As of January 1, 2017 we have owned the house for five years. Making progress on the house gut remodel has been a busy but slow process. This is a five year report about our LEED project.
2012 was our first year of ownership, a short year for work on the house as I had not yet retired and my travels out to Colorado were limited until after May 1st. After retirement and until we moved in 2014 my visits were a week or so a month. But I was able to get started right away on the LEED project. I organized the LEED Charrette and hired various professionals to get us started. Chief among those was the architect to draw up the plans for our building permit. James Plagmann of Humanature Architecture. I’m glad he is still in business and I hear from him occasionally. I found a sponsor for our project, Energy Logic of Berthoud and Denver acts as our rater and evaluator for certification. I also took a course to become a certified LEED Rater and learned as much as I could about the LEED requirements. Then I used a now defunct business for the LEED for Homes credentials with Shane Gring who still works in the area but with another group. The landscape architecture was done by another out of business firm, Conservation Seeding and Restoration who specialized in native plants. They had a lot of turnover and our plan was started by one person and added to by another while a third person did an irrigation plan. But I had the expertise I needed for the charrette in April.
As a precaution the house was checked for asbestos and lead paint and we had neither. Then I began tearing down walls and recycling as much of the house as possible. Carpet went to a recycler in Denver, cabinets, kitchen and bath fixtures to Habitat for Humanity Restore. I searched high and low for drywall recyclers but there were none in the area so the drywall went to the trash. I saved the undamaged insulation and later reused much of it in the existing attic. All the trim and studs were saved with the nails removed for the rebuild.
We had the pre-evaluation of the energy efficiency of the whole house with a blower door and infrared photo report from Deeper Green, also no longer in business and added their suggestions to our plans.
I found a solution to the expansive soils slab problem with a wafflemat foundation from Texas Wafflemat. I obtained the required soil samples and contracted an engineer, also still in business at Crown Jade Engineering, to design our new floor. And I contracted to have the old concrete floor removed and then the soil dug down to make way for the waffle boxes by Mile High Contracting, who would return in 2015 to pour the slab for a hot tub.
When the floor came out we found that the sewer pipe was rusted and cracked pretty badly so we had to plan to replace it all too plus run the new water supply lines in an insulated loop to allow for hot water recirculation.
We had almost dropped the idea of being a LEED project because we were told the entire house had to be gutted to qualify. That turned out not to be the case so we got back to planning for LEED certification in 2014.
2013 continued at a good pace with the award of our whole project building permit in February. We were working on the installation of the wafflemat slab which meant installing a recycled 3″ XPS layer around the perimeter foundation, a road base gravel bed and tamping that down, then heavy 10 mil plastic over that taped around all the protrusions of pipe. Then the waffle boxes and a two to three inch coating of Insulstar spray foam insulation followed by a generous number of rebars crisscrossing all of it.
The radiant heat system was planned so that the oxygen barrier pex could be laid under the cement flooring. All the supplies including the new wall hung boiler were purchased and the pex was zip tied to the rebar. We also had to design the radon mitigation system and install the pipes under the concrete floor into the gravel layer. And all this was done so that by March the new floor was poured. I found soy based concrete stain and sealer and tried to sand the new concrete floor with a rented grinder but that just wanted to make ugly marks in the surface. So I just stained the floor as it was with both a yellow gold undercoat and a brown top coat of stain, then I sealed it all.
We bought a work truck to help with hauling building materials and one of its first tasks was to take some of our waste to the dump. But overall we only did this twice as well as using Bagster bags to handle the drywall debris from the deconstruction and eventually a couple of rolloffs for the bulky fiberglass debris.
After the floor went in it was time to take down the ceiling including dropping a partial attic over the kitchen and removing the old insulation because it was nasty in some places with insect and rodent damage. We planned to either use foam or blown in insulation instead. The foam bid was too expensive and the blown in was more reasonable but I had the good fortune of meeting the woman who owned and had the home built in the early 80’s. Her daughter was an employee of LEED headquarters in Washington D.C. and when she came to visit she was very encouraging. She asked if we had considered rock wool insulation and it seemed like a great product. Higher R value than either blown in or fiberglass and not that much more expensive. We ordered $5000 worth and it arrived around Thanksgiving.
In order to have a water based heating system our water had to be tested and fall within a certain ph and mineral range. It failed the mineral tests with high iron and manganese so we researched and installed an iron/manganese removal filter. The calcium hardness is also a bit high so there is a calcium filter on the hot water side and an electronic filter on the whole house. The boiler was installed for the first time and we got hot water before I accidentally broke it and had to uninstall and fix the problem. I had the first estimate to remove the extra gas lines and install a new layout but it was too expensive and I figured the gas requirements myself with a bit of disagreement with that installer. So I dropped that idea for awhile. I also battled the intrusion of flicker woodpeckers into our cedar siding and cleaned out two huge deep nests inside the walls. Plus we got rid of a large hornet nest in the insulation near the back door.
