Archive for September, 2009

Planning to Put Our Construction Project on Display

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

We are planning to put our construction project on display so we can show others how we are following ‘green building principles’ by using innovative building materials and innovative construction practices.  We decided to offer six informational sessions from now (October 2009) through May 2010 and invite people in the construction industry value chain to attend.

In our view, ‘green building principles’ are those as promulgated by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and, applicable to us, the LEED for Homes program.

Advocating Green Building Principles

We advocate green building principles for several reasons.  First, we believe following these principles is required for sustainability of our planet and subsequent generations.  Second, we believe following green building principles will result in better indoor air quality, which has direct health benefits.  Finally, we believe there is a financial benefit to following green building principles.

The cost of following green building principles is currently higher than otherwise, largely because of the extra documentation required and the low volumes of certified green building materials and innovative building materials.  The extra documentation required is costly because the processes and automated systems are not in place to provide that documentation at a low cost.  As with most supply conditions, there are economies of scale that, with competition, help to lower prices.

These problems will be addressed with the increased adoption of green building principles.  However, the adoption remains slow. 

We advocate green building principles and would like to help increase the adoption rate in our community.

Accelerating the Adoption of Green Building Principles

One of the barriers to construction and renovation of more green building is the lack of understanding of the new building materials available and the sustainability of those materials.  Educating the participants in the construction value chain needs to occur at all points, from the architects and designers, through planning commissions, contractors and building officials/inspectors, to owners and tenants.  Importantly, building appraisers need to determine how to value the green features in buildings by understanding the financial and other benefits of those features. 

Third party certification programs, including USGBC LEED and Build It Green help generate awareness and understanding of green building techniques.  For example, under the LEED-H program, applicants can earn points for ‘Education & Awareness’ as set out below (E&A 1.3):

1.3 Public Awareness (1 point). Promote general public awareness about LEED for Homes by conducting at least three of the following activities:

a) Hold an advertised, attended public open house that lasts at least four hours per day on at least four weekends or participate in a green building exhibition or tour. The home or building must display at least four informational stations about the LEED for Homes features (and/or offer a guided tour that highlights at least four LEED for Homes features).

b) Publish a Web site with at least two pages that provides detailed information about the features and benefits of LEED homes.

c) Generate a newspaper article on the LEED for Homes project.

d) Display LEED for Homes signage, measuring six square feet or more, on the exterior of the home or building.

By including public awareness as a criteria, the USGBC has created the mechanism for applicants to help educate others in the local community and through the internet, and reward applicants for doing so.

In our municipality, the City of Monte Sereno, we are not allowed to post signs so we are proposing changes to the sign ordinance.  Although Monte Sereno has formally acknowledged both the LEED and Build It Green programs and now require permit applications to include a completed Build It Green checklist, the City of Monte Sereno is not actively promoting these programs in our community.

Challenges with Elements of Green Building Principles

Many of the elements in a green building are only seen during construction as these elements are ‘covered’ by finishes or other materials.  For example, consider the structural elements, waterproofing under the foundation and roofing materials, rainscreens, geothermal ground loops.  The hidden elements are known to the builders but very few others in the construction industry value chain.

Even when the elements in a green home can be seen, people may not understand and/or appreciate those elements.  For example consider low VOC paints and finishes, materials from within 500 miles, reclaimed wood that has been remilled, etc.  If people do not understand or appreciate those elements, they will assign little, if any, value to those elements or features.

Consequently, we are going to host six informational sessions through our project that will highlight our green building principles, and innovative building materials and innnovative construction practices.  Our objective is to help educate participants in the construction value chain by making green building principles more tangible.

Informational Sessions and Timing

We plan to offer six infomational sessions on Saturday afternoons, from 12:30 pm to 4:30 pm.  Attendees will be required to confirm their attendance in advance, so we can avoid disturbing our neighbors too much on these days.  The dates and focus of these six informational sessions are as follows:

10/24/09 Structural Concrete, Waterproofing and Hollow Core Concrete Panels

Attendees will see the structural elements of the building and understand the construction challenges that we face and how we addressed those challenges in an environmentally friendly manner.

