Monday, June 28, 2010

A little information

Travis asked about references I used in my design. I decided, that putting my response in a comment was going to be a bit limiting, so here goes...

I have three books that are specific to underground house design. Then I have a number of other books about building your own house, working with green roofs, designing radiant heat system, designing solar heat systems, designing solar electric systems, residential wiring, plumbing, code books...yes, I am going to have quite a collection for the "building my house" bookshelf when I get done.

The three that I have that specifically target underground house construction are:

Underground Homes by Lois Wampler - I think this provides a nice overview of a lot of topics relevant to earth sheltered house construction

Earth Sheltered Housing Design guidlines, examples, and references by the underground space center of minnesota - it is a very nice reference on the trade-offs of different arrangements of insulation, earth sheltering, and other construction considerations such as waterproofing and drainage, and loading of walls. It has a number of examples of different constructions, and how they compare on energy usage.

Earth-Sheltered Houses by Rob Roy - In my opinion, this provides a very thorough discussion of pretty much all the critical aspects of earth sheltered house construction. They have a couple designs in there, that I think I would have been quite happy with, except for some of the restrictions that I have based on my location. There are a couple things that they outline, that I think I would have been happier with, if I could have used them.

I also have done quite a bit of searching on the web for blogs, message boards, and pages dedicated to information about earth sheltered/underground home construction. I am hesitant to post links, as some of them have already gone away since I found them, but I will give you these, and hopefully you will find them to be of use:

Tom's PAHS -

EERE Consumer's Guide: Earth-Sheltered Home Design -

Earth Sheltered Homes - Rocky Mountain Research Center -

Phil Malone and Lisa Malone's Earth Sheltered, Geothermal, Passive Solar home at Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. -

Best of luck to you Travis.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Into the gaping jaws garage

Well, the last couple weeks have mainly been filled with more planning, and ordering materials, and talking to contractors about what I need done.

Last week Matt came up, and we took a bunch of measurements for me to be able to sit down at home, and do some more planning. Figuring out how many of this part, and that part, I would be needing to order. Then there are holes that need to be drilled in the plates on the front of the overhang, so that the Trex boards that will support the facade can be attached. We were going to do that the second night he was coming up, and then I got a call from Bill at Lowe's. My garage door was in, and they could deliver it as soon as I wanted. Well, the opening to my garage, was covered by a number of plastic sheets. Ok, change of plans, we needed to get an opening cut through the plastic, and then secure the plastic so it wouldn't blow around in the wind and tear.

We went out, and detached all the remaining bracing and wood that was attached to the garage door opening. Then we cut slits in the plastic so we could fold it into the opening. We pulled it in and back onto the inside of the walls. Then we reattached some of the wood that we had taken off, and used it to secure the plastic.

My house looking like some strange plastic creature with a gaping mouth, and one big tooth on top!

Opening this up did a few things. Now we didn't have to walk all the way to the front door to get things in and out of the house. The garage door (in its boxes) would be able to be set in the garage out of the weather. Air can move through the house to help keep the humidity from building up quite so badly.

Last Saturday, they were supposed to deliver my door in the afternoon. Well, when it was well into the afternoon and I hadn't heard from them I decided to call. They were going to check on how long it would be, and then call me back. When I didn't hear from them in a while, I called back. They called the driver, and found out they were about 15 minutes away from the property. I explained that I was not out there, and had been expecting to be called, so I could be out there to meet them. Well, I got out there as quick as I could. When I got there, the two delivery men, were sitting on the step from the garage into the utility room, appreciating the fact that even with no AC it was much more comfortable in there, than outside. They got the parts for the garage door unloaded into the garage and then left. Now I had a garage door waiting to be installed.

Earlier this week, Bill from Lowe's called to let me know that the Hardie panel that will be used for siding, was in. He wanted to know if I wanted that delivered right away. I told him that I wanted to wait for more of the order to be ready for delivery. It means fewer trips for them, and fewer times that I need to be out there waiting for a delivery.

