Saturday, May 21, 2011

No more oil!

It is now official--we are no longer dependent on oil. The furnace is dismantled, the hydronic baseboards have been drained, and the hot water now comes from a new 80-gallon electric tank. The actual heating/cooling unit has also been installed in the basement and hooked up to the wells. Monday the crew returns to cut vents in the family room floor (this was left to the end as it is over a tiny crawl space and running the ducting will be difficult); the kitchen (these will be toekicks due to our cabinet configuration and the fact that we have radiant floor heating there); and the foyer (the old baseboard must be removed first). Then once the ducts are connected, I believe we will be in business!

It is a bonus for us that this company will not only be removing and carting away the old furnace but also removing all of the hydronic and electric baseboards and all of the old thermostats too.

Here are a few more photos:

Old furnace, no longer in use

Where the old hot water tank used to be

Big guy is the 80-gal water heater; smaller guy is a 50-gal holding tank for pre-heated water from the geo system.

Our new WaterFurnace Synergy unit

Where the unit hooks up to the wells
We had our first 80+ degree day today and it has been pretty humid--this change is coming just in time!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Geothermal/Insulation Update

Wow, it has been a while! Work has progressed the past few weeks, albeit in fits and starts. Holes have been cut in ceilings, ductwork hooked up, wells drilled, insulation blown on the attic floor....Here are some photos:

Creative ducting in the basement

Duct through dining room closet--and we will still have some storage!

Radon system had to be shifted over to make room

Second floor guest room closet, heading up to the attic

Well driller--this is well #1 of 5. Well #5 was difficult--first attempt now has a $2000 drill bit buried at the bottom! Try #2 was fortunately successful.

It's messy work, though the birds have been enjoying our new mud pit.

Feeding in the pipe

Ceiling vent in master bathroom

All the wells are finished and have flexible tubes sticking out of them.

Digging the trench towards the house

The trench, almost to the basement

Attic--the pink is thick insulating foam board, the silver is a duct, and the fluff is cellulose.

A sea of cellulose

Our storage area at the top of the attic stairs

New cover for the attic hatch keeping us cozy!
Today the new electric water heater and the desuperheater tank are going in; the unit itself should be here and installed tomorrow or Monday. I'll try to post more photos/news soon!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Geothermal surprise!

Last week we signed our geothermal contract, and I have been waiting to hear a start date. Sunday night I had a dream that I woke up in the morning and the trucks were there, ready to begin. Well, Monday passed uneventfully, but this morning I received a call around 830, asking if today would be a good time to start. Though I was a bit shocked, I said sure---so our geothermal adventure has begun!

The majority of work on our project entails ductwork--up from the basement to the first floor, and also up through a dining room closet to a bed room closet to the attic. Here is what was accomplished today:

Ducts in basement--they seriously cut down on our headroom, so there is a lot of ducking in our future!

Not sure what this is yet.

Another view

Yes, I will be getting new floor registers....

The baseboards will be ripped out as soon as the conversion is complete.

The registers can't be any closer to the wall due to the home's construction--in other words, there's a beam in the way!

Hole in the floor--but no duct yet!

Thanks for reading, and I'll keep you posted on our progress! :-)

Friday, April 8, 2011

The rest of the insulation story

Day 2:  Air sealing in the attic continues, along with the announcement by John that three bats have been found in the attic; they were probably nesting  in the old fiberglass batts. He brings one outside with his bare (gloved) hands, but the other two have hidden again. I am a bit skeeved out by this, but as long as they don't encroach on my living space, I suppose I can ignore them for now. C is out of town and this is definitely under his job description, not mine.

As more holes are drilled in the master bed and bath, holes made in the kids' rooms yesterday are filled. This is a process that takes a few days--fill, dry, sand, fill again, dry, sand again. As bad as the dust was yesterday, it is five times worse today, and spreading fast. The guys put in another looong day (here at 8am, leaving at 7pm) but they all comment on what a "good time" they are having on our "interesting project." To each his own, I guess!

Day 3:  The basement crew joins in for a day of spray foaming. They cover the rim joists and squeeze into crawlspaces to spray under the sunroom and family room floors. I can hear the poor guy from where I am sitting in the family room saying he is stuck in a corner, but I am assured he is a bit of a character and just putting on a show. The smell from the foam becomes a bit overpowering (it smells until in hardens and cures, and then is odor-free) so we open windows throughout the house. Aside from this, the day proceeds as usual, with John of the Bats and Kyle taking their leave around 7pm and heading home. All of the insulating has been completed, but there is still patching work to be completed, and Brian wants to do another blower door test to check his work, so Brian and John will stick around one more day.

G and R head up to bed, and after they have read quietly for half an hour they prepare for sleep. G throws his book to the ground and all of a sudden something is flying around the room. They watch for a few minutes, then come downstairs. "Mom, there's a bird in our room." Well, we did have all those windows open today, and G's didn't have a screen--so it's quite possible. We all head back upstairs to take a look. I peek in the doorway to see where the critter is hanging out, and there it is, dangling off the window molding.

