Saturday, November 15, 2008

Solar In Situ

I've wanted to "do solar" for 30 years (really) and so it was definitely going to happen with this house.

The problem has always been that the site demanded that the house be oriented the way it is, with the curtain wall facing West, and therefore the sloped roof facing East, not South.

I tried to resolve this with "building-integrated photovoltaics" (BIPV) on the South wall, but for residential, you're truly pioneering or spending ridiculous money, and the efficiencies for vertical panels aren't that great. We weren't even sure we could get a UL label for the windows if we used photovoltaic panels.

Ted the Esteemed Architect then suggested an "ah ha! wall." Huh?

You'll recall from your formative days growing up on your English manor that the livestock always kept their distance from the back garden. When you were old enough to wonder why the sheep didn't just walk into the Blenheimshire-on-Avon kitchen, you walked toward the animals, promptly falling over a sudden, hidden drop in the landscape, held up by a low retaining wall, or "ah ha!" wall. 

So that's what we built to orient the solar panels to the South, keep them from spoiling the design of the house, and hide them from the house itself. Prehaps it's nice to be able to say "look at me, I'm green!", but green shouldn't be tacked on to a house, and, if you can integrate, maybe you should try something else.

The structure holding the panels is probably over-designed and built, but it's not going to move through the intense freeze-thaw cycles of Wisconsin, and there's room for expansion for more PV panels or solar thermal. 

Note that we picked all-black panels for their efficiency and for their clean look. When it's all landscaped, you should just see a black ribbon cutting across edge of the property, that, centuries from now, will become a sort of green Stonehenge.

I am *this* tall

Ted the Esteemed Architect showing off the new platform that Barry the Esteemed Builder just made. It's strong enough to hold an Abrams tank -- now we have to figure out what to do with it, and how to get up there.

An indoor tree fort?

Saturday, September 06, 2008


Barry the Builder took this shot of a completely clad section of the house -- the guest wing. For the first time, you can see what the finished exterior will look like.

If it's possible for a guy to swoon, I'm swooning. To me, the cedar, black windows, concrete and galvalume flashing harmonize perfectly — the cedar warming up the concrete, the black windows ensuring that the cedar doesn't look too rustic, and so on.

He's also built the deck, which looks sharp, and contrasts nicely with both the black window frames and the concrete. Time to buy those cool chaises longues.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Glazed Over...

...and loving it.

That's Pete in the foreground, and inside is Barry the Builder, who has been fighting through all kinds of window issues from my major window company (check your quantity pers on those bills of materials, guys!).

This is a huge milestone, because now work can start on the interior (rough plumbing, rough electrical, the radiant heating system in the floor, while other exterior work (the cedar siding) can be performed in parallel. As a former project manager, I love parallel activities.

Ted the Architect had a great idea for the "stairway to work". It involves more glass, but not the kind from the major window company (fool me once...).

Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Glazing Gruntlement—Not

The name-brand window company screwed up again, forgetting some parts or sending the wrong sizes (at this point does it matter?), so the structure is still the world's largest Christmas manger, yesterday catching 70 mph winds in its 20' x 50' mouth. For the want of the right-sized flashing, the curtain wall waits. As does the floor system. And the rough plumbing and rough electrical. Plus the finish carpentry. And occupancy.

The solar panels are now coming in August, so I'm not going to catch many summer photons.

On the encouraging side, 99% of the interior framing is done, not that there's much of it. The roof is fully clad in galvalume, minus a couple pieces that blew away in the high winds. Most of the cedar siding has been stained and is ready to go up once—oh, right—the curtain wall is finished.

Come on, name-brand window guys.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Shiny Roof

Most of the galvalume roof is up and it sure is purty (that's Ted the Architect and Barry the Builder--naturally the architect is the one wearing black). It also distracts the eye from the messed-up concrete, which we'll one day fix, somehow (suggestions welcomed). There are some minor details that need rework, but in all the roof looks terrific.

Here's the final combination of materials and colors that make up the exterior "palette" — concrete, black metal (windows), vertical grain cedar and galvalume.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Glass, At Last

The ground finally dried out, the windows have been delivered, and Barry has started the installation. Here are the master bedroom windows behind the black steel roof supports.

Remember that the green stuff will be covered by smooth, warm vertical-grained shiplapped siding that will run horizontally. The roof will consist of shiny, spangly galvalume standing seam panels. All this will nicely offset, we think, the black metal elements.

Next week, the main event--the curtain wall.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Great Thaw

Above is an aerial shot from a demo ride Barry the Builder gave me (he's recently become a FAA-certified flight instructor), courtesy of Touch & Go Aviation.

Below that are the black steel supports for the master bedroom--an audible that Barry suggested. I'm liking 'em.

Spring may finally have sprung. Wisconsin has had a long, tough winter, and the project has been in stasis for longer than everyone would like.

Recent progress, however:
  • The steel guys finally came through with the curtain wall's extremely robust window framing (courtesy of the window manufacturer's liability lawyers and nervous engineers).

  • The windows are ready to install this coming week (how many times have I said that in the past few months?)

  • The roof has been insulated and membraned within an inch of its life, just waiting for final galvalume layer.

  • The primo vertical grain cedar siding is being sanded smooth, buffed with a fine chamois and sealed.

  • The cabinet guy is returning North, just like the swallows of Capistrano.

During the Winter, I was pretty philosophical about the slow pace, now I'm anxious (and so is Barry, Ted, the architect, and everyone else connected with the project) to see things happening with all deliberate speed.

More updates to come shortly. Promise.