11/07/09 Structural Insulated Panels

We will show how the building is constructed using our SIPs (manufactured by Insulspan), including the various connections required and seismic requirements (e.g., shear walls).  Attendees will see how our SIPs integrate with the existing structure.

12/12/09 Mechanical, Radiant Heating and Cooling, and Plumbing

Attendees will see how the mechanical systems in the building are designed and installed, and how these systems integrate with the overall building design.

02/20/10  Geothermal Heat Exchange and Photovoltaic Solar Panels

We will profile the geothermal heat exchange equipment and show how it works, and how it is integrated with our photovoltaic solar panels.  Participants will see how these systems were designed to be scaleable in the future.

03/20/10  Windows, Doors, Fixtures and Finishes

At this informational session, attendees will see the building as it nears completion.  Many of the fixtures and finishes will be completed at this point and the ‘green’ features of these elements will be profiled.

05/15/10  Pre-Commissioning

The appliances will be in place and this will be one of the last opportunities to see the building before it is commissioned for our family.  The building control system should be in place, with the heating, lighting and resource consumption (water and energy) systems in place.  The passive features of the building should be apparent at this time.

Milling Our Stainless Steel Posts in Carson City, NV

Monday, September 28th, 2009

The stainless steel posts for our railing system are being milled from stainless steel in Carson City, NV.  Steve Kreck from Paramount Modular Cable Railing Systems sent the following photo to show the progress.

The 14 posts that will be welded to the steel I-beams are being milled first so we can have those welded into place and pour the remaining concrete over the hollow core concrete panels.

Stainless steel posts being milled in Carson City, NV.  Note the holes for the Ultra-tec Invisiware receivers.

Stainless steel posts being milled in Carson City, NV. Note the holes for the Ultra-tec Invisiware receivers. Photo credit - Steve Kreck.

Nik Tests the Stairs

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

Our son, Nik, tested the stairs today. His younger sister, Kate, tested the stairs on the day the stairs and bridges were installed.

First, he inspected the stairs carefully, including the landing and opening to the pantry. 

Then, Nik ran up the stairs.

The stairs passed the test and received Nik’s approval.

Our son, Nikolas, takikng his first steps on our stairs.

Our son, Nikolas, takikng his first steps on our stairs.

Nik on the landing.

Nik on the landing.

Discussing Next Steps with Bill Brown

Friday, September 25th, 2009

We put our project on hold for three months while the stairs and two bridges were designed, engineered, fabricated and installed.

Bill Brown met Bryan at the project site today and reviewed the stairs and bridges.  And tested each of them.

Discussion with Bill Brown

Bryan met with Bill for several reasons.  First, Bill wanted to see the stairs and bridges, and then he wanted to know where we are with the project and what the next steps are.  Also, Bill wanted to ensure that we were satisfied with the billings to date and answer any questions that we had.

Bryan showed Bill the various components for the stairs and bridges, and explained that the 14 posts that will be welded to the steel I-beams should be delivered next week.  Larson Steel will do the field welding and ensure the posts are solidly in place before we can pour the next (final) layer of concrete.

Bill would prefer to do one monolithic pour for the entire 5-1/4 inches of concrete on the main floor.  Also, we require 3 more inches of concrete in the lower level.  Bill recommended that we work quickly on our ‘colors’ and decide on how much tint we require in the concrete mix.  Bryan mentioned that John Minton recommended that we do a monolithic pour so we take out as much of the camber in the hollow core concrete panels.

In reviewing the elevation for the finished floor, Bill pointed out that we have now established that level with the brackets in the Bridge Hall that support the GlassWalk floor system.  Bryan noted that Larson Steel will need to remove part of the bracket at each end of the bridge so there is sufficient depth for the concrete.

Our next steps include the following:

  • Receive the posts and weld the posts into place.
  • Bill’s team will ensure the current forms are in the correct position and put in the remaining forms with reinforcing steel and/or wire mesh.
  • We will have the radiant heating and cooling PEX installed, with supply/return lines to the various manifolds.
  • Pour the main floor.
  • Pour the lower level.
  • Strip the forms.
  • After 28 days (or so), grind and polish the concrete as required.

