold, and very snowy winter and it seems like eons ago that we made the decision to halt construction until spring. There are still a few delays we must wait out before construction can begin again. Nothing says it better than a picture...or several.

You might think the most obvious of the delays would be the high water. All roads leading to Turtle Falls are under water.
This guy stopped and asked us if it was safe to go through. I said 'yes,
as long as you go slow'. From the size of the spray,
 you can tell he was not interested in the advisement of caution.
                                                                                         Photo credit ~ Holly Wykes
The other watery road leading to Turtle Falls.

The load restrictions are the main reason for not starting right away. These restrictions are usually lifted by around the 1st of May. And with the amount of concrete we need for the slab and foundation it seems prudent to wait until fully loaded cement trucks are once again allowed to traverse the waterways...I mean...roadways.

Half loads in effect.

There is one delay that we have thwarted though. Our passive house windows and doors are in our possession! Well...they're in the possession of the window dealer at the moment. They have graciously agreed to store our order in their warehouse until they are needed on site. This is all very good news as I remember the 3-month delay we had to endure for doors for the last building project we did.

We are seriously impressed with the people from which we purchased our Gaulhofer windows and doors. The product is not only amazing but Herrmann's Timber-Frame Homes, from Curran Ontario, makes the whole scary process of ordering windows from a foreign country akin to ordering your daily double-double from Timmy's. Easy peasy! They will also be installing the product when we have progressed to that point. {sigh of relief!}  One less thing contractor Mark has to worry about.

Windows arrive safely from Austria during one of the coldest weeks in January.
                                                                                        Photo credit ~ Adrian Herrmann
Passive house certified Gaulhofer entry doors and windows for Casa Tortuga.
                                                                                                           Photo credit ~ Adrian Herrmann
The whole package, including patio doors, patiently awaiting its
 journey to Turtle Falls.
                                                                                                          Photo credit ~ Adrian Herrmann

These next photos have nothing to do with any construction delays. Just high the water is in the lake at the moment.

Doing our best American Gothic pose while the last ice floe goes by.
The amount of flotsam, jetsam and zebra mussels on top of the deck tell us
the deck was 'under' water for some time.
                                                                                                               Photo credit ~ Holly Wykes
The debris removal crew is hard at work.
The conservation authority made us build this deck above the high water line.
That high water line used to be about 4 feet (1.22m) lower than it is here. 
This picture is from last fall. Note the water level. If we had attached the
floating dock with the water as high as it is in the previous photo,
 we would have to walk 'up' the ramp to get to the boat.

We had every intention to get the dock in place during the Easter weekend but there was no way the boat was going in the lake as the ice was still pretty solid at either of the boat ramps we can use. So much for an early dock season! We'll try again next weekend. That will be the same weekend we attempt to de-mouse poor Priscilla...ugh! What is it with the love affair mice have with RV's?

That's all I've got for now.
More later,