the rare sunny portland winter day has allowed us to regale in the golden rays.
glorious sun reaches all the way to the back of the kitchen.
the south facing windows / heaters are working.
the studio flooded in mid-day sun.
the breezeway will be a study in light and dark.
in addition to direct gain, we will have a small PV system on the roof. more on that later.
stringers are tube steel bolted to concrete landing and wood wall
tread risers are 1/8" thick bent plate steel
everything is fit up and welded in place
guardrail is 1" sq tube steel verticals
steel will be left natural with all the signs of fabrication exposed
a clear coat will be applied at completion
still more to go but we think it's coming along nicely.
thanks to alameda metal works for their fine work.
next up on skidmore passivhaus is installing the outsulation on the walls along with the rainscreen furring.
the plywood sheathing was first covered by a weather resistive barrier with metal head flashings at the windows and doors.
most walls get a layer of 3" poly-iso, while the south wall will get 4" to match the recessed pocket for the exterior shades.
2 screws (with plastic washer) per 4x8 sheet hold it in place until the furring strips are installed.
all seams and fasteners are taped. the face of the insulation is treated as a second weather resistive barrier.
additional flashings at all doors and windows will be taped to the insulation as the wood trim is installed.
1/2" x 2" pt plywood furring strips run vertically to create the drainage plane. they are held in place by just a few fasteners until the next layer is installed.
since we are using vertical siding, a second layer of furring runs horizontally. we used pt 1x4 as a solid nailing base for the siding.
long fasteners secure the second layer of furring strips running horizontally through the foam to the studs. the straightforward framing layout makes the studs much easier to locate.
keep in mind that long fasteners get expensive. we settled on grabber #10 x 6" square drive coated screws (from nw staple).
next up on the exterior is trimming windows and installing siding.
stop by again soon.
while there's a lot of talk these days about building without foam, we decided early on to use continuous rigid board foam outsulation for this project. to begin the foundation gets 4" of expanded polystyrene.
these 8' long pieces are held in place at the bottom by backfill and at the top by concrete spikes. spray foam was first applied to the back of the pieces to fill gaps and help secure them.
the concrete spikes are recessed into the foam to minimize thermal bridging. only 3 spikes were used per 8' long piece.
step 1: use hole saw bit and pry out hunk of foam.
step 2: use hammer drill to drill hole in foundation.
step 3: prepare 6" concrete spike and plastic washer. (concrete spike from dealers supply / plastic washer from service partners supply)
step 4: hammer spike and washer to secure foam.
step 5: spray foam any gaps
step 6: reinstall foam plug using spray foam as adhesive
when the weather warms we will be applying a cementitious coating direct to the foam to provide the finished surface. after final grading, only 6" or so will be exposed to view.
when we began this process, we only had a few rules. one of them was real wood high performance windows. at the conception of this project, we were thinking about making a pretty good house. Super insulated, airtight, with triple glazed windows and a heat recovery ventilator, but not necessarily passivhaus. since we ruled out plastic or fiberglass, US built windows were at the top of the list. once we decided to build to passivhaus, it quickly became clear that we had to look overseas.
our initial pricing was from optiwin, internorn, and pazen. optiwin was very appealing aesthetically but super expensive. internorn provided fantastic pricing, but there was no rep in the US meaning distant communications and pretty much zero support. pazen offers a slightly different product with a fiberglass exterior cladding and more minimal frame profiles, but they only offered a stainless steel clad door. because we had lots of doors, the price jump was huge and they were way out of our budget.
about the same time, our local loewen rep started offering unilux. we visited another local passivhaus project to see them installed, and we were impressed. the pricing was strong, and we felt most comfortable having a rep locally, although they only had a limited understanding of passivhaus. we thought we'd made up our mind, until we stumbled onto zola windows. nearly identical to the german and austrian made passivhaus windows, zola windows are manufactured in poland and offered at a much more competitive price point. we worked through all the options, input the data into PHPP, and scrutinized the sample window section that we got our hands on. it seemed like a good balance between quality, aesthetics, and price point. decision made.
