Monday, September 26, 2016

Water from granite


Evidence of New Hampshire’s Granite State nickname surfaces when you put a shovel to dirt and almost immediately hit rock. When we were situating our mountainside house last year and excavator Dave hit the dreaded “ledge,” we were forced to relocate the house 3 feet from the initially chosen spot.
(Photo courtesy of Valley Artesian.)
(Creative Commons License.)

So, when Valley Artesian (Ascutney, Vermont) began drilling our well last week they quickly hit bedrock. But drillers are equipped to push through. Their powerful drill pulverizes rock, which, when mixed with cooling water (they bring a truck full of it), forms a messy sludge. With us, it was short work. A hundred feet down they hit water, which was obvious from the watery slurry gushing. They then drilled to 285, hitting even more water on the way. Doug beamed when Peter (25 years of experience) said one word—15—referring to gallons per minute of water being produced. Five is acceptable but 15 means never having to worry about running out of water.

Thirty minutes after drilling stopped and the multiple sections of the drill were pulled out, Peter picked up a small stone and dropped it down the well casing, listening to the splash. This time he said another number—30 feet. The water had risen 70 feet. The next day, water was spilling over the top of the well pipe at the surface, which means the water had risen 100 feet from its source in just a short time. Valley Artesian placed a pump in the drilled column at 220 feet, creating a reservoir of 330 gallons of water in the well (1.5 gallons per foot). Even though we have a pump, we have a true artesian well; the water, working against gravity, is being forced up out of the ground by the pressure of the aquifer.


Well pipe and ditch running to house.
And so, we have a prefect water scenario, unlimited water at a high rate of flow, a particularly impressive result in September after a dry summer. A runoff pipe was installed to allow excess water to flow by gravity into the nearby creek. Or, we may fashion a small pond a little further away, near our flower garden, so the birds and wildlife will have a source of fresh running water when it is 10 below this winter. As a bonus, we will have water available even if we lose electricity. A tap in the basement will operate without the benefit of a pump.



We tasted the water out of the blue pipe and it was pure, cool, and crystal clear. If you are coming up to visit, feel free to bring empty bottles to fill with delicious New Hampshire mountain H2O, filtered by its long slow journey through layers and layers of granite.


Our mascot, mighty dog Gracie, the Border Terrier.



Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Time off at the Fair


While the Olympics played out in Rio this past weekend, another kind competition took place under blue skies in Cornish, New Hampshire, at the annual fair. Cows and chickens, lambs, ponies, oxen and rabbits were on display as were the woodsman skills of men and women. (How long would it take you to chop down a tree? Can you throw an axe and hit a target?)
Summer fairs are a longstanding tradition in New England, the first being held in Londonderry, New Hampshire, in 1722. Cornish continues to place its emphasis on animals, and its dairy show is said to be the largest in New Hampshire and Vermont.
With a nod to the arts, it runs an annual fair poster contest, sponsors an artist in residence (Gary Hamel), and holds an art sale in the Town House.

On your mark, get set to chop. (All photos by author.)


Cock-a-doodle, who me?


Oxen await competition.   Pulling concrete for sport.
Cornish Fair artist in residence, Gary Hamel.


Cows of many colors; got lots of milk.

















Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Glued, screwed, nailed, and foamed




Designing and building your own home is not an endeavor for the faint of heart. Large doses of courage, confidence and commitment come in handy. It helps, too, to be guided by a set of principles, a philosophy.

Aerial skills are required for this line of work. 
Acrophobics need not apply. (All photos by author.)
After years of living in houses designed by other people (old and new) we longed for a house designed for the way we live. And so our design follows function. A carport near the door that leads to the kitchen for unloading groceries. A big mud room because there will be mud—and dirt and snow. An open layout of kitchen, dining, living areas, so whoever is cooking can feel connected to others. A kitchen with a big island (stainless steel) for prepping and socializing. A first-floor master suite (over 60, no explanation needed). A screened porch since some of the nicest days of summer are also the buggiest. Black flies don’t take vacation. Passive energy design because “the best kind of energy is the energy you don’t use.” Wood-burning stoves for those notoriously cold New Hampshire winters.

Once we had the layout refined and decided on timber frame construction for the center portion of the house, structural insulated panels (SIPs) were the natural choice for sheathing the frame and giving it a high R-value insulation. We could have chosen stick-frame construction (2 x 6s with insulation) for the side wings but decided to keep going with the panel construction. Simplicity is another principle we followed.


Dormer side panel gets lifted into place.
For the past two weeks, we’ve been watching the house go up as huge pre-assembled panels fly through the air (with the help of a crane and five workers) to be popped into place, glued, screwed, nailed, and foamed. Foard Panel of West Chesterfield, New Hampshire, is doing the skilled and professional work. The structural panels are sandwiches of oriented strand board on both sides of a foam core; 6.5 inches thick for the walls; 10.25 inches thick for the roof. Laminated wood splines are wedged between two panels and nailed to marry them. Huge screws are used to attach the panels to either timber frame or engineered wood posts and beams.

