Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Driveway

We have a nice long slightly curved driveway... long enough that Greg will happily have to purchase a man-toy to keep it cleared, but not so long that it will feel like a chore.  Curved enough to not feel straight, yet easy to back a trailer down.  Sloped enough to get up some speed on a 2-wheeler, yet not too steep to pedal up.  I love our driveway.

the lovely driveway
The surface is re-cycled asphalt.  In case you were ever wondering what happens to the old asphalt when it gets pulled up off the road (which quite honestly had never crossed my mind)... this is it!  It's like gravel, but packs better.  As far as I can tell it should remain water-permeable which means we won't have issues with run-off, and I am told that it will pack a little tighter in the heat next summer.

close-up of the driveway and a gratuitous shot of my cute, comfy and practical new Keens.

For now the driveway does not run all the way to the house, but it will before winter.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

little moment

here comes the rain...
getting closer...
time to go...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

up go the walls

the south facing wall
I think I have mentioned before how much I love concrete block.  That certainly has not changed... I am interested to see how much more stable the house will be from using block and steel stud as opposed to wood framing.  Imagine if we didn't get screws popping out of the drywall, or cracks in the corners??  Novel idea... I suppose only time will tell.

the west facing wall.. when the bracing is removed it will become an inset front entry
So needless to say I am very excited about owning our very own concrete block walls!  The blocks are textured but smooth to the touch, and the masons did a most excellent job.. so straight and tidy it is lovely to behold.  

the carport and utility room
You may have figured out by now that although Greg is a masonry contractor he did not in fact build our walls, which was his original intention.  In the end we hired Willf Kimmich (Kimm Masonry Ltd.) to do the work, as Greg was swamped with work for his own customers and as you all know the cobbler's kids go without shoes.  We are so fortunate that Willf was available to do it, and that he got the walls up so fast... It never ceases to amaze me how quickly a skilled tradesman can do such precise work.

detail of the block texture
It is always nice to see the walls go up for a new home.  After all the underground work, it is so nice to see where the rooms will be, and what the view is like from the living room.  

It starts to feel... concrete.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Building the walls

the walls have started!
It is so exciting to see the walls going up!  I'll take some photos this weekend with them complete...

Needless to say we considered many options when choosing a material to build our walls.  Here's a little rundown, in the order which we researched and eliminated each option:

siegel residence exterior bedroom
photo from Dwell Magazine

Hay Bale:  I believe this was the first structure we found really exciting.  Just the thought of building your home out of something so humble is pretty unbelievable.  We both still really like the idea, and maybe we will build an outbuilding one day out of bales.  I'm not really sure why this option got eliminated early on.  Maybe it just seemed too extreme and complicated (although I suspect it is neither).  Sustainable works is an example of a hay bale home building company out of Crescent Valley, BC.  The above home is one of the few examples of a modern hay bale home I have seen.  I think this particular home is beautiful, and sleek, and all of the things I love.

photo from solum builders

Rammed Earth:  Serious, serious cool factor.  The ultimate in cool.  Maybe somewhere, someday... though not in the budget this time.  To learn more about Rammed earth buildings check out solum builders.

AAC excellent thermal
photo from Modern Home Idea

Aerated Autoclave Concrete Block:  This is concrete block with air holes... which means it is inherently insulated... and lightweight (less costly to ship, lighter carbon footprint, quicker to install).  Again, a wonderful idea that is used all over the world, although not here in Canada.  We did a lot of research into this product, but discovered we would have had to get it shipped from the southern US, and that didn't make a lot of sense to us when there are locally available options.  Here is a link for a detailed definition of what it is.  Someone in Canada should seriously start supplying this product.  If it had been available nearby, we would have used it.

photo from icf dwellings

Insulated Concrete Form:  Now this is a product that is available locally... the reason we decided against it was that we wanted to minimize the layers of finishes we would require.  By doing concrete block, it allows us to leave it exposed instead of finishing it with siding.  Otherwise, my understanding is that it is an excellent option.. if you want to learn more, a local supplier is r-50 solutions.

Modern House Design, Eexposed Concrete Block Construction
photo from world house design

And so for us the final winner is...

8" concrete block wall
1" air space
2 x 6" steel stud framing (interior)

We chose this option above all else for practical reasons.  The block is readily available, produced in BC, cost effective, does not require an additional external finish, and is familiar to local trades.  Framing the interior with a 1" air gap allows a complete thermal break from the exterior.  We will be filling the block wall with concrete, so it will be incredibly durable.  On top of all that it's so cool... you may disagree, I know it's not for everyone (I'm sure images of public pools and penitentiaries are coming to some of you) but we love it, and after all... this house is just for us.

As Greg is a mason, he really is the one with the technical knowledge here, so if anyone has any specific questions, leave us a comment and  I will be happy to get them answered.

online magazine

the new Pure Green Living magazine is out!  Check it out here

Saturday, September 11, 2010


So here's a little bit about the footings and foundations and back-filling.  Quite honestly it's not the most exciting part of building (for me).. but I am well aware at how critical it is to the rest of the project, and I certainly respect a tidy and accurate job.

