Thursday, April 23, 2015

Homing in—A Little Background, Part 2

After having dated sufficient time to know that our relationship was headed for the marathon, not a sprint, we comfortably talked about life together after the kids (1 +3 =4) were “launched” (out of college, no longer on parental health insurance, various other metrics); what would we do, how did we want to live.
Rivière Missinaibi Nord Est, Quebec                        Photo by author
Of course the list of wilderness rivers to explore was long on D’s end and occasionally we explored them online, checking out guides and blog posts or getting information from regional experts at an Ontario sporting trade show (we’re talking the Copermine, North Seal, Thelon, Moisie, Snake, serious out-there rivers). Being a newbie to the kind of wilderness tripping D has favored for decades, I was happy to listen, and, in fact have helped knock a few off the proverbial list that are in Northern Quebec. There is always another river to explore when you include the vastness of Canada, D’s motherland.

Down the shore                                                           Photo by author
I felt I had a lot more to contribute when talked turned to how we wanted to live together. I don’t think our relationship would have progressed far if I was an avid beachcomber and sun worshiper. I’ve been to many beaches and islands in my day, but somewhere in my mid-adulthood I garnered the courage to tell a friend, to her utter horror: “I’m just not a beach person. I burn, get hot and bored, and favor a chilled salad for lunch over a soggy sandwich with a side of sand.” (I also can’t stand roller coasters or amusement parks and haven’t been to one in more than a dozen years.)
D and I agreed that mountains and lakes are much more exhilarating than beach life on the Jersey shore. To our multiple dear friends who have beach houses and graciously host us, don’t stop inviting. We value the time we spend with you.

Mountains and lakes exist even in New Jersey where we currently reside. But considering a change of scenery from the Garden State, while ruling out my native state of Pennsylvania and not going as far flung as D’s Ontario, we zeroed in on our ideal state—New Hampshire, a place we knew as home to summer camps, whitewater rivers, and the White Mountains.
We searched real estate sites online (NNEREN is a good one) trying to figure out where we might find a place to live in the woods with a creek and quiet (at least five miles from any interstate noise). When we considered New Hampshire regions we did a three-way divide—north, central, and south. We decided the north was too unpopulated and the south too populated. Central New Hampshire’s Grafton County  (west central) had some culture with Dartmouth in Hanover, and access to excellent medical care with Dartmouth–Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon. To locals, it’s called the Upper Valley, referencing the Connecticut River that forms the western border of the state with Vermont.

We had a place in mind that felt like it could be home. D got out a compass and drew a circle on the map showing 20 miles from Lebanon (a 30-minute drive). We did not know our exact destination, but, we were homing in on a location.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Alphabet Soup: SIPs, OSB, EPS, and R Values

We had another fruitful trip to New Hampshire this past week and reached more major decision points. So many decisions to make! If I diagramed our design/build process like a sentence it would be a very large-tentacled creature indeed.

With a visit to our talented timber frame architect, Andrea, we successfully further refined the drawings. We also decided with her that the entire building (the main timber frame as well as the wings off it) would be constructed with SIPs—structural insulated panels. We had always planned on using SIPs on the roof and the timber frame walls. Using SIPs in the remainder, however, facilitates the transition between construction methods.

A stack of SIPs
Now before you doze off reading this, let me assure you that SIPs, while not visually elegant like a nicely planned Doug fir timber, are integral to an energy-efficient northern New England timber frame home.

A SIP looks like a big ice cream sandwich—generally 4 feet by 12 feet or 8 feet by 12 feet—with two pieces or oriented strand board (OSB) on either side of a core of 10 inches of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam to deliver a structural ceiling panel with a whopping R value of 40. (Higher R values, higher insulating qualities.)  In comparison, a traditional ceiling joist constructed with two by tens insulated with fiberglass would yield an R value of 30.

SIPs reign supreme up here in North Country and we gained our education walking around the plant floors of three major manufacturers clustered in the Brattleboro/Keene area. All the SIPs folks conveyed a pride in the construction technique and their products.  
Custom machined router blades
Not only are SIPs are energy efficient and strong, they can be cost effective. What I find neat about SIPs is that they deliver all that R value and they are the outside walls. When the polystyrene middle is routed to accommodate splines, these panels replace stick frame (two by four) construction and insulation. The SIPs are custom manufactured for each structure to fit together perfectly. They go up quickly with the use of a crane. Sealants and glues applied at joints help create a very air-tight building. (Good to know that houses built with SIPs meet the American Lung Association’s Health House® indoor air quality standard.)  

It’s helpful when making decisions to have a philosophy on which to rely. Doug did a lot of research and thinking about how we wanted to live and how we would achieve comfort in our new home. Given howling winds and sub-zero temperatures of winter months, heating (and ventilation) was a major focus area. Using online tools to track the path of the sun, and knowing our GPS location, he calculated how to maximize passive solar gain in the winter, while allowing for ventilation in the summer (and some great views). Solar panels were never a consideration due to inefficiencies in the climate and the lack of return on investment. He decided the goal would be to have a “tight house” with reasonably high R values in all materials to minimize heat loss due to leaking. That also means using wood stoves and installing triple-glazed, energy efficient windows. But those are subjects for future blogs.