Plenty of work has taken place since the last progress pics post in October, though much of it has been with the mechanicals and infrastructure of the house. I’ve been doing plenty of reading to learn about the various options at this stage. It’s a fine balance between picking the best option available, finding the best installer, getting the best price and looking for the smartest long-term benefits.
The electric rough-in has been completed, along with a new panel and service. There have been several meetings with the HVAC installer and 75% of the ducts have been installed along with one of the units. The plumbing and natural gas rough-in has been completed. Everything behind the walls will be completed over the next few weeks, followed by all the necessary inspections, a spray foam insulation installation, and lastly drywall! Then the real fun begins.
A brand new electric panel merged the 2 old ones together in the basement. Peace. Of. Mind. The alarm panel, LAN connections and phone lines will all converge on this wall in the basement as well.
5” Clear Specular Reflector trim (l, c); 5” Fresnel Waterproof Shower trim (r)
The recessed can dilemma. This really wasn’t a dilemma that I had – it was more everyone else’s since just about everyone had opinions of what high-hats to use: “use 3 inch, you don’t need that much light; 4 inch are the best because the holes are small; 5 inch are too big; stay away from 6 inch” was all I heard for a while. While I did sweat it for a few days, I knew that I really wanted recessed cans throughout the house for general lighting and they would be in addition to table lamps, floor lamps, under-counter lighting, chandeliers, etc. I learned a good rule of thumb: 5” cans need 5’ between themselves and 4” cans need 4’ between themselves. I wanted to avoid the “runway” feeling of too many holes in the ceiling, yet wanted good light. The more I read about recessed can sizes, the more I knew that I wanted to go with 5” cans.
So, I chose 5” line voltage recessed airtight fixtures. Why airtight? So the conditioned air didn’t leak into the joist space and go wasted. Why line voltage? I’m a huge fan of GE Reveal light bulbs (or lamps as they’re called in the industry). I like the flood’s light angle. I can move to LED PAR30 or R30 light bulbs with these fixtures once the price, color and brightness are perfect. There’s a highly-rated HALCO warm white LED and natural white LED that I have my eyes on over at EnvironmentalLights.com – the brightness is almost on par (no pun intended!) with an incandescent bulb. I may get them in one room of the house to give them a test run, but at over $100 for each bulb this can wait.
As for the trim, I’m going with the 5” Clear Specular Reflector trim throughout, as you can see in the first 2 pictures above. The last picture is the enclosed 5” Fresnel Waterproof Shower trim for the shower and tub areas. There’s also a 5” Gimbal Ring trim that allows you to angle the light and that’s perfect for the stairs and over the fireplace mantel in the media room.
Next mission, light switches and dimmers. I’m a fan of Lutron’s Maestro Digital Fade dimmers and Lutron’s Diva switches—there’s even a Lutron Maestro Timer switch for bathroom exhaust fans that turns it off after a predetermined time. Perfect. Another reason that I love Lutron… the wallplates—not a screw in sight. If only Control4’s home automation system was compatible with Maestro’s digital fade switches. (Google it)
Oh, the alarm system’s rough-in installation is complete too. All access points are armed with a few motion and glass breaks for good measure. Centrally monitored via cellular signal. Bye, bye dedicated landline.
The red and blue items in the pictures above are plumbing supply lines called cross-linked polyethylene, commonly abbreviated PEX.
Here’s Wikipedia’s explanation of PEX:
Cross-linked polyethylene is a form of polyethylene with cross-links. It is formed into tubing, and is used predominantly in radiant heating systems, domestic water piping and insulation for high tension (high voltage) electrical cables. Recently, it has become a viable alternative to polyvinyl chloride (PVC), chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) or copper pipe for use as residential water pipes. PEX tubing ranges in size from imperial sizes of 1/4-inch to 4-inch, but 1/2-inch, 3/4-inch, and 1-inch are by far the most widely used.
PEX is a very flexible product. It can be bent behind studs in a wall and is installed in a straight-shot from the water supply in the basement to each fixture without cutting or splicing. Less joints equal less potential points of failure and a quicker path for the water to travel without friction.
Each PEX line connects to a manifold in the basement which then connects to the main hot and cold supply. The best purpose of the manifold is to balance water usage throughout the house – you won’t get burned in a shower if someone flushes a toilet since each water outlet has its own PEX supply line. In addition, the smaller lines can save energy because you only run a fraction of the water through the line while waiting for hot water at a fixture. Another benefit of the manifold is that each hot and cold supply line can be turned off independently. This is very helpful when you need to change or repair a fixture.
Heating and Cooling
An ideal (l) and less than ideal (r) duct location.
My general contractor connected me with a terrific heating and cooling contractor. A little over a month ago, we first met to walk through the house and explain how the house will be lived in. There will be 2 separate heating/cooling systems to service the house. The basement unit will take care of the first and second floors—100 MBH and 95% efficient gas furnace for heating and 4-tons of air conditioning. A rooftop combination unit will take care of the third floor—40 MBH of heating and 1.5 tons of air conditioning. (One MBH is equivalent to 1,000 BTU’s per hour.)
We met again after the HVAC rough layout was completed on paper and made some changes to the duct, supply and return register placement mostly for aesthetic reasons. A third walkthrough for some final adjustments in the field and the first floor and second floor ducts are now complete. There are a couple of less than ideal duct locations, but it’s the price you pay to have a comfortable home throughout. Once the weather clears up and the snow on the roof has melted, he’ll be able to install the rooftop unit and third floor ductwork.
I want the house to feel comfortable year-round and insulation is one of the best ways to accomplish that. Properly insulating the house is so much easier now that all of the exterior walls are exposed down to the studs. My contractor mentioned closed-cell spray foam insulation after he had it done on another job as an alternative to fiberglass. I’ve been reading all about it since that time and the benefits appeal to me despite the additional initial cost—you can expect to recoup the additional initial cost through lower monthly heating and cooling bills over time. Closed-cell spray foam insulation is professionally installed and the R-Value is measured by the number of inches sprayed directly onto exterior walls between studs and roof rafters. Fiberglass has an R-value of 3.2 per inch while closed-cell spray foam has an R-value of 7.0 per inch. This vendor uses a spray foam insulation called HEATLOK SOY. Here’s a little write up from their technical data sheet.
HEATLOK SOY® is two component spray applied rigid polyurethane foam, green in color, having a nominal density 2lbs/ft³. This spray foam has been specially formulated to meet the intent of the International Code Council (ICC) building codes and is used primarily as a vapor barrier, air barrier and thermal insulation on above and below grade interior and exterior applications. Complies with FEMA requirements as a Class 4 insulation.
HEATLOK SOY® is environmentally‐friendly foam developed from recycled plastic materials and renewable soy oils, while the blowing agent is the HFC 245fa. Certified Insulation Material approved by California Department of Consumer Affairs. GREENGUARD and GREENGUARD Children and Schools certified.
In simpler words, this is an environmentally-friendly spray foam that provides a continuous barrier along the exterior of the house which prevents air from escaping, seals moisture out and provides additional structural stability. They claim up to a 60% reduction in heating and cooling bills but I’ll be happy with less than that. Another way to ensure that the house feels comfortable year-round is good windows. But that’s enough info for a whole other post.