The company who did the excavating and back-filling was Brantal Contracting, and they did an excellent job.  Nice men with big machines...

Our footings and foundation have been done by Randy Scott Framing and I have never seen such straight and level foundation walls... they will be back to do the trusses and framing when the time comes.  

The blue tank in the last photo is a water storage tank which the well will fill automatically.  The area where we are building has a history of water shortage, and although the well is producing more than enough for us right now, we thought it wise to have a system in place just in case it slows down in the future.

Beyond this If you have any specific questions about anything, just drop us a comment and we will answer as best we can!

Is is just me, or is a stack of logs a thing of beauty?
The initial clearing of the house site.  It pains me to have the trees removed, but rest assured that we (and by we I mean Greg.. no chain saw shall be wielded by me) will only be cutting down what is necessary for the house, septic field, driveway, and solar exposure.  All the trees will be used for heating the house in years to come, so they will not have given their lives in vain.
Our wonderful framers building forms for the footings
back-filling of the foundation
synchronized dirt packing.. 
Always enjoyable watching a large digger at work.. or at rest
the water storage tank

And so, we are left with a lovely foundation, cleared driveway, outhouse, and a water tank... what more does a girl need?  Well, maybe a few things.. but that's the fun stuff!    Have a great weekend!

Friday, September 10, 2010

hello gorgeous

what a face... did anyone else enjoy the Armstrong Fair last weekend?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

the final plans

Ahhh... the plans.  They may not look like much at first glance, but there is so much going on below the surface.

We designed this house to function primarily on passive solar and cooling.  There are a number of things that contribute to this (which are explained much more thoroughly at the previous link) but I will walk you through a little of what we decided to do.

The first consideration was the orientation of the house.  I mentioned this before in looking for land with a southern exposure.   Without that you would not be able to gain enough heat in the winter.  The southern facing wall needs the most windows to allow heat gain.  Northern facing walls need minimal windows to prevent heat loss.  West facing windows need to be particularly well insulated to stop the blazing heat of the setting sun in summer.  There will be overhangs on the south facing windows (which are not shown) to shade them in the summer as well.  We will be supplementing the passive heating with radiant in-floor heat and a wood stove.  We will not be installing a/c.

The second factor was the thermal mass.  We decided to build with concrete block (filled with concrete) and a concrete floor.

The third  challenge was insulation.  The interior walls will be built of 2 x 6 steel stud framing with a one inch air gap between it and the concrete block.  Our insulation decisions are not yet complete, but we are looking at our options.

The fourth factor was the ventilation.. how do we keep it from being too hot in the summer?  To tackle this we are venting windows at the peak, and installing ceiling fans.  
The carport entry door and kitchen window will be used to draw cool air from the north side of the house, and hot air will be venting out the top on the south side.  We will be installing polycarbonate panels for light and venting along the upper portion of the south wall.  We are also looking at a make-up air system to prevent back-draft of the wood stove.  There are different ways to do this, and I am still researching it.

With the functionality issues tackled, we then had to sort out the floor plan.  We decided to include a loft area to increase the square footage and reduce wasted space.  We decided that we only need two bedrooms and one bathroom.  We need room for two home offices, a studio space, and a spacious living area.

Once again, there have been changes made to this final plan.  Some of the windows have been removed, and others made larger.  As we document each stage of the build I will go into much more detail about our choices. We can never really tell how a house will function until we are living in it.. but we are hoping this will prove to be an efficient little home for us.  Just enough space, lots of light, modern design, and easy to maintain humble finishes.  Can't wait.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


There were many inspiration homes, but this one stuck with us the most.. it's a photo of a mobile home in the US that I ripped out of a magazine .  (unfortunately I don't remember the source, but if anyone knows it I will be happy to add the link here)
My initial sketches of the exterior for the draftsman
The first stages of the floor plan, again the sketch we took to have drafted

The house has evolved from these initial sketches , but the basic concept is the same.   (I will post the house plan soon)

We started by choosing a local draftsman (Ryan McKenzie - Okanagan Drafting Services) to turn our plans into a reality.  After his initial drawings, we took them to be engineered by Richard at ROV Consulting.  Based on structural challenges we made some more revisions to the design and materials, took the plans back to Ryan for a final re-work, and just like that (three and a half months later!) we have our very own custom home plans!

I will admit that it is a challenge coming up with plans from scratch.. and that is where an Architect would come in handy.  We had considered that route, and although the thought of having a talented professional design our plans was lovely, the cost and timeline where just too out of line with our goals for this home.  Going the DIY route has  forced us to think hard about the functionality of the house and do a lot of research into finishes and systems to come up with the plan that would work for us.  Only time will tell how well we did.