Yesterday, Bill told me that my Trex was in. That will be used for furring strips on the walls, and for trim work on the outside of them.

Last night, Matt and my dad came up, and we went out to put holes in the steel. Dad got set to put big holes in the plates on the front of the overhang, and I got set inside to perforate the roof deck, so that any water that is up in there could drain out.

Dad is making some large holes, where some large bolts will go.

Each place where there is a plate on the front of the joists, we will make a hole in the plate, and make a corresponding hole in the steel angle that sits above.

Holes in steel plate, and a wasp nest.

While dad was outside fighting the torque from the large drill, the drill was making horrible noises, which reverberated through the inside. I was inside up on my scaffold, putting small holes in each valley in the roof deck.

There are a bunch of holes to drill.

I had a couple of them that had some drops of water come out as I was drilling. The bit was getting quite hot, and in addition to throwing bits of hot galvanized steel on my arms and shirt, it was spattering me with hot water. Then I got to one, where it continued dripping out after I had the hole drilled. I got a towel to absorb most of the water. I drilled a couple more, and then I ran into this.

I guess drilling some drainage holes before we seal things up was a good idea.

This one drained quite a bit, and I ended up getting a cup to catch most of the water so it didn't just form a puddle on the floor.

Bill called me today to let me know that the rest of my order was in, except the front door. He was expecting that to show up Friday. We setup for a morning delivery on Saturday. Then I got a call from Lowe's this evening, letting me know that the front door had arrived. So once I have all this delivered, I need to line things up to get the doors installed. I need to get some of the Trex on the walls in preparation for them putting in my retaining walls. I am hoping they will be able to start on those fairly soon.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A hole in the roof and changes to plans...again!

Last weekend, we got the structure for the box that will go on the roof finished. Here it is before we put on the ends.

An almost complete roof box.

We will use screws through the perforated angle on the bottom, to attach it to the steel roof deck. It will be getting a top, and flashing to keep water out. But some of that has to wait until we have it in position on the roof. We loaded it into my truck, and arranged to meet Monday night to put it on the roof, and to get the last layer of drainage material and plastic sheets trimmed for the overhang and positioned.

Monday night, I met Mom and Dad and Matt. We started by cutting slits in the front edge of the final plastic sheets so that they would hang properly on the overhang. That went fine. Then we tried to cut the drainage layer. We found that the tin snips dad had brought would cut the plastic, but not the geotextile. So we got out a utility knife and cut the sheet. When we went to cut for the second side of the overhang, I though it looked like the knife when too far into the sheet. We lifted up the sheet, and found that the knife had done a beautiful job of cutting right through all the layers of plastic waterproofing!

We didn't have rolls available to replace the sheets that had been cut. We thought about what to do. We had used some Tyvek tape on the plastic sheets hanging down over the garage entrance to help secure them. The Tyvek was holding quite well. We decided to use more of the Tyvek to seal up the cuts. We sealed all 4 layers, and then put the drainage material in place. After we got all that in place, we put weights back on to hold it until Adam can finish placing the dirt bags. We looked and it was getting into twilight. Well we could sit the roof box on the roof, but we were not going to get it mounted to the roof that night. We got off the roof while we could still see. Then we looked at the time. It was almost 10 and we hadn't had dinner! Off to Steak and Shake.

The next thing we needed was to get a hole put in the roof. Thursday was predicted to be a descent day weather wise. So we planned for cutting a hole in the roof and mounting the roof box on Thursday evening.

Marcus helped me get the generator and the scaffold unit I had bought, into the truck to take over. We took them over, and started to haul the pieces of the scaffold into the house. It will be nice when I don't have plastic draped down over the garage opening. We had to take the pieces of the scaffold half way around the house to get them in the front door. Then they got carried over to the garage, about 20 feet from where my truck was parked outside :(

Mom, dad, and Matt showed up. They had brought the other tools, the ear protection, and face mask and safety glasses. Marcus helped us get set up, and watched a crazy Hobbit cut through a steel roof deck. Matt got a picture of me as I got myself coated with metal filings from the roof deck.