Door and window openings are made in the workshop.
Some of the advantages of panels over traditional stick framing include faster on-site construction, reduced construction debris, less waste due to factory, engineering of panels, and lifetime energy savings to heat or cool the structure.

Michigan architect Alden B. Dow (1904-1983), briefly apprenticed to Frank Lloyd Wright (Taliesin, summer 1933), is considered the inventor of the SIP (known earlier as the sandwich panel). Wright had used plywood and tar paper panels in his Usonian homes but neglected to add any insulation. Dow, very much an innovator, took off with the idea and incorporated an insulated core.
Panels awaiting installation.
Some of the hardware used. 
The longest screw is 13 inches long.

Doug and I agree with (and have applied, unwittingly) Dow’s design philosophy displayed in his Midland, Michigan, home: "Architecture is more than the front face of the building. It is the location of the building. It is the plan of the building. It is the construction of the building. It is the heating and cooling of the building. It is the furnishing of the building. It is the landscaping of the building. It is, in its entirety, the manifestation of wholesome living." Well said, Alden.

Factoid: Dow’s father’s manufacturing company, Dow Chemical, introduced Styrofoam products to the United States in 1954. Ray McIntire, a scientist employed Dow, is credited with the invention, which combines polystyrene beads with air.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Raising Timbers

Timber framing is a great spectator sport... but the ticket price is pretty steep.—Doug

Doug and I spent three days last week watching timber fly and agile men walk
balance beams as 14,000 board feet of beautifully cut, planed, and oiled Douglas fir
came into place on our mountainside home site. Other than a quick lunch break
we watched with intensity for 10 hours a day as the house Doug first saw in his
head and them put onto paper and revised and revised over the course of two
years became hard wood reality. What we saw on the mountainside—from our friends
at the Timber-Frame Workshop in Alstead, New Hampshire—was talent and skill,
absolute dedication and commitment to their craft.

The first timber partial wall goes up. Flying timbers and other acrobatics.
(All photos by author.)



The team of six men have worked together for decades and range in age from mid-40s to mid-60s. Matt, who runs the 200-foot boom crane, gets direction from the ground where timbers are in piles. He “picks” a timber that Chris or Jim have prepared with “chokes” or strong fabric-wrapped loops that are placed precisely on the beams so that when lifted, the crane can dangle the wood in the air, and move it over and up at the proper angle to the awaiting crew.
Some whole walls were assembled by the crew on the first floor “deck” then hoisted into square slots cut in the floor, later to be secured with Simpson metal straps to the carrying beams in the basement. After some of the 24 vertical posts were placed, the receiving crew of Tom. Dave, and Bill might be standing on a 29-foot high beam with hammers and pegs waiting to guide, nudge, or cajole the next timber into place. One horizontal beam got a jump assist at 20 feet from Dave and popped perfectly into position.
Applause!


The frame beginning to take shape. Fortunately the weather cooperated. 
This went on for three days. They moved gracefully around each other, swapping responsibilities or handing off tools. The intensity of the work is exhausting—even to watch.
Timber framing has no room for error—in cutting the intricate joinery of a 20-foot beam or fitting it into the giant wood puzzle taking shape high above the ground.
Good timber frames do not go up with ease, but with the work of our mountain crew we are very pleased.

“Good timber does not grow with ease.
The stronger the wind, the stronger trees.”
―American Poet
Douglas Malloch (1877–1938)


















































Wednesday, July 13, 2016

It's happening!




A quiet moment up top. A section to be raised.
(All photos by author.)


Beautiful timbers.
The lull bringing in more wood.

Details of pegs, notches, braces.
This week the expert craftsmen from the Timber-Frame Workshop in Alstead, New Hampshire, haven been busy preparing for the big day—Thursday—when the crane arrives. Then, in the style of old-time barn raisers, only with a serious mechanical assist (200-foot reach and 20-ton capacity), they will move, section by section, the meticulously cut and partly preassembled Douglas fir timbers from their horizontal resting places on the first floor deck into their vertical supporting positions.
The driveway from the working deck
The home site looks quite chaotic right now but I am confident Tom, Dave, Chris, Jim, and Bill know the precise location of each piece of the huge and beautiful puzzle. They have been working on this structure, measuring, cutting, notching, planing, and chamfering the components in the workshop for the last five months. For a final finishing, each piece of wood was been hand rubbed with wondrously fragrant Land Ark oil, (linseed oil thinned with orange citrus). The excitement is building as soon it is SHOWTIME! If you are in the area, stop by the mountainside—Thursday, Friday, or Saturday.
Doug, who likes to calmly say when I’m impatient: “It’ll happen,” now is shouting to the hills: “It’s happening!!!” (Take note, those of you who know Doug personally, rarely does he use even one exclamation point.)

