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.


  1. Wow. After so much preparation, it seems miraculous to see this arise

  2. Apparently I don't have an identity. I am a secret agent who goes by the code name of Elizabeth Austin.

  3. The easiest way to do that is to start at the last piece that was installed, and remove from that end working your way to the first piece that was installed. best beach tent