Sunday, September 20, 2015

Using Air to Keep Air Out

New sign courtesy of neighbor Elba.
(All photos by author except where noted.)

Waiting for delivery of barn garage doors and insulation. 
Going into this major building project, I knew that what I didn’t know about construction could fill volumes. My eyes glazed over at the mention of R values. I was much more excited about design and textures and colors. (Don’t get me started on colors names—Lighthouse Red, Olde Copper, Moonlight Sonata.) R values were, well, just numbers.

But, nothing can inspire more than saving money, and that is what R values are all about. So I promised to boost my insulation intelligence quotient in time for the big game (the House). As detailed in the previous post, were are now at the Barn stage, refining our contracting knowledge and skills.

Every surface of a building presents an opportunity to keep air out/keep air in. In the instance of a windswept New Hampshire mountainside, most of the time the objective is keep cold out and warm in; the opposite would apply in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for example. Building materials such as gypsum board or metal act as thermal bridges and allow heat transfer, wasting energy.

Science guy that he is, Doug explained how insulation and R values work. Oddly (to me) air is a poor conductor of heat—and a great insulator. That’s why bulky Irish wool sweaters keep you warm as does layering clothing. The idea is to trap air and keep it from moving around. Heat can flow in one direction only—from warm space to a less warm one. (Technically, cold is the absence of heat.) Insulating materials usually depend on air for their ability to block air exchange—think Eskimo igloos, thatched roofs, or straw houses.

With R Values, the higher the number the better. R values are numerical expressions of a material’s ability to conduct heat. R = 1/U where U= the amount of heat that passes through a square foot of a material in an hour when the temperature difference on either side is one degree.

Consider the R values of these building materials (per inch thickness):
Brick                                                   = .8 (pretty pitiful)
Plywood                                             = .47 (even worse)

Versus insulation:
Closed cell cellulose spray foam        = 6 to 6.5
expanded polystyrene.                       = 6 to 8 (see April 8 post on SIPs)
Styrofoam                                           = 3.5 to 5.4
Loose cellulose                                   = 3.2 to 3.3
Fiberglass bats                                   = 3.1

What’s your favorite energy source—hydroelectric, solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear? Our pick is none of those. The best energy is the energy we don’t use. And so we are investing in insulation, lots of insulation in preparation for -20F snow days.

Rough electrical done. 
The barn has double-glazed LoE argon R 3.6 windows sealed with spray foam around the perimeter, Green Gaurd-taped seams, blown-in R 49 cellulose ceiling/attic, and R 21 batts in the walls. The concrete floor, built on 6 inches of crushed stone, has 2 inches of “blueboard” insulation. And, our saving grace to keep us warm working in the barn—the Enerzone 2.3 wood stove, which will consume locally sourced wood harvested by home-cooked meal-fueled manpower (with a chain saw assist). Meanwhile, I will be busy knitting wool hats and mittens. 
Enerzone photo courtesy  

P.S. The road to the road to Tug Mountain was paved this week by NH DOT in record time (compared to another state that starts in New). 2.5 miles in two days!

Smooth road in time for leaf peepers and winter.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Raising a Barn—Part 1

Trusses all in place. (All photos by author.)

Staging our escape from New Jersey took years of planning. Other people might choose a different route to a similar destination but for Doug and me, planning is in our DNA; it’s half the fun (and we do know how to have other fun, too).

Side of barn away from house and Mount Cardigan. 

Choosing a state, choosing a town, and finding a property was leisurely, if not ardently pursued. (See April 23 blog post, “A little background, part 2,” for a synopsis.) After home site preparation and excavation, building a barn was the next step and made sense to us as a prelude to building a house. Both involve lots of details and expense but the consequences of error are a little different in magnitude and any missteps made might be easier to live with when the building (the barn) is not the place you envision spending the rest of your life. 
View of mountain before windows.

Overhead door frame being put in place.

Early on, Doug assumed the mantle of general contractor and he and I met with many tradesmen (usually over coffee or lunch at Papa Z’s) and reviewed plans for the house and the barn. And, while not explicitly stated, the construction of the smaller and less-complex building gave us an opportunity to “test drive” some (but not all) of the tradespeople who would be working on the house beginning next year. The notable exceptions, the very important craftsmen not involved in the barn—timber framer, plumber, mason, and standing-seam roofer—we will not audition via the barn project but instead will evaluate their work in situ and through recommendations.

Roof trusses lifted into place by crane. 

Richie and Paul securing roof trusses. 

Once Doug designed the barn, we turned it over to Mike at LaValley Building Supply in West Lebanon where the pencil sketch was refined by an offsite draftsman. Doug and I, guided by Mike, chose products and colors—type of trusses, roof material, siding, windows, garage and pedestrian doors. A materials list and price quote was generated. The drawing went through several critical iterations. The Alaska slab foundation was changed to frost wall, and the design was flipped and reversed to suit the site as excavation more fully revealed the land’s contours. We had time, waiting for road postings to lift and for snow to clear, and the process took place over the course of nine months with regular visits from New Jersey.

Roof sheathing being fastened
Like so much in life, there is much more than meets the eye. When done (and it is not quite), the barn will appear a simple, cohesive whole. But the sheaf of invoices from LaValley’s attests to the many layers of specialized product that go into modern, energy-efficient construction. Consider this partial list: blue board, assembled trusses, Raindrop house wrap, gable vents, Parallam headers, drip edge, gable trim, ridge cap, sealer tape, roofing under layment, Grace ice and water shield, Advantech sheathing, soffit, drip cap, flashing, strapping spruce, PVC trim, CraneBoard board & batten vinyl siding, metal roofing, Paradigm windows. And that doesn’t include electrical outlets, switches, lights, doors, insulation, shee trock, or the tons of stone and concrete for the foundation.

Barn metal roof on; ready for siding. View from behind where house will be. 
Dave, Richie, and Paul did a great job. Thanks. The canoes will be safely stored for the winter and Doug and I have a place to hang out on the mountain and watch the storms (and wildlife) go by.