Hmm, I think, birds don't usually hang like that. That's a freakin' BAT encroaching on MY living space! I quickly shut the door and think for a second. I decide to get a broom for some reason, perhaps remembering that time in England we came home from vacation to find three blackbirds had flown into our home through the fireplace and taken up residence in our absence--my dad went after them with a broom and whacked the floor so hard he broke the head onf the broom from the handle! While I am downstairs older son B has the presence of mind to ask the boys if they were bitten; both say no, thank goodness.

When I return with the broom I slowly open the door, still not sure of my plan. The bat is still hanging there and I am just about to enter the room  when ZOOM, there it goes, flying circles around the room. Door slams as I let out a little shriek and drop the broom like a hot potato. G starts breathing fast and R starts crying; I calm them down, telling them I was just startled. Why does this stuff always happen when C is out of town? I tell the boys to get sleeping bags and camp out in the guest room; Griffin says his boots and clothes are in his room--what will he do for school? I tell him to wear his sneakers and he will have to wear some of R's clothes to school instead. Luckily they are only a few inches apart in height.

Not knowing what else to do, I call C--who is at an awards dinner that night, and thus without his phone---and as a last ditch measure, Brian. Brian says no problem, just leave it shut up in the room and he will take care of it in the morning. I put some towels along the bottom of G's door so the thing can't squeeze through the opening and call it a (rather uneasy) night.

Day 4: G's pants are too short but he doesn't mind as he has a story to tell at school. B has some fun at breakfast talking about rabies shots and vampires. When Brian and John arrive, John starts on the walls while Brian deals with the bat. He finds it hanging off the crown molding, manages to get it in a towel and out the window. Luckily it didn't seem to leave any droppings, but I still washed all the bedding anyway.

You may remember from an older post that the results of our first blower door test showed a heat loss of about 143 kbtu/hr. Well, the results of our second test showed we are now at a loss of 64 kbtu/hr! This is a pretty impressive result. Brian had hoped to get us down to a 61 or so, and he has a few more recommendations of things we can do on our own to get us closer to that ultimate goal--but really, we are quite happy with the result! The house does feel better; I have already turned down thermostats, the house isn't as dry, and it also seems quieter.

Now I just have a ton of painting to do, though I believe I will wait until after the geothermal install is complete. We should have a start date soon!

The hole they drill, I think it is about 2" in diameter.

Here it is after the cellulose has been pumped in.

Upstairs hallway, lots of holes.

Drywall boxes in the attic built over the can lights.

Same box sealed up with foam.

A patched hole.

Before they apply the drywall compound, a small styrofoam disk is placed in the hole.

Filling the wall.

Our new tenant--yuck! He's been summarily evicted!
A big thanks to Brian for the use of his photos and all of his hard work and planning on our behalf, and to John, Kyle, and John, all from Envinity. You guys made this as painless as possible, though I am convinced the dust will never completely disappear (I dust a desk Monday, and Wednesday it looks like it's never seen a rag--what's up with that?). :-)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Insulation Day 1: My walls look like swiss cheese!

Greetings and salutations! I know I have taken some time off from writing here, mostly because I felt I had nothing to write about (for example, that rotten porch post? Still not fixed.). But now things are happening again, and in a pretty big, disruptive, yet exciting way.

You may recall my last post about my difficulties getting estimates for our insulation work; well, we ended up going with Brian (and the awesome crew of John, John, and Kyle), and it wasn't just because he was our only option. Based on our meetings with the other companies, I believe we would have picked him anyway---he was the only one who used cellulose instead of fiberglass, for instance; his proposal was thorough and thoughtful;  and really, his upbeat attitude just can't be matched--this is a guy who really seems to love, and take pride in, his work. There's a lot to be said for that.

So yesterday the crew arrived bright and early--and promptly got their trailer stuck trying to get into the driveway. Muddy gravel + heavy trailer loaded with equipment = tow truck giving you some extra help. But things were quickly sorted out and soon the house was a flurry of men in masks and the sounds of hammering and drilling. Because of the issues with our aluminum siding, we are having most of the wall work done from inside the house (except for two spots where small areas of siding will have to be removed and hopefully replaced incident-free). I fear I will never get all the dust off the floors, but it will all be worthwhile if we see results in lower energy bills and increased comfort.

Here is what is inside that heavy trailer:
Bales on cellulose on the left are fed into that blue machine on the right
The hose running out of the blue machine is then fed through the house and put into holes drilled every so often in the exterior walls:
Hose running though second floor window
This room was often the coldest in the winter and hottest in the summer
Here you can see that besides holes regularly spaced in the walls, holes also have to be drilled above and below windows
Bathroom wall---there are even holes drilled in that tiny cupboard far right
The cellulose itself is not itchy. It reminds me of that grey fluff that comes out of padded envelopes (maybe it is?). It appears that it is pretty easy to vacuum up from the floor and rugs, but is pretty difficult to keep off the dog.

While in the attic doing some air sealing work, John found something fun and interesting: part of an old local paper from 1926! I was able to make out an article about a high school dance; a YMCA basketball game; and an article out of Detroit about Henry Ford demanding an investigation into how his private airport was apparently used by an aerial rum running ring bringing booze in from Canada!