2014 was a momentous year because Dave retired on January first and we began the process of selling our Arizona house and moving to the Arvada house while it is still under construction. Our big move with all our belongings was in March and I spent most of April in Arizona having the house repainted and doing small repairs to ready it for sale.
In the meantime Dave was caulking all the seams at the rafters and walls and installing all that Roxul insulation. When I was home I laid several layers of the old fiberglass in the attic over the rear bedroom and bath. Then our kids bought a new house that needed work before they could move in and had work to do in the old house before it could be sold so our projects went on hold for awhile while we helped them. Plus we planned and attended our son’s wedding and went camping and visited our Moms and generally enjoyed the summer.
A lot of time was spent fixing, re-installing and redoing the piping system for the boiler. I had to learn by trial and error, even though I took a short course on boilers from the Triangle Tube company and did a lot of research on these systems. Still it was rewarding to design and install an appropriately sized boiler system based on ASHRAE standards in the Manual J.
I also relocated the intake and exhaust pipe for the boiler while closing up the old exhaust opening, hooked up the direct air vent for the wood stove boiler and installed the chimney for the wood stove. The first radon vent was combined with the radon exhaust from the crawl space and the radon fan installed. The gas pipes were redone by a different company who were much more reasonable and a new gas line came around the outside of the house to the utility area while the old pipe was sealed off or removed.
We set up a larger kitchen in the house with second hand Energy Star refrigerator, dishwasher and a cool Advantium speed cook oven and moved the old washer and dryer. That made it possible to move a bed into the red bedroom and set it up for guests.
Another major project was conditioning the crawl space which meant laying heavy plastic over the dirt after cleaning up the debris left down there. The plastic is from old billboards and is more durable than poly film. We decided to install used polyiso insulation from old roof tear downs to create a thermal barrier on the ceiling. The panels started going up on top of the Roxul.
So 2015 rolled around and we had lots of polyiso to install which was then covered with Siga air barrier and furring strips recycled from old pallets. We also started to seriously consider the replacement of the old windows and doors. I researched various window choices and the very best solar heat gain glass and R-value we could buy was from the local company Alpen Windows. Unfortunately they were also very expensive but we got the bid and decided to go ahead with the install.
To prepare for the new windows we uninstalled the glass from the Trombe wall. That made us research various ways to reinstall the glass eventually. I scored a find of a lot of track lighting and researched LED bulbs to use to light the main living area and the kitchen and dining area. I also found ten stained glass sconce lights for the house from a spa that was remodeled and put up one in the hallway saving the rest for the final electrical install. We began the design for the LEED recommended ventilation system and figured what ducting would be required. The ERV we chose is the most energy efficient made in the US and also sold by AE Building systems, the RecoupAerator.
We also bought a chiller from ebay and I tried to hook it up for radiant cooling but I could not get it to cool the system piping water. I had decided to install a heat exchanger for the steel wood burning boiler water so it would not contaminate the condensing boiler system. I thought this could be used to run chilled water too but after two chillers purchased, tried and returned, I gave up on the idea for 2015.
I consulted Craigslist often to look for materials for the house. I found rubber tiles for our patio made of recycled rubber at a low price, then tile for the bathrooms and a few nice trim pieces and a large soaking tub with fancy free standing faucet for the master bath. I got a free dual flush toilet and installed it in a temporary bathroom surrounded by extra polyiso panel walls.
I also found a large exercise spa hot tub that I just had to have which was a larger project than expected for 2015 in preparing the area, getting the electrical run, laying the concrete slab and moving the spa from across the city on a newly purchased trailer onto the slab. It took all summer and the spa was up and running, with a few fixes required, by late October. As long as we were preparing the slab area we also prepared the patio area, leveled, tamped, laid professional landscape fabric, brought in roadbase and readied it for the tile–eventually.
We were very unhappy with the door installation. It was done by a different crew than the window installers and they were sloppy and would not follow instructions. So they had to reframe twice and then the doors didn’t close correctly. Eventually they were mostly fixed. We are not big fans of the ThermaTru doors that Alpen used to install their window glass though. We paid to have them painted and the paint job was terrible. It blistered and bubbled and they said we had to install an awning over them and put in the landing before they could come and repaint. Got those things done but they dragged their heels and finally painted in late fall. The repaint job started bubbling almost immediately. So disappointing for a high end purchase.