Bill will be working on designing the concrete mix so it will include the appropriate amount of slag that works with the sealant (Ashford Formula or equivalent), the desired aggregate size (depending on how much grinding we want in the surface), the hardness of the concrete (PSI), and the amount of water required. 

He will design a mix that considers the various objectives and will limit the risk and degree of cracking that will occur (remember, concrete cracks).

Bill Walks the Property

Being very skilled around project sites and walking across steel beams, Bill tested the bridge by walking across it and bouncing in the center.  Getting defensive, Bryan explained that there will be two layers of 3/4 inch plywood on the bridge with another 3/4 inch of hardwood flooring.  Bill smiled said that he will test the bridge when it is completed.

Regarding the exposed edges of concrete and steel I-beams, Bill recommended that we grind the exposed face of the concrete and not use any stainless steel trim.

Bill Brown testing the bridge.  It passed his preliminary inspection and Bill will provide his opinion on completion.

Bill Brown testing the bridge. It passed his preliminary inspection and Bill will provide his opinion on completion.

Bill checking the vertical gap between the steel I-beam and the stair stringer to ensure the 1x2 stainless steel post will fit.  He believes it will, just.

Bill checking the vertical gap between the steel I-beam and the stair stringer to ensure the 1x2 stainless steel post will fit. He believes it will, just.

Proposing Changes to Monte Sereno’s Sign Ordinance

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Monte Sereno does not allow signs to be posted within the city boundaries.  The ordinance prohibits all signs and then allows five exceptions.

We would like a sixth exception so we can have a sign showing the ‘green’ features of our Eichler.  This will help to educate others in our community and we will meet the requirements for Awareness and Education (AE 1.3).

Background

Bryan addressed our City Council meeting several months ago, showing the City Council that other communities allow signs in front of LEED-H homes outlining their energy saving and other features.  Council directed Bryan to work the City Manager, Brian Loventhal, on proposing changes to the sign ordinance.

LEED-H Awareness & Education

Awareness & Education 1.3 states:

Display LEED for Homes signage, measuring six square feet or more, on the exterior of the home or building.

All of the homes pursuing Platinum certification in the Bay Area that we have toured have been able to put signs in front of their homes during construction.  Awareness and Education points are easy to achieve, relative to some of the other points available.

Examples of Signs in Front of LEED-H Homes Seeking Platinum Certification

Bryan has visited a number of homes in the Bay Area pursing Platinium certification under the LEED for Homes program.  These visits have included the Margarido House in Oakland (certified), 2180 Bryant Street in Palo Alto (under construction), and the Kaneda Residence in Cupertino (under construction).  Each of these homes have signs.

Sign in front of the Margarido House in Oakland.

Sign in front of the Margarido House in Oakland.

Sign in front of the Christiansen Pierret Residence at 2180 Bryant Street in Palo Alto.

Sign in front of the Christiansen Pierret Residence at 2180 Bryant Street in Palo Alto.

Sign in front of the Kaneda Residence in Cupertino.

Sign in front of the Kaneda Residence in Cupertino.

 City of Monte Sereno’s Sign Ordinance 10.13.010

Monte Sereno’s sign ordinance is as follows:

10.13.010 Signs, permits, scenic corridor exception.

No sign, billboard, poster, pennant, flag or display unit shall be erected, displayed, established or maintained within five hundred (500) feet of any road, highway, street or public place within the boundaries of the City except as otherwise provided herein.

A. One non-illuminated sign may be erected on each street frontage for any lot or building which serves solely to advertise the sale, lease or rental of or an offer to build to suit on the premises where the sign is located, provided the sign does not exceed six (6) square feet in area in a residential zone. This exemption is only available when all or part of the premises is actually available for the transaction advertised.

B. Non-illuminated, off-site, portable signs directing customers to the location of an open house which is for sale are permitted, unlimited in total number, but limited to one double faced sign per corner of an intersection or on a privately owned parcel. The signs shall not exceed an area of one (1) square foot per face and shall not be more than four (4) feet high. Open house signs shall contain no individual, or individual company advertising. Prior permission shall be obtained from the property owner if the sign is to be placed on a privately owned parcel. The signs shall be removed each day after the closing of the open house. Open house signs are an exception to the rule prohibiting off-premises signs and signs on public property.