Doug standing in the cupola. 































It's happening!



A quiet moment up top. A section to be raised.
(All photos by author.)


Beautiful timbers.
The lull bringing in more wood.

Details of pegs, notches, braces.
This week the expert craftsmen from the Timber-Frame Workshop in Alstead, New Hampshire, haven been busy preparing for the big day—Thursday—when the crane arrives. Then, in the style of old-time barn raisers, only with a serious mechanical assist (200-foot reach and 20-ton capacity), they will move, section by section, the meticulously cut and partly preassembled Douglas fir timbers from their horizontal resting places on the first floor deck into their vertical supporting positions.
The driveway from the working deck
The home site looks quite chaotic right now but I am confident Tom, Dave, Chris, Jim, and Bill know the precise location of each piece of the huge and beautiful puzzle. They have been working on this structure, measuring, cutting, notching, planing, and chamfering the components in the workshop for the last five months. For a final finishing, each piece of wood was been hand rubbed with wondrously fragrant Land Ark oil, (linseed oil thinned with orange citrus). The excitement is building as soon it is SHOWTIME! If you are in the area, stop by the mountainside—Thursday, Friday, or Saturday.
Doug, who likes to calmly say when I’m impatient: “It’ll happen,” now is shouting to the hills: “It’s happening!!!” (Take note, those of you who know Doug personally, rarely does he use even one exclamation point.)

Doug standing in the cupola. 



























Doug, who likes to calmly say when I’m impatient: “It’ll happen,” now is shouting to the hills: “It’s happening!!!” (Take note, those of you who know Doug personally, rarely does he use even one exclamation point.)




Monday, July 4, 2016

One alpaca, two alpaca, three alpaca—and more

My new alpaca friends checking me out. (All photos by Meryl Rose.) 

By Guest Blogger and Photographer Meryl Rose


Last week when I traveled with Mom and Doug to Alstead, NH, to meet timber framer Tom at the Timber Frame Workshop, little did I know it would be much more for me than a meeting about wood and timber frame construction.
After a pleasant drive down Interstate 91 in Vermont and a few back roads back in New Hampshire, we were in Alstead in a little over an hour. In order to reach the workshop where Tom and Dave and their crew are cutting the Doug Fir timbers for the house, we drove through a pasture with 20 alpacas. Mom and Doug and Tom and Dave had to work through some details about chamfering and how the building was going to get staged. I was more interested in meeting the two dogs, the alpacas, and a few ducks.


The ducks enjoy a treat.
Jaime, Tom’s wife, introduced me to her charges. When I walked into the fenced-in area, the alpacas made all sorts of high pitched noises. Jamie explained that they do this when they are alarmed, in this case by me, the newbie. After feeding a few of them and gaining their trust, I was able to take some pictures. I learned many of their names (Orlando, Jack, Remmy, Miss Hollywood, and Ella Rose, to name a few) and how they are related to each other. Many were born on the farm. An alpaca can weigh anywhere from 100 to 200 pounds. Their diet consists of small amounts of protein to produce high-quality fleece. The fleece comes in 22 natural colors from brown and grey to black and the most obvious, pure white. In the pictures you’ll see that the alpacas recently got shorn. Jaime makes all kinds of fiber products from the wool she gets from them. You can check out Jaime’s website for Sanctuary’s Alpaca Farm. 

I had a great morning with Jaime. After all, it’s not every day you get to meet an alpaca and can take a “selfie” with one—or two or three. 

Alpacas and me...perfect together.












Monday, June 20, 2016

Layer it on



Walkout basement partially poured provides a place for chairs
and after-work relaxation. (All photos by author.)
When Doug and I embarked on this adventure of reimagining our lives after 60 in a different state (NH) and state of mind (rural mountainside), I never imagined I would be writing about building materials with great interest. (Doug may have; it naturally appeals to the scientist in him.) But as much as we are into the wood, we are now into concrete, wraps, and foam.


Excavator Dave fills a concrete form with  more stone.
In foreground, the part of the basement that will not be walkout.
The concrete pads will hold supports, most for the timber frame.


The concrete has been coming and coming. To date, 133.5 square yards of concrete have been poured from more than a dozen trucks and on two occasion with an assist from a huge concrete pump. And don’t think for a moment that concrete is boring. It takes focus, precision, and discipline to make everything right before the trucks roll in. They don’t wait around for last minute adjustments. They have to dump the load and move on. Our basic concrete is 3,500 pound; that means it can take a compressive load per square inch of 3,500 pounds (per square inch!). For the garage floor, part of the basement floor, and several piers (concrete poured in Sono Tubes secured by Big Foot underground forms) that will hold up the screen porch and deck, that strength has been kicked up to 4,000 and synthetic fiber added. Now the concrete of the basement hides layers and layers of other materials.

