Wood and Stone

A site to track our progress as we build our FirstDay Cottage Canadian house kit. Come on in, get a cup of coffee, set a spell and follow along on our journey or join in if you like. Check back for the weekly update (usually by Wednesday when things are going right) to see what we are currently up to!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

If you can't stand the heat...

One of the crises we passed through this past two months was what we are going to do about heat. We have a long term plan, which is that our main heat source will be our masonry heater. That won't be built for at least another year or two, which leaves us with the question of how we will heat our house until then. We need a system that will heat the whole house on its own until we get the masonry heater built. That means it will also be usable as a backup heating system, or the primary eventually, when we get to a point where we don't want mess with wood. Having the extra heating system will also be an asset if we ever decide to sell it, since no everyone is into wood heat.

That leaves the question of what type of system we should use. We ruled out furnaces as a whole, since we don't want to use oil for heat, and running (and hiding) all sorts of ductwork and vents for a system which will be a backup for the majority of the life of the house seems too involved. We looked into ground source heat pumps (geothermal), which could also need ductwork, but can do heat and cooling with about %300 efficiency, which is a big draw. That ended up being too expensive too. Another type of wood heating appliance to be used temporarily until the masonry heater can be built was also considered, but many of the reasons we want a masonry heater are the same reasons we wouldn't want any other type of wood stove in our house. Electric is right out, as it isn't a very efficient source of heat by my understanding, especially in a colder climate.

Eventually, we came back to the original idea we had, which was radiant hydronic heat. Someone had suggested it wasn't advisable to have a system that takes a while to heat up as a backup to another system that takes a while to heat up, but after doing all the analysis, it seems to be the best option we have. We will need a water heater anyway, and if we go with the open system, we can use just one. It also allows us to convert the water heating system at a later date to be solar or geothermal based if we want. By having two zones, we can heat the basement separately, which was a consideration since the masonry heater will be located on the first floor and won't heat the basement all that well. We have a couple of quotes now from DIY hydronic radiant places which hover around the $3,000 mark for the pieces, sans hot water heater. Now we just need to decide between our bids.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Island of Misfit Ideas

Over the past few months, we have been planning, scheming, and re-examining plans we had previously made. We started looking into cool technologies that we had seen or heard of in various places to see if it could fit with our home. All of the ideas tossed around were excellent ideas, but often too expensive for our budget. The rule of thumb we have found is this - if the technology works and reduces your environmental footprint or your dependence on oil, it costs between $15K and $20K up front to incorporate.

Among the ideas tossed around (and then out) were insulated concrete forms for the basement, a geothermal heat exchange system for heating (not the borehole type you think of in Iceland, but a water to air heat exchanger), and solar water heating and power. Sadly, we don't have any spare buckets of cash sitting around, or we may have incorporated these ideas into our house from the get go.

That said, these ideas need not fear that they will live out the remainder of their lives on the Island (except for ICFs). Many of these can be incorporated later, after we have built the house, have a place to live, and have saved up more. The heating system can be setup to use a ground source heat exchanger (the heart of the geothermal system) or solar hot water, and solar PV panels can be installed later as well. In the meantime, we can incorporate passive solar design without much investment, and we can highly insulate the basement walls to gain some of the same benefits that ICF walls enjoy. And we can keep dreaming.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The long dark winter of the spirit

Well, everything has been holding patterns and research and quotes over the past few months. Rather than write an epic that will consumer hours of time, I think I will break it down into bite sized posts on the status of each component of the plan.

The short story on the lack of updates is that the holding pattern we have been in took hold of me after the New Year and inertia proved that it would win. Today, that changes. It only took the Great Valentine's Day Storm of Aught Seven for me to sit down and get to it. The long story is pretty much the same, but with a bit more blame to assign around, away from me.

Going to the Great Northeast Home Show in Albany this past week got me thinking about everything that we have done so far, and everything left to do, and so here we are.

We met with our building inspector to find out what we need to have to get our permit. We discovered we basically need a Septic Permit (check), Engineer stamped plans (bzzt), a foundation plan (check) and to fill out the application. He seems very supportive of owner-builders and open to different ideas.

We sat down, managed to make the final changes to the plans and get them to FirstDay so that the stamping process could get started. Nothing too drastic. We moved the Northwest bedroom to the center of the South wall (where the extra family room would have been) and moved our room to the West side. We used the rest of the extra space for a utility closet/area. Also, we removed a couple of North facing windows and using smaller windows for other ones.

A couple of weeks after sending the revised plans, we got a call from FirstDay telling us our site is in a special strip of land East of the Hudson that has the highest snow load and wind ratings in the state. This requires more time for the engineer to do the calculations, but the final plans should be coming within a week or 2 now, along with our final invoice. Yep, we are getting close! Keep your eyes peeled for more soon.