Here are a few of my other favorites:
"Moonshine and Dishonesty"
So things haven't changed that much--he's complaining about being "The Fall Guy", and how he has to pay for school outfits, weatherstripping the house, football "togs" for the boys, college expenses, fixing the furnace, etc. The only ones that really date this are "coal bill" and "fur coat for sister." This is a usual fall expense?!?
And my absolute number one favorite article (though the one about Parisian-style bed jackets making breakfast in bed all the nicer is fun too):
It is difficult to read so here is a transcription:

       "Little Miss Rose Marie Roberts, eight months old, claims that she has visited the barber shop more times than any girl her age in the United States.
       That is, Rose Marie doesn't loudly assert it herself but her mother, Mrs. Harvey Roberts, local citizen, has so stated. The baby has had her hair bobbed five times to date.
       She was named after the well-known music show, and her parents hope she will become a famous singer.
       This "hair bobbing championship" announcement is not an advance publicity stunt, her parents declared. (emphasis mine)

Say whaaaat? All I could think of when I read this was the episode of  Designing Women where Suzanne tried to put a wig on Charlene's baby. Again, seems like things haven't changed all that much in 90 years!

Monday, February 7, 2011

May I vent?

Sorry not to have posted in the last few weeks, but I have been a tad frustrated. Whether it is the weather (cold, icy, and snowy), or life in a small town/semi-rural area, or living in an old house bound to be full of surprises--it has been nearly impossible to find anyone willing to take on the job of insulating our home. The saga thus far:

After our energy audit, Brian sent an estimate for the work he proposed; he also encouraged us to get other estimates, which we would have done anyway. I contacted the only other insulation companies I could find, two of which said we were out of their service area. The three remaining companies agreed to come out for free estimates, and very quickly at that. Each one had some new bit of information to offer, and I thought the meetings went well.

What followed was a whole lot of...nothing. One week went by, and when we hit day 10 I made follow-up calls or sent an email. Still nothing. At the three week mark, I called back and left messages asking each one for an estimate or to just let me know they weren't interested. One responded two days later (said he had the flu, so I felt a bit badly for pressing him) but with a quote for only a portion of the work we really need.
So after contacting all the insulation contractors in our area who were willing to come out and look at the job, we are left with...our first estimate. No materials to compare, no prices to compare, nothing. If I was okay with that I wouldn't have bothered chasing people down for three weeks, and the job would already be done. Perhaps it is for the best; I researched the elements of Brian's proposal and it does seem very sound and optimal for our situation.

One thing all four contractors could agree on was that if we are planning to put in a geothermal heat pump, it might be best to do that first and then insulate the attic, so all the work was not stepped on and compromised.  This recommendation spurred us on to get estimates for a geothermal system as well. We found three local companies, all with varying degrees of expertise in the field and again, different ideas about the best system for our home. Fortunately, all of these companies were able to get us estimates in a timely fashion and we have selected a company for that project as well.

The issue now is that we have a projected heat loss calculation (for after the insulation improvements are made) upon which the geothermal installer is basing his system design. We might meet that projection, or more likely, we will come somewhat close. But we obviously do not want either a system that is over kill or a system that is inadequate for our needs. So what we would like to do is have all the insulation work completed (except for the attic floor, so it won't get messed up by the HVAC guys), have another blower door test, and base the geo system on that more realistic number.

I am sure everything will work out wonderfully when all is said and done; it was just one of those times where I really noticed a difference between living in a small town, where if three or four people don't get back to you the job maybe doesn't happen, and a larger metro area, where if four people blow you off you just call the next 40 in the phone book.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Wanna see something scary?

Though lately I have been wrapped up in toilets and insulation and HVAC systems, thinking this will be our next big home improvement project, this past week I was reminded of that old adage "Expect the unexpected." The unexpected is, thankfully, not so major a project--just one that must be completed as soon as possible. And if I am truthful, it was not completely unexpected; we had been warned during our home inspection, and kind of had our fingers crossed that we wouldn't have to deal with it so soon.

We had two snow days this week, and while the boys were out playing, B decided to knock the icicles from the eaves. To do this, he stood on the post of our side porch--

Similar to this one

and then immediately found himself on the ground, with no icicle in hand, as the post essentially disintegrated (he was completely fine, and to his credit promptly confessed to his misdeeds).

All the trim fell right off

Around the bottom too

Dry rot we knew about, and probably ancient termite damage as well

C has wedged a board between the porch floor and ceiling to help keep it supported.  The good news: the whole post may not have to be replaced, but instead can be repaired; the rot does not appear to extend through the whole piece.  I also walked around the rest of the porch, stabbing rails and posts with a screwdriver--it all seems fine, except for needing a new coat of paint.

The culprit in this dry rot is most likely our gutter, which, when it dams up with leaves or snow, sends a steady drip of water right down the length of the post. This will have to be remedied as well.

Hopefully we will have our rotten post repaired and good as new in the next week or so!