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Posted by Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 10/3/2010

A bunch of things happened today. It kinda seems like I'm saying that a lot lately, but as we get closer and closer to the scheduled completion date (December 1) the pace of activities is accelerating almost beyond our ability to keep up!

First the insulation and drywall work. Both crews moved along at a good pace today, working in and around each other with relatively few collisions. There were a few questions throughout the day that Colleen handled, mostly from the drywall folks focusing on how we wanted to wall in a particular corner of a closet or trim out an odd bit of ceiling. I don't think the insulation guys actually had any questions themselves, they just kept on putting up insulation and tacking it down with staples and Visqueen.

Visqueen is, for lack of a better description, basically just clear plastic sheeting (it turns out that it's also the name of a rock band, oddly enough, but that's not particularly relevant here). As it turns out, it isn't used a lot in construction any more, but when the spray-foam-insulation guys bowed out of the job, we lost the natural vapor-barrier properties of a spray-foam seal and had to put in something else instead. ICF houses are by their nature very tight, which makes it easy for humidity to build up, and you don't want that to migrate through the ceiling into and through the attic insulation. Visqueen is used as a vapor barrier in situations where you've got a tight house (not a frame house) where this could be a problem. In a house the size of Tanglewood, it ended up going everywhere that we had insulation up against untreated areas--the ceiling of the great room, the upper rooms under the attic, the ceiling above the apartment, and of course the ceiling of the computer room. We didn't need it anywhere we had a LiteDeck ceiling, since that already serves as a vapor barrier.

I also learned why there's so much drywall waste generated during construction.  The average Joe doing a bit of a project in their basement might buy a couple of sheets of drywall to repair a wall, carefully measuring and cutting it as needed so as to minimize the amount of wasted drywall and odd fiddly bits. The resulting seams are then taped and mudded, and after it's all painted (assuming you did a good job) you'll never even know the work is there.

When a crew drywalls your house, though, they don't do it that way at all. They don't even start at one end of the house and work their away around, which is what I thought they would do. Instead they move through the house and slap up as many of the full-sized sheets as they possibly can--this minimizes the overall number of seams and subsequent taping and mudding. This is done in two- or three-man teams around the house, working each room or area as thoroughly as possible until they run out of places where they can use full-sized pieces of drywall. Once they've got the "easy" stuff done, they start putting up drywall over doors and windows, and here's where a lot of the waste is generated. If they come across a door that's, say, three feet across, they don't carefully  measure it and then cut a piece of drywall around the door--they slap the drywall over the opening and then cut it out. This is faster than doing it the other way and allows them to fit the opening perfectly. The cut-out section is tossed to one side and won't be used again unless by sheer luck they have need of a three-foot wide section later on and one of the crew happens to remember that the discarded bit is sitting right over there--otherwise it goes into the trash. This method has the advantage of being very fast overall, but it makes for a lot of waste drywall--all of which we had to cart out for hauling to the dump. I was astonished, but it makes sense on balance.

As neat as this was, though, the more exciting thing was that we finally got the main trench dug between the solar shed and the house! The solar panels are a good 500' away from Tanglewood on a hillside location that gets tons more sunlight, but in order to get the power down to the house, I had to run a fairly long and heavy cable (500' of 4/0 gauge twisted-aluminum stranding). By pushing 240V from the inverters down to the house, I should only lose about 3% of my generated energy to line losses, which is a huge plus, and the voltage coming into the main electrical box will have the same voltage as a typical line running into a grid-tied house. That in turn makes the house-side connections much simpler, since there's nothing unusual to worry about there, and everything inside the house ends up being completely "normal" and typical--which makes the house wiring itself much easier (and cheaper). It's a good system.