C. The owner, occupant or resident of any property may erect and maintain without obtaining any permit one sign giving his name and address at his mailbox and one additional sign upon said property, neither of which shall be more than three (3) square feet in area.

D. Within the scenic corridor defined by the State of California upon designation of the Saratoga-Los Gatos Road, State sign Route 9, as an Official State Scenic Highway, only those signs allowed in Subsections A, B and C or existing on-premise signs as provided for in Subsection E shall be permitted.

E. Any existing on-premise sign lawfully established on or before the effective date of this Chapter may be maintained for a period of not to exceed three (3) months from the passage of this Chapter during which period the owner shall either remove the sign or make application for and receive a permit for the said sign under the provisions of this Chapter.

We drafted a sixth exemption and submitted it to the City of Monte Sereno today.  Our proposed wording is:

F. One non-illuminated sign may be erected on each street frontage for any building where such sign serves solely to describe the environmentally friendly features of the building materials and construction practices that follow a recognized national, State of California or local building environmental certification program provided the building has been registered under that recognized building environmental certification program. Signs allowed under this exemption shall contain no individual or individual company advertising.

The City Manager, Brian Loventhal, reviewed the proposed language and thought it was a good start.  He suggested that the certification program could be one recognized by the City of Monte Sereno, since the City has formally recognized Build It Green and LEED for Homes.  Also, he asked whether there should be a maximum size included in the ordinance.

Next Steps

Brian Loventhal will work on the wording and have this item included on the agenda at a City Council meeting in the next 60 days.

We will follow up on this.

Installing Our Stairs and Bridges

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Today was a big day for us.  A very big day.

The team from Larson Steel (Hector, ’Little Hector’ and ‘Little Pete’) was fabulous.  They worked well with Ben, our crane operator from West Coast Crane.

Background on the Stairs and Bridges

With our atrium going through to the lower level, our bridges and stairs will be a big part of our house.  The railings will be critical as visitors will touch and feel them.

There are very few interior bridges in residential houses, so our two interior bridges will differentiate our house from many others.  Oh, we have an exterior bridge, too.

Preparing the Site

Bryan arrived at the job site at 7:25 am this morning.  It was a bit foggy.  Our crane was waiting patiently on Winchester Boulevard.  Ben, the operator, wasn’t going to move the crane into position until 8:00 am because of the loud ‘beeping’ noise it makes when backing up.

Bryan, with help from the Larson Steel team, removed the temporary safety railings.

Arriving at the job site.  Note the fog - it will be a very hot day today.

Arriving at the job site. Note the fog - it will be a very hot day today.

Crane parked and waiting patiently on Winchester Boulevard, ready to start working at 8:00 am.

Crane parked and waiting patiently on Winchester Boulevard, ready to start working at 8:00 am.

Bryan has to remove these temporary safety railings.

Bryan has to remove these temporary safety railings.

And, remove these temporary safety railings around the atrium.

And, remove these temporary safety railings around the atrium.

Temporary safety railings are gone and the crane is getting set up.  Still a bit of fog to burn off.

Temporary safety railings are gone and the crane is getting set up. Still a bit of fog to burn off.

Installing the Stairs

We knew it was going to be a tight fit to put the stairs in place.  We had 1/4 inch of clearance with the feature concrete wall.  We rigged the stairs four different ways before finding the correct combination to bring it in.  Essentially, we ended up bringing the stairs in low, then raised it up and pushed it back.

Stairs being lifted from the Larson Steel truck.

Stairs being lifted from the Larson Steel truck.

Here come the stairs!

Here come the stairs!

Bringing the stairs in low, then raising the stairs.

Bringing the stairs in low, then raising the stairs.

The stairs are in place!

The stairs are in place!

With the stairs in place, Bryan scurried up them and helped Hector with the final adjustments.