Up on a scaffold, for a couple hours in odd positions to get the saw to cut where I wanted it to.

I finally got the hole cut through the decking, where the box would go. We went up on top to make sure that the saw hadn't cut through the plastic. We aren't ready to put the box in place and seal things up yet, so we didn't want holes in the plastic yet. The plastic in that area looked fine. We set the box where it will be located, so that Adam can finish putting the bags of dirt on the roof. Hmmm, about 11 and I am hungry again, even though I had dinner before I went out there. Looks like Steak and Shake again.

Friday I was tired, and a bit sore. I went out and met a couple gentlemen from the local propane supplier. They looked at the situation, and said they didn't want to bring the propane into the house underground. Wait, wouldn't keeping the pipe underground be safer? Well, the problem is that if there is any leak in the line, it is likely with it all in a conduit underground, that it would force the gas to come into the house. Not what you want! Ok, well, since other plans changed, I have a couple holes in the wall by the garage. Would those work? Well, the regulator they need to put on, has to be 3 feet from any opening into the house. Could we move the retaining wall back further toward the corner? Could we bring a pipe under the retaining wall? Could we bring a pipe through the retaining wall? Could we put the propane tank on the other side of the house, and run the line to the generator under the driveway? A lot of different options were discussed. They left with a couple items to check into, and I needed to talk to Scott before he got the final design on the walls approved by Bill.

I got a picture of the hole that I had cut in the steel.

I called Scott and told him the situation. I told him about the options we discussed, and that I didn't think we were going to be able to move the wall back from the garage any more. He said he wanted the full depth of the blocks against the house. So that was 18 inches, and we did not have enough room to get that 18 inches, plus 3 feet between the corner and the garage door. The regulator couldn't go on the garage wall. Well, the propane guys had said that if we came through the retaining wall, they could mount the regulator on it and not on the garage wall, and that would keep it far enough away to meet codes. Scott went off to think about options.

Later, I got a call from Bill, letting me know that Scott had been by, and he had stamped the plans, and I could come and pick up my copy. I thanked him and told him I would be by later. I was at Lowe's working on finding kitchen cabinets that would meet my budget, and be something I liked. I spent about 3 hours looking over options, and even shuffling cabinetry from the way it was in the plan. The salesman gave me cost sheets for all the options we tried, and a print of the slightly modified layout we worked up. Plans changing again. But we came up with a plan that worked in my budget.

I went to Bill's and picked up the stamped plans for the retaining walls. The bill for Bill's work was about half of what the other engineer that Scott had found, wanted. I am quite pleased, we will be able to move forward with this.

Today, I went to Home Depot, to see what the cabinetry options would be there. They carry the same line that I had decided on at Lowe's, and another line that simply goes by a different name, and another line that we didn't even discuss. I explained that I was looking to stay within my original budget. I believe I told her what I was shooting for. She put plans in the computer, and started trying to find cabinets that would work. I have had the sink in the corner in my designs, and she was having trouble finding a cabinet that would work. Then she talked to another lady, and she said that I couldn't have my refrigerator there. It was too close to the sink, and wouldn't work. I understand her concern, and I explained that the refrigerator I was getting needed extra clearance next to it, and that having it on the end allowed for that. She suggested putting it by the pantry. Well, that would mean that either the door is going to open against the pantry wall, and not be able to open all the way; or it is going to be in your way to get to the counter when you are in the fridge. I didn't even bother pointing out that that would put the fridge at the other end of the room from the sink, which seems like a bad placement. She seemed taken aback that I wouldn't just take her advice.

