Sunday, October 18, 2009


The all-important duct for the air conditioning in the main living area was finally installed. It looks very industrial, which I like.

Now that the ductwork is in, the painter can put the finishing touches on the joists, and then the floor can be installed, then the kitchen cabinets, closets, finished plumbing, finished electrical, etc. can come in.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


"Buggs" (because he's got really long bug's legs, I'm told) applying the American Clay plaster finish to a wall in — I think — my bedroom.

The advantages of this product are several:
  • Aesthetic -- it gives the walls more depth and earthiness than paint would
  • Environmental -- natural, no VOCs
  • Comfort -- soaks up humidity (it doesn't "set) and releases it over time.

Permanent Stairway to Work

The temporary staircase to the loft/office is now gone (there's a story there you'll have to ask me about), replaced by the permanent and very cool steel staircase fabricated by the fine local Monroe, WI craftsmen at — er, I forget. I'm sure someone will remind me.

The treads are made from leftover ceiling joist remnants. Like everything else in the house, it's "stout."

Friday, May 29, 2009

"The Meter Must Be Broken"

That's what the meter reader said, when he saw a negative 800 or so kilowatts for this month's consumption, and the panels pumping out 700 watts on a cloudy day. He wants to replace the meter.

Knock yourself out, buddy, it's not going to help. We're coming into peak solar production season, and since the house is still under construction, the electrical load is minimal — a table saw here and there, a compressor once in a while.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bit by Bit

Barry the Builder has now trimmed out the loft area and the office very nicely, with maple.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Finishing Touches, Part One

Barry the Builder has been in fine woodworking mode, fabricating the wood trim that make the transition from wall to ceiling, in this case, in the office/loft.

As Ted the Architect said, "this thing is built like a watch."

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Floor on the Ceiling

First look at the maple ceiling for the section under the loft, looking from the South toward the North closet (straight ahead), stairway up to the office and guest wing terrace, and the kitchen.


Sunday, May 03, 2009

Expensive House on the Prairie

The grass is growing nicely, and it won't be long before it's knee high. The exterior is almost complete, and once we get the very cool steel/wood staircase installed, we'll be able to do a little landscaping outside the curtain wall.

New View

View from the Southeast — I'm still in love with the combination of the galvalume roof, cedar siding, black steel and the concrete.

You can tell that there was a bit of camera shake between the three shots needed to bracket the exposure -- the resulting image is a little fuzzy. Something to work on.

Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Saturday was the first sunny day in what seems like weeks, so a good time to visit and shoot some fotos. This is the view from the deck above the guest wing. I went for a more naturalistic, and possibly over-exposed, look this time.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Aluminum, Concrete and Cedar

View from the terrace on top of the guest wing.

In the left foreground is the master bedroom and in the middle, the living/dining room. Note that the MBR is separated from the LR/DR to let me me shut it off from the rest of the house and allow friends to have the run of the place without finding my "etchings." ["joke only", as they say in the Philippines].

I'm diggin' this High Dynamic Range photography stuff...

Guest Wing

The guest wing, newly drywalled and taped, but not yet plastered. Those guys work fast.

This drywall variety is called "blue board", but even in real life it's gray. I kindof like the color, and it might contrast nicely with the floor, but I suspect we'll do something that's not quite so monochromatic.

Current thinking is to coat this in pigmented natural plaster, possibly from American Clay or its ilk. I'm thinking this will give the wall surfaces some depth and subtle variation.


Barry and Ted discussing yet another detail that has to be just right.

In modern architecture, typically more of the structure is exposed and the transitions between surfaces and materials are visible. You don't just tack on some molding to hide the joints.

Hence, the ongoing conversation. Some of this is also due to our philosophy of "lets decide when we have to". It's impossible for any of us — architect, builder and especially the client — to perfectly visualize the end product in advance.

(By the way, what's glaringly wrong with this picture, and why did it happen? For some subtle hints, see the High Dynamic Range post. It's not the Photomatix watermark).

The (High Dynamic) Range

The view from the West deck. We made sure the Burr Oak was saved during construction -- the other trees that had to be removed were salvaged for flooring.

I wish I could say all that beautiful land was mine, but I'm a working stiff (again, starting Monday), and I'd need to blow out my commission for a few decades in a row before being able to afford it. But for now, I can play "pretend Land Baron" and hope that it doesn't get developed in my lifetime.

Note: This photo is my first attempt at High Dynamic Range Photography, which attempts to compensate for narrow range of film and digital camera sensors compared to the human eye/brain. This inability to capture all the colors and intensities of light is a big reason why you're almost always disappointed by your photographs ("gee, I remember the sky being blue, not white, when I took that picture.")

To get a picture that looks more like what your eye saw, you need to "bracket" your photos by deliberately under- and over-exposing the image, then merge the properly exposed parts of each image into one composite, realistic photo. This process, made easy by digital photography, would require all kinds of "dodging" and "burning in" with film photography.

I discovered a terrific book, Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Digital Photography, by McCollough. The author turned me on to an application called Photomatix, which is easy to use and seems to provide for good results. It also makes it pretty easy to make fairly unrealistic images (I jacked up the saturation on this picture), but I will endeavor to use my new powers for good, not evil.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Photons, Part Deux

The solar panels have been working since Tuesday, and today I got to see the meter wheel spinning backwards, the sign that power is flowing back into the grid rather than from it. It's all about the Benjamins...