With the stairs in place, Bryan scurried up them and helped Hector with the final adjustments.

We're done.

We're done.

Placing the Bridges

The two bridges were put in place in minutes.  Literally. 

They fit perfectly and there were no issues. 

Here comes the first bridge.

Here comes the first bridge.

Little Hector and Pete positioning the first bridge (Bridge Foyer).

Little Hector and Pete positioning the first bridge (Bridge Foyer).

Testing the bridge.  Yes, it is solid.  Rock solid.

Testing the bridge. Yes, it is solid. Rock solid.

Second bridge coming from the truck.

Second bridge coming from the truck.

The second bridge being lowered into position (Bridge Hall).

The second bridge being lowered into position (Bridge Hall).

Placing the Bridge Hall exactly where it needs to be.

Placing the Bridge Hall exactly where it needs to be.

Our stairs and bridges are now in place.

Our stairs and bridges are now in place.

Done.  The crane completed its work by 9:41 and left the job site at10:00 am.

Installing the Steel Column

We installed the HSS 4×4 x 3/8″ steel column as well today.  It went in relatively fast and needed to be welded to the W6x16 steel I-beam.

Welding the steel column to the steel beam.

Welding the steel column to the steel beam.

Threaded bars welded to I-beam for the Hardy Frames.

Threaded bars welded to I-beam for the Hardy Frames.

Our Flag is Flying Again!

Our flag is now flying - we're ready to host visitors!

Our flag is now flying - we're ready to host visitors now!

Checking in with Steve Kreck at Paramount Modular Cable Railing Systems

Bryan has been working with Steve Kreck at Paramount Modular Cable Railing Systems on the design of our railing system around the atrium and on the stairs.  Steve is great to work with and has a keen eye for detail. 

Having installed the stairs, Steve wanted to know if we had sufficient clearance for the 1×2 inch stainless steel posts on the stairs.  Bryan measured the gap and it will be close.  We’ll have to ensure the concrete doesn’t extend over the steel I-beam by the stairs or there certainly won’t be sufficient room for the posts.

There is a one-inch gap between the HSS 2x8 stringer and the W10x12 steel I-beam.  Just enough for the stair posts.

There is a one-inch gap between the HSS 2x8 stringer and the W10x12 steel I-beam. Just enough for the stair posts.

You can see there is just 1/8th of an inch of clearance between the concrete wall and the stairs.  Exactly as designed.

You can see there is just 1/8th of an inch of clearance between the concrete wall and the stairs. Exactly as designed.

You can see the Titen bolts that hold the stairs to the concrete wall so there won't be any sway in the stairs.  These bolts will be hidden behind the risers so they won't be visible.

You can see the Titen bolts that hold the stairs to the concrete wall so there won't be any sway in the stairs. These bolts will be hidden behind the risers.

The same Titen bolts hold the landing to the concrete wall.  It is solid.  Rock solid.

The same Titen bolts hold the landing to the concrete wall. It is solid. Rock solid.

You can see how the HSS 2x8 stringer on the right becomes a 3/8 inch plate that floats against the concrete wall.  The same steel stringer continues all the way up the stairs on the left side.

You can see how the HSS 2x8 stringer on the right becomes a 3/8 inch plate that floats against the concrete wall. The same steel stringer continues all the way up the stairs on the left side.

Brittany and Jim O’Brien Inspect the Bridges

Jim and Brittany came by to see our progress.  We had dinner with the O’Briens on Saturday evening so it was great to host their visit.

Jim and Brittany O'Brien arrive at the job site.

Jim and Brittany O'Brien arrive at the job site.

Jim wants the Madrone decking on the bridge before going across.

Jim wants the Madrone decking on the bridge before going across.

Jo-Anne and Kate Test the Stairs

Jo-Anne and Kate inspected the site and tested the stairs.  They approved!

Kate and Jo-Anne arrive at the job site, ready to test the stairs.

Kate and Jo-Anne arrive at the job site, ready to test the stairs.

Taking the first steps ...

Taking their first steps ...

It works!  Jo-Anne and Kate declare the test a success.

It works! Jo-Anne and Kate declare the test a success.