Doug checking the Stego Wrap before the pour.
Ace, concrete team mascot, eyes some blue board. 



Under the basement concrete there is up to 50 inches of crushed, compacted stone; plus drainpipes to allow moisture to be transferred outside the house; radon pipes to release radon (the house sits on granite, nototious for emitting radon); and sewage pipes. On top of that, a layer of 10 millimeter yellow polyethylene called Stego Wrap further insulates, sealed with special red tape. Then comes the rebar, every two feet secured in criss-cross fashion with metal ties. In some places of the basement walls, 2” thick tongue-and-groove "blue board" further keeps the cold from creeping in. (Dow makes blue board, which is Styrofoaminsulation of extruded polystyrene foam or XPS, which can increase the R-value of the wall by up to 20%; Corning has a similar product in pink.)
The concrete will be sprayed to help it “cure” and waterproof it from minor indoor spills. Another layer of protective tar-based sealant will be painted on the outside of the foundation walls in places where they concrete is not faced with stone. The layers keep coming, and we haven’t even worked our way out of the basement.

All manner of building materials are designed to keep warmth in (especially in -20 degree winters) and allow moisture out; thus preventing mold from forming. So we layer it on. On the structural insulated panels, we will be using a double layer of 15-pound felt (old fashioned) and Obydike Home Slicker wrap (new tech, which provides space for water to escape and pressure to equalize). The standing seam metal roof will have 30-pound felt as well as Grace Ice & Water Shield underlayment three feet up from the edge and in the valleys.

The problem created by all these layers in today’s well-built, energy-efficient home is too tight an envelope. We’ve heard problems of negative-pressure houses filling with smoke when the range hood is turned on and a fireplace is burning. So, add another layer of complexity. We will have to have an air-exchange system to circulate the air and balance the air pressure.

More forms coming on site; more concrete.
The other night, sitting on our green plastic Adirondack chairs waiting for sunset, we wondered if, once the house is done, we will be able to (or want to) look at it and not think of all the layers (and work) that went into the final product.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Of Cows and Kids: Strolling in Vermont



Imagine musical accompaniment. (All photos by author.)
New York has its Thanksgiving Day Parade; Philadelphia, the Mummers; Pasadena, Calif., the Tournament of Roses; Pamplona, Spain, the Running of the Bulls; and ranking up there in originality, Brattleboro, Vt., hosts the Strolling of the Heifers.

Early in June for the last 15 years, coinciding with national dairy month, and this year also with national cheese day (June 4), the southern Vermont town (population 11,765) draws thousands of people to watch a hundred decked-out heifers parade up the historic Main Street. The event celebrates local farming and food.
Flower garlands as natural as the wearer.


Young people from various area 4-H clubs, and farmers handle their heifers with skill. An occasional moo is heard and the cows do the expected, leaving behind what leaves cows’ behinds to be promptly cleaned up by a surprisingly eager team. Following the heifers (and musical interludes of various marching bands and fiddlers on a truck bed), come the antique tractors—Ford, John Deer, International—and their equally antique drivers. Local organizations, mostly nonprofits, proudly parade, taking up the rear, in farm-related costumes or colorful t-shirts.
Strolling in color-coordinated style.
1950 John Deer (tractor).
Strolling of the Heifers, the nonprofit farm and food advocacy organization that sponsors the festival (which also includes a Slow Living Expo to promote people’s conscious connection to the food they eat), recently announced its 2016 Locavore Index ranking states’ level of commitment to locally sourced food. Not surprisingly, Vermont tops the list followed by Maine, Oregon, Montana, and New Hampshire. Created five years ago, the index takes into account food sales from farmers to the public, community-supported agriculture, and farm-to-school program participation (added this year to the criteria).

Vermont, the Green Mountain State, clearly wants to add the moniker of the Greenest State.
A farmer coaxes a reluctant alpaca.
Looking toward Main Street and beyond,
the hills of New Hampshire.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

We have concrete!

Just another day at the home site. Concrete pump and guys at work.
(All photos by author.)


Forms for footings in place.


Doug's in charge.
Mt. Cardigan in background.
Part of the A-Team, from left: Bob (concrete), Pete (panels), Doug (the general), Dave (excavation, septic), Rich (framer). 



Waiting for the concrete trucks.
Bob directs the first of many concrete pours.

At the end of the day we have footings. Much more concrete to come.
View from garage toward breezeway (foreground dirt) with barn in background, driveway to right.