one of the biggest challenges of using european windows is the long lead time (for our order the lead time was estimated at 12-16 weeks). we worked hard to have our window order ready to go by the time we were breaking ground. once we placed the order, the race was on to make sure the house was ready when the windows finally arrived. 18 WEEKS LATER they finally arrived. when we finally opened the container door to check them out, 2 of the biggest units had broken free from their braces and had fallen over at somepoint during shipping. while nothing was catastrophic, there were issues both functional and aesthetic.
fast forward 6 weeks. zola has been super responsive and we're confident that in the end everything will be as good as new. the windows and doors are installed and are beautiful. the house is dry, the first blower door test went well (.44ach at 50pa), and we are steadily moving toward insulation and sheetrock.
here's a quick look at some of the process. first, prepping the rough openings:
step 1 - use pink prosoco joint and seam filler at corners and joints of rough opening.
step 2 - use red prosoco fast flash to coat rough opening and extend approx. 6" out onto sheathing.
to apply these prosoco products, simply lay down a bead from a caulking gun and spread with a cheap plastic spreader. the result is a waterproof, airtight, and vapor permeable flashing without the usual complications of peel and stick flashings. of course no through wall metal flashings on a passivhaus.
next, windows arrive and are unloaded.
not what you want to see when you open the door of the container. i think they forgot to do the ACTUAL bracing at the factory.
some of these units are HEAVY! thank to Doug Marshak and his Awesome Framing Crew for doing the very heavy lifting.
small tilt/turn unit for the kitchen.
Doug and Jesus installing the small window in the 2 story living room.
the big units waiting to be installed.
after a few nervous hours, the biggest unit finally goes in. thanks to Graeme Thomson for the smart hoisting method.
the large fixed unit installed above the lift/slide door.
front door with translucent glass and large window to the street.
breezeway with tilt/turn terrace door and fixed sidelite.
studio with tilt/turn door and fixed sidelite.
check back soon for more as we try to catch up with construction: HRV rough-in, steel stair installation, flashing the windows, installing the exterior insulation, and rainscreen furring.
air tight per passivhaus = .60 ach at 50pa. if you don't know the terms or numbers, just know that this is extremely air tight. achieving this requires care and attention to detail, both in the design approach and in the execution.
our air barrier strategy is simple - use the exterior plywood roof and wall sheathing as the continuous air barrier. all seams, corners, and joints in the plywood are taped with SIGA wigluv tape.
the sill plate is taped to the concrete foundation (our 2x8 sill is cantilevered beyond the foundation). the concrete is first primed with SIGA dockskin primer to ensure adhesion. carefully apply tape. the result is an air tight joint. simple.
the plywood air barrier runs up the wall and over the roof. the joint is taped and then the parapet is framed on top. after seeing some tears in the tape we got nervous and taped the parapet too.
all roof and wall penetrations are sealed. we used SIGA wigluv for these too.
the tapes are super sticky, very flexible and easy to use. the paper backing is recyclable, which is good because there is a lot.
it's not inexpensive though, and we used far more than we originally thought. air sealing takes time too. it's worth it though.
SIGA tapes are available through small planet workshop.
another great exterior air sealing product is prosoco joint and seam filler (used at rough openings in combination with prosoco fast flash). more on that in the next post.
there are a few things that make the framing on this house just a little different from the typical house:
- untreated bottom plates on 30lb building paper
- 2x8 wall studs at 24" o.c. (roof trusses align)
- balloon framed 2 story walls
- upper floor hung from ledgers
- single top plates that interlock at the splices
- open corners with minimal blocking
- open web trusses with sloped top and level bottom
- header free openings (except for the living room doors)
- long walls on plywood module
All of this results in more space for insulation!
Plus there's less wood used and less material cost.
Some of the many next steps include:
- taping the plywood with SIGA to create the air barrier
- installing the single ply membrane roof
- prepping the rough openings with Prosoco Fast Flash
- roughing in plumbing, HRV, and electrical
Check back soon for updates.