Output this afternoon was about 2,600 watts, less than the 3,100 rated watts, but we'll work on that.

The inverter display has a unique rap-with-your-knuckle interface that discourages (ouch!) obsessive checking, but otherwise provides useful information. 

1,000 cfm @ 50 pascals

We conducted the blower door test this afternoon. John the Building Performance Consultant set up the blower door (above), turned on the fan, and he, Barry the Builder and I went hunting for air leaks.

The result: 1,000 cubic feet per minute at 50 pascals. Recall that 2,380 cubic feet per minute (0.2 - 0.3 air changes per hour naturally) is the Energy Star requirement and that a more aggressive, but reasonable target is 1,200-1,500 cfm (0.1 - 0.15 air changes).

The blower door made it easy to find leaks that otherwise would have been missed, and Barry plugged as many as he could.

And we can do better -- there were a few areas that Barry couldn't seal right away, but which will be done before the drywallers come in. We think we can get down to 800 cfm, which is very, very good, particularly considering how much wall we have compared to the volume of the house.

Money well worth spending (I think, I haven't yet seen the bill).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


The Hermitage as seen from the Digital Globe satellite last July. It's dead center, where the driveway extends straight West from the road. Right there, between the trees.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


We have photon power — the solar dude from Full Spectrum Solar and the gentleman from Alliant Energy tested and commissioned the system today.

With the fog, the panels were putting out 200 watts — quite the return on investment!

The blower door test is scheduled for this Thursday afternoon. This will be a great test of construction/insulation quality.

Friday, March 06, 2009


The energy-saving philosophy nowadays is "build it tight, ventilate it right." Above is an example of the first part.

Now that most of the rough electrical and plumbing is done, and the weather is above 40 degrees (for the moment), the foam insulation can be sprayed on. The Gaco Western 2 pound high-density spray foam has an excellent R value of 7 per inch and, because it seals air leaks (unlike batt insulation), eliminates the need for a vapor barrier.

The next step is to do a "blower door test" to see how air-tight the building is. GDS Associates, our Energy Star consultant, will perform a blower door test that tries to suck the all air out of the house. If the house is well-sealed, very little air will flow through; if it's leaky, then a lot of air will come through the blower door. 

To get an Energy Star certification for the house, we need less than 2,380 cubic feet per minute (0.2 - 0.3 air changes per hour naturally) can flow through the meter at a test pressure of 50 pascals. We're going for, however, a tougher target of 1,200-1,500 cfm @50pa (0.1 - 0.15 air changes).

We're going to do this blower door test as soon as the insulation is finished, and before we put the drywall on. This is so that we can easily find any leaks (with a smoke pencil) and seal them up. If we put the drywall up first, we might have to tear some of it down to plug some leaks.

This airtightness creates a new problem, mold. So the "ventilate it right" part becomes critical in bringing in fresh air and maintaining humidity. We'll use an "energy recovery ventilator" to exchange stale indoor air for fresh, filtered outdoor air, and will minimize the loss of heat (in the winter) by sucking most of the heat from the exhaust air before it leaves the structure. 

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Ah Ha!

Closer view of the previously discussed solar "ah ha!" wall installation. The idea is that once the landscaping is done, I won't be able to see the panels from the house. 

Now if the panels would only work...

[Update--panels now work--wires were reversed at the inverter. Now we have to convince the guy from the utility to come back and certify the installation.]

These are the panels, from Sunpower. Pretty nice looking compared to your average panel, eh?

The inverter for the solar panels that, as of today, works. As they do in all the best science fiction shows, they reversed the polarity, and it came to life.

Mechanical, etc.

Entry door, with fancy handle and even fancier keypad lock.

Radiant heating reflectors underneath the loft/office. The radiant heat tubes for the main floor are buried in gypcrete, which apparently is the better way to go -- more even heat, easier on the wood floor.

The mechanicals/utility room.

This is the NTI boiler that will heat the house. Apparently it's 5,000% efficient (OK, 93% or something like that), and silent. My old microwave was bigger and a lot noisier.

Ceiling, Part Deux

The first ceiling, which was part of our Arctic Hot Roof (or was that an Arctic Cold Roof"?) fell victim to an early snow in late 2007 (yes, it's been that long) that prevented the final galvalume roof exterior from being installed. Everything was fine until the big Spring thaw, when the beautiful Maple panels got soaked. So, we went with Plan B. 

Looks pretty good, perhaps better than Plan A.

Saturday, February 07, 2009


You may have heard of Photosynth, the Microsoft tool that lets you knit together various photographs of a scene to provide multiple perspectives. CNN used it to pull together hundreds of photos of the Inauguration:

If you're running Internet Explorer, here's my first attempt at a Photosynth for Rancho Deluxe:

Friday, February 06, 2009

Sweating the Details

Barry the Builder (facing) and Ted the Architect (bad hat) making sure they're on the same page for finishing off the curtain wall. The conversation got pretty philosophical about the intersection of design and building, which is very cool. 

The chairs are from the Liberty Series from HumanScale, designed by Neils Diffrient. I have his Freedom Chair at the condo, and it's terrific. Beats the heck out of the Aeron for back support.

Winter Wonderland

View from the road. I have not one, but two slopes in the driveway, just to make it more interesting for my rear-wheel-drive car. (and the Samoan said "As your attorney, I advise you to buy snow tires.")