We began the process of deciding what kind of siding to install for the cedar boards that were cracking and being attacked by woodpeckers and hiding wasp nests. I read about cement board and saw a couple of Old House shows about it. I like full panel siding and Hardie makes a stucco pattern panel siding that I thought might match the stucco on other parts of the house. Then I learned about installing a siding rainscreen layer and found a commercial Waterway rainscreen material at auction so paid very little for it. We decided to use the Siga exterier barrier material as well as it is designed to work with the interior barrier. The first piece of siding and the outer wall barrier and rainscreen was installed for the lower front of the house.
We also moved my mom to Arvada from the Chicago area. She had been in assisted living since she fell and broke a leg in January and she just seemed to need extra attention that my brother who was still working was finding hard to supply. He took care of everything for over 10 years, her finances, her operations and procedures, visiting her, having her for dinner regularly, for holidays, and generally keeping her company. My sister and I visited about two or three times a year. I felt that being retired meant that we could spend more time with her and we loaded her up in the RV with a trailer of her belongings attached and she is now a Colorado resident in a small assisted living home not too far from us. It has been great having her here.
I tweaked the house plans a little bit to be sure we had room in the master bathroom for the big tub and separate shower. And before the heating season began in earnest I took apart the condensing boiler and cleaned it to keep it maintained. Unfortunately our cool Advantium combo microwave/halogen oven broke and I was unable to fix it so we replaced it temporarily with a countertop oven.
2016 started with our first fires in the fireplace boiler. Of course I then took it all apart and redesigned the piping relearning the concepts of the gas boiler as applied to the wood burning one. The gas boiler system had a pump go out on the supply side and I replaced the Taco with a variable Grundfos that is a bit undersized but seems to be doing the job.
One of the most exciting breakthroughs of the project though was the building of the floating walls for the interior of the house. Dave started putting up walls in March and by August they were all in place. That really made a difference! We now have defined spaces in the house with these walls. Plus we could get the electrical wires run in the new walls!
We finally had our rough LEED inspection and I found out that I needed to get all the paperwork that I had been gathering in order. So I uploaded it all to the blog and organized it by LEED category. I also rewrote and added to the Operation and Maintenance Manual required by LEED for Homes.
I purchased almost all of the remaining plumbing fixtures and valves and we had an early plumbing inspection that proved we were not at all ready. But we got good advice about what to finish before we were reinspected. So that task list was tackled and slowly got completed. I also purchased the RecoupAerator ERV so that the electricians could see what its wiring requirements were.
We got the same company back to do the electrical installation but a rather greenhorn crew worked on our wiring. They were extremely slow at the work. It was so hard for them to conceive wiring in between the air barrier and the finished wall instead of piercing the barrier for all the wiring. In fact they didn’t use flex conduit in this small space and the inspector would not pass the work. I was so annoyed with one of the workers because he insisted he had to cut through the barrier for one outside wall outlet. He did NOT have to and eventually we got the estimator/manager out to consult about how to do the outlet and keep the barrier intact. I asked that he not return but his partner was the really green one who took forever to do the job. That meant several more weeks of fixing the original install. And it still didn’t pass inspection because it was missing one more outlet.
I ended up in the hospital with emergency surgery which went well but the electricians were finishing the job then and when I returned I noticed several outlets and lights on the plans that they did not install. They came back and did them. Then I realized I better get the outside electrical connection for next year’s air conditioning solution installed at the same time (a Craigslist find–a Frigidaire 9000 btu minisplit for above the kitchen) and that added two more days. It took a full two months for the electrical install!
I almost hired a plumber to install the rest of the rough plumbing but by the time he was available to schedule, I felt good enough to complete the work myself. I still failed the inspection but in another week or two I fixed the issues and passed.
I researched and purchased a central vacuum unit with accessories like pipe and outlets and began the installation but that was put on hold during my surgery. But I got some small tasks done such as getting the tall metal Craigslist vanity powder coated and filling in the gap between the slab and the stairs to the upper part of the house with concrete patch. I also purchased a craigslist full size built in oven to replace the much smaller countertop oven. It took a great deal of cleaning effort but I finally got the oven installed before the end of the year.
My brother offered to come out and help catch up with the house building my illness postponed so in November we worked together to finish the siding removal, insulation and new siding install on the front of the house. It took all two weeks of his visit to run out of the siding I had bought. We could not get more in time so he also started the soffit for the ventilation ductwork showing me how to work with metal studs instead of wood. Some of the ductwork I bought new mostly from Amazon for the sizes I needed and some recycled from Craigslist ads or from the Restore either free or low cost. The ventilation soffit has rounded out the tasks for the fifth year of remodeling.
Will we finish in 2017? I really hope we get most of the house looking normal during this next year. I’m motivated to get to the drywall stage as soon as possible.