Here are some quick notes on our Exposed Slab on Grade (placed on top of continuous 15mil vapor retarder and 4" of eps insulation): Placing concrete on a continuous vapor retarder definitely ups the degree of difficulty when it comes to finishing and curing the slab. Water in the slab can only move out the top, meaning the slab can dry unevenly, crack, and even curl. To compensate we are trying a wet "flood" cure.
We decided to use fiber mesh reinforcing and eliminate the steel reinforcing altogether from slab. Apparently the fiber can make finishing trickier, but it typically results in strong slab with less cracking and for a bit less cost.
The type and location of joints is always a question - we even considered for awhile not using them and letting the slab crack more randomly (it will crack). In the end we decided to use a tooled joint (in this case made with a custom tool from another project) and to place them strategically under walls so they are barely visible. Tooled joints can be made almost immediately before cracking can happen whereas sawcuts have to wait until slab is firm enough to handle the saw, and potentially after random cracks have already occurred. Saw cuts also have a risk of spalling, but when they are executed properly they certainly look best.
After knocking around options for curing the slab, we decided to go old school and use a wet flood method. The idea is to cure the slab slowly and evenly by keeping it wet and cool, allowing it to gain as much strength as possible before subjecting it to the stresses that occur when it dries out. The slab edge formwork was already above the top of the slab, so it was relatively easy to keep the slab underwater. It uses a fair amount of water as there are minor breaches in the perimeter formwork dam, but it eliminates the use of expensive chemical curing compounds.
So far we have kept the slab wet for 5 days (flooded most of the time) and we're still babysitting it. It's time to get set up for the last small concrete pour (a plinth for the stair which doubles as a landing), so the wet curing will come to an end. Only time will tell what the result will be, and we'll never know if our methods were better or worse.
After many many months (years really) of scheming and planning, we finally broke ground on our new house. A lot has happened since our last look at the project in passivhaus progression. It took us a bit of time to get our house ready for sale, but we eventually sold it, found a great house to rent complete with chickens, moved, and are getting settled in our temporary digs. First up was getting our delinquent and non-responsive tenant out of the house. We got our first (and hopefully last) taste of the eviction process. A few checks and a couple of weeks later we took possession and had a close up look at the sorry state of the house. Next we removed some of the existing trees. A few were unhealthy, a few were in or too close to the footprint, and a couple were creating massive shade. While we struggled with this decision and upset at least one neighbor, in the end we decided it was best in the long run to remove the largest Oak in the backyard. It was sad to see it come down but the lot has been transformed back into a sunny paradise and we hope over the next decade to develop a well designed and much more beautiful landscape.
While the first bank we approached about construction financing had favorable rates and seemed easy to work with, the process quickly turned sour as they began to question first the green roof, then the single ply membrane, separate structures, and finally the lack of a garage. In the end it became apparent that they didn't get it and it was time to try another route. At the same time, we decided that the separate structures created some domestic challenges in addition to lowering the value of the property in the eyes of the bank, so we quickly redesigned the house to incorporate the space between the buildings as interior living space. Although it adds more square footage and cost, it does make for a better surface to floor area ratio and had a favorable impact on our PHPP calculations. We then approached a local bank with our revised design complete with green roof, no garage, and modern aesthetic, and it was basically smooth sailing right up to the loan closing. Aside from their annoying tagline, so far I have nothing but good things to say about my experience with my local bank.
The permit process went a little more smoothly. After responding to a simple structural checksheet, answering some questions from the plans examiner about the Passive House specific details, filing a required Operations and Maintenance agreement for the ecoroof with the County, and smoothing out some internal confusion at the city about an existing cesspool tank and drywell, we got our new building permit as well as demolition permits for the existing house and garage. Next up was testing for Asbestos; the demolition contractor was required to have paperwork certifying that the debris was free from Asbestos. Somewhat to my surprise, Asbestos was found in a number of unusual places including window glazing, caulking at the roof penetrations, and drywall compound. Another check and about a week later the Asbestos was abated and demolition could finally begin.
Here's a quick progression of what's happened over the last 2 months:
Trees are cut and asbestos abatement in progress.