The lady working on the plan in the computer, tried a couple more things. Apparently it is odd of someone to put a sink in a corner. Well, we tried moving it over onto the one wall, and putting cabinets in the corner. I explained that I though corner cabinets were difficult to get into and never got fully utilized. Why pay for a cabinet that isn't going to be effectively used? Moving the sink onto the wall, was going to drop the price of its cabinet. However, then that left more area for her to add wall cabinets. I felt that my original design had enough cabinets! So she came up with a quote. Well above my budget, but said, oh, you can drop these extra cabinets out to make a comparison to the Lowe's quote. Then we talked about counter-tops. She started telling me about what a great sale they had going on granite right now. I told her I was definitely looking at a lower cost material than granite. She started talking about Corrian, and I explained that I was fully expecting to go with Formica. She got me a quote for the most expensive Formica, and then the price if I went with counter-top material that they carry in stock.

After looking over the situation at Home Depot and Lowe's, I think the budget that I have is definitely within reach. Now that I have an idea of what things are going to have the most effect on price, I am going to play with options myself and see if I can find an arrangement that I like and that may be less expensive than what we tried at Lowe's. I think I will be going back to Lowe's for my cabinets. I didn't feel that the folks at Home Depot listened as well to what I wanted or needed.

Well, off to work on the budget, and more design changes.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Inviting dirt bags to a roof top party

I heard an objection today that I hadn't posted recently. So, here is a summary of the week.

They delivered the rest of the top soil bags last Thursday. While I waited for Darell to arrive, I went wondering around the field. I spotted a plant I didn't remember seeing before. It has lovely little flowers. I saw ones with yellow flowers and ones with white flowers.

The lovely mystery plant.

Thats a lot of dirt bags in one place.

I didn't get the chance to do any more until the weekend. My dad and I continued to work on getting the roof box put together, which will be used to manage the few roof penetrations I am going to have.

The sides will be constructed from composite deck boards (Trex in this case) and will be attached to a framework on the inside, and provide backing for the flashing that will go on the outside.

The boards for one side of the box.

To make the inside frame, we decided to reuse some of the joist that wasn't put in the roof structure. We cut out a couple sections, and brought them home. Then we had to trim them to the exact length we needed.

After the sparks were done flying, we bolted together one of the frames we will attach to the sides.

The weather was very calm on Sunday, and we went out in the afternoon and finished getting the waterproofing all on the roof. Mom took pictures, and made sure we took frequent breaks and drank lots of water. It was hot, but with almost no wind, the sheets went on pretty easily. I wish we had those conditions when we had put the first layers on. We still need to trim the front plastic sheet, and the last drainage layer sheet so that it fits the overhang properly.

Monday, we went out and checked the level between the air vent pipes, and a couple places near the solar array, so that I could decide where we would be digging the trench for the air vent pipes. We took some other measurements and discussed some options on things.

Here you can see how the drainage sheets are now all hanging down the East side, waiting to have dirt put on top.

We weren't out there very long, so mom just sat in the truck, but it was sunny, so we put up a construction site sun shade.

Even boxes from plastic sheeting can be re-used.

On Tuesday, Adam called me to find out when we could get together to work out the details for covering the roof in dirt. I went out after work to meet him. While I waited, I decided to be productive, and got about a half pallet loaded on the roof. Then he showed up, and we both worked on it and got another pallet loaded on the roof. I went over the details of things to keep in mind as they loaded up the roof.

More roof covered.

Yesterday morning Adam and a few others went out, and worked their way through about 9 pallets before it got too hot. Adam used his Bobcat to move the pallets around so they didn't have to walk as far with the bags, and I expect that also helped speed things up.

After the first day, a majority of the roof was covered.

Although we had storms overnight, Adam and friends, went out there today, and finished covering all of the sheeting that can be covered. My dad and I have to get the last piece of drainage layer in place, and get the hole for the roof box precisely placed, so that they can finish putting the bags on the roof. I am hoping that we will get the box done this weekend, and be able to put it on early next week. We will just have to see.