County code allows the line to be buried, but if it's under something like an access road (as this one is) it has to be a minimum of two feet down. While I knew I could fill in a trench by hand if I had to, I certainly couldn't dig the thing out that way, but fortunately we were able to enlist the aid of Excavator Jim. Jim had helped us a long while back when we needed to dig a good hole for a soil compaction sample, and his rates are pretty reasonable, so when we contacted him last week, he readily agreed to come up and trench out the line for us. He came rumbling up in his backhoe around noon and, (after a brief tour of the house and a walk of the intended trench line) he got straight to work. He elected to start on trickiest part of the job first, that being the trench around the end of the master bathroom bullnose to the master junction box on the rear of the house. To be honest, it was not remotely sure that he'd be able to fit his backhoe around the house--there's not a lot of room between the bullnose and the side of the excavation, and that backhoe is fairly wide--but it fit! Mind you he only had about two inches on either side, but he got that sucker back there!

Excavator Jim got a late start but once he had the bullnose section done the rest was a piece of cake.  He was able to get virtually all of the trench done before he ran out of light. As he went I was unrolling the electrical cable I picked up from ABC Plumbing.  In the next day or so, he'll trench out the rest of the run as well as dig out the line for the propane hookup (since we've got him there).  Once the remainder of the trench dug out, I'll sleeve the whole length in 2" conduit and then drop it all into the trench. While the cable is rated for direct burial, I'm putting it into conduit to avoid any possible problems with rocks shifting against it and puncturing it. I'll also use this opportunity to run some Cat 6 Ethernet in a separate length of 1/2" conduit, so I can tie the solar systems into the main computer network at the house proper. It's going to be dirty and messy work (that 4/0 cable is going to be heavy and stiff) but it's the best way to ensure I won't have any problems in later years!

Busy, busy day...

Steven in Colorado Springs


A workman begins installing insulation in the roof of the great room. Behind him, you can see the roof of the library already installed and sheathed in Visqueen.
Thumbs up!
Drywall crew working around the kitchen and pantry areas.
Working at the entrance of the great room.
Pantry drywall in progress. Note how they slapped a large piece over the window; this got cut out later. Wow.
Insulating the wall in the media room. Note how the batts don't run the full height; that's because they're doubled over (making R-76) to provide increased soundproofing. Sweet!
Checking the fit and line of the insulation.
In the library looking towards the deck (patio door at the far end).
The pantry with the window being cut out.
The media-room insulation is nearly complete. They stuck a bit of plastic over the manifold to protect it while they were working, which I thought was a good idea.
Looking up at the house from the bottom of the driveway.
Lots of trucks clustered near the house... they brought up a lot of the insulation in that big one.
A blurry shot looking from the kitchen towards the master bedroom. Big mess, but you can see the difference the drywall has made already!
Another sheet of drywall over one of the master-bathroom windows. Weird that they do it this way, but I can see why they do.
In the master shower they made extensive use of DUROCK, which is both water and heat/fire-resistant.
Looking from the bottom of the steps towards the master bedroom. You can see Excavator Jim's backhoe through that far window.
The great-room ceiling all nice and snug!
Better shot of the great-room ceiling from the library upstairs.
They brought lots of bags of mortar and mud... wow.
Outside the media room at the top of the steps. That box is the back side of one of the daughter electrical boxes.
Another look at the inside of the media room. This drywall will be going over that ICF in the next few days.
Looking down the hallway... almost all of this has been insulated; the drywall is next.
Excavator Jim begins working his backhoe up the hill past the septic tank towards the bullnose. This won't be easy...
Doing some grading so he can get up this draw more easily.
Jim begins working his way around the bullnose. Colleen snapped this shot from the deck.
Excavator Jim pauses for a moment to figure out his next move.
Looking at the backhoe from one of the upstairs windows... he made it!
Looking at the whole operation from up the hill.
Good shot of the backhoe through the master-bathroom window.
Closeup of the working bit of the backhoe, looking nearly straight down from the deck.
About halfway up the hill looking down towards the house proper. I was unrolling cable as he went, but it's still pretty messy in there--I'll have to straighten it out.

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