House and garage are gone!
Old tanks are decommissioned and building area is stripped.
Building pad is prepped with compacted gravel.
Footings are formed, EPS placed and moisture barrier taped.
Concrete is placed in footings.
Gravel backfill is placed and compacted underslab.
Underslab EPS insulation is getting set on sand bed.
Now that we've started, there's much to talk about. Some possible ideas:
- A better way to build an insulated slab on grade?
- PHPP calculations and optimization of systems
- PH certification: PHIUS+ vs PHA
- Passive House Windows
There are many people to thank for their help (directly and indirectly) in getting us to this point. Here are just a few:
- Aaron and Mike at Brute Force Collective
- Dan Whitmore at Blackbird Builders
- Florian at Zola European Windows
- Don Tankersley Construction
- John Russell (Concrete) Construction
- Matt at Zehnder
- Skylar at Hammer and Hand
- Ryan at Earth Advantage
All for now. Check back soon.
while this looks like it will be a great looking modernist house and there is much to applaud, the massive amount of foam does suggest that it has been shoehorned to meet minergie-p-eco and passivhaus.
exposed rigid insulation shows the thermal break at a door threshold. a gypcrete topping slab with radiant heat is planned for the main floor.
note the blue underslab air-barrier (15mil raven) wrapping up and over the stemwall and the epdm gaskets under the plates (visible at the steel base plate yet to be grouted).
the house uses prosoco's r-guard air and weather-resistive barrier system. the pink joint and seam filler is used to seal the plywood sheathing and plate to the trimmed air-barrier under the plate (the blue raven here is just temporary protection of the insulation). the entire sheathing surface will be coated with cat 5, a roller applied air and weather resistive barrier.
the window mockup uses the prosoco fast flash system around the rough opening that will be tied into the cat 5. the beautiful optiwin alu3holz is installed with tremco trio expanding foam around the window perimeter, and will be overinsulated on the exterior for a minimally exposed frame and exceptional install PSI. an aluminum sloped sill will screw attach to the bottom of the frame. the team is planning to construct a complete mockup in prosoco's test chamber to ensure the assembly performs as planned.
the windows will use glazing with a whopping .66 shgc on the south elevations with .50 shgc for the other orientations.
last week i successfully passed part 1 of the Certified Passive House Consultant exam, and in the next few weeks i'll be wrapping up the take home design portion. with a little luck in the new year i will be a Certified Passive House Consultant!
designed by bere:architects, the camden passivhaus is the first certified passivhaus in london. it's a fantastic example of high quality architectural design merged with ultra-energy efficiency.
treated floor area = 1098 ft²
annual heat requirement (calculated per PHPP) = 4.12 kBTU/ft²a
the wood structure including the larch exterior cladding was prefabricated in Austria.
main wall assembly 5/8" gypboard 4" wood fiber insulation 1/2" osb air barrier 11" rockwool cavity insulation 1/2" fiberboard sheathing larch rainscreen R-value = 49
floor assembly 1 1/4" wood flooring 4" wood fiber insulation 5 1/2" rockwool insulation 5 1/2" insulation 3/4" airspace 2 1/2" screed 12" concrete slab r-value = 51
main roof assembly 5 1/2" solid wood deck 11" rigid insulation 4 3/4" rockwool insulation 1" drainage layer 3 1/2" soil and plantings r-value = 75
windows bayer passivhaus windows wood polyurethane composite u-value = 0.134 btu/(hr ft² f)
bayer premium triple glazing v-value = 0.106 btu/(hr ft² f) shgc = .48
another great looking and high performing project from bere is "the muse".
as we inch closer to getting started on our project, we continue to scrutinize our current plans in an effort to create a house that is fine tuned for our needs. as an architect, i want a house that is inspiring and beautiful, and embodies what is important to us. as the owner with a very limited budget, we want to make sure that our cost expectations are realistic. since i'll be playing general contractor, i want an easy to construct and problem free building. we've taken another pass at redesigning the house with an eye toward efficiency and simplicity - both in terms of square footage and energy. we felt there were a few redundancies, tricky details, and program pieces that we are better off without. here's a quick snapshot of the progression of the plans.
as always, there are a few ideas though that we refuse to give up.
requirement #1: warm, comfortable, and extremely energy efficient
we want to live simply and in a beautiful inspiring place that is warm and comfortable regardless of the time of year. we also want to minimize our footprint and our energy costs. although we will most likely pursue passivhaus certification, the path we take isn't really as important as the end result. for us, passivhaus is just a means to a better end. our generous friends at brute force collaborative have been providing the expertise to help us get there.
meeting passivhaus requirements means the house will use no more than 4.75 kBTU / ft2 annually for space heating. for the main house, this translates to about 5.27 mBTU or 1544 kWh annually for space heating (we are planning to use electricity to heat the house). at our current rate of around $.09 / kWh, our annual heating bill would be no more than $139.
although we know that the studios will see far less use than the main house, using the same formula yields an annual heating bill for the studios of no more than $51.
requirement #2: wood windows and doors
since we want wood windows and doors, and they need to be extremely high performing to achieve requirement #1, we have been looking at manufacturers based in germany and austria. this is our largest single expense and perhaps an easy target for criticism, as these beauties will need to be shipped overseas. we would love to use a locally produced product, but unfortunately no wood windows made in the US come even close in terms of performance. it's a bit of a quandary, but brute force collaborative has performed an interesting analysis (based on our previous design) that has us feeling more comfortable with our decision: Can European windows actually save carbon?
requirement #3: separate work from home
an important part of our program is space to do work and make things. we know we could make a more cost effective and thermally efficient house if we combined our work space with our home, but we like the idea of some separation. we think we can make this simple idea a huge asset.
requirement #4: create positive outdoor space
our intention has always been to use the form of the house to shape outdoor space. again, this may contradict requirement #1 but we don't just want a box sitting in the landscape. we want two boxes sitting in the landscape creating positive space between!
requirement #5: keep it modest and make it beautiful
many people may not agree, but we think these two wood clad boxes with concrete floors, white sheetrock walls, natural wood doors and windows, and flooded with light will be quite beautiful.
Beech Urban Gardens is a new mixed-use building designed to meet passivhaus standards and substantially raise the bar on energy efficiency. Located at the heart of the burgeoning N Williams corridor, BUG sits on an empty south facing 50' x 120' corner lot. Seven residential units occupy the top two floors, while six creative offices are situated above three ground floor retail spaces.
BUG features a fully glazed south facade utilizing a high-performance window system to maximize direct solar gain, minimize heat loss, and provide exceptional views and daylight. A system of sliding wood shutters is incorporated into the facade to provide complete external shading in the summer and eliminate overheating, while still allowing views and daylight.
The roof features a community garden with raised beds and a potting shed, a huge terrace with views to the neighborhood and the city, and photovoltaic panels making the roof's south guardrail and providing the building's minimal electrical needs. A greywater recycling storage tank provides gravity fed water for the rooftop gardens and the building below.
interior of typical residential unit
southwest view with wooden shutters in closed position
we're planning a passivehaus. for a quick intro see the previous post. our desire is to create a modern sustainable house that suits our modest needs and lifestyle. our site is a 50' x 140' flat lot with the street to the north, and great south exposure to the back. we want a 2 bedroom house for us, our animals, and the occasional guest. in addition, we need a small architecture office with direct client access, a small art studio with internal access, and a workshop with storage. living and working all in one.
the plan takes a simple rectangle composed of the three primary program pieces, pulls it apart into two volumes, and shifts the smaller volume to form south facing outdoor space on grade and a roof terrace accessed from the second floor. the gap between serves to break down the mass from the street by allowing views through to the back, while providing separate access to the office. although the simple shifts in plan create more surface area and a less efficient envelope, we feel the spatial effect is important and justifies the added effort and cost.
service functions such as bathrooms, laundry, storage, and kitchen are placed to the north (shown in gray). a two-story living room and architecture office are placed to the south on the ground floor; each with direct access to the south yard. the art studio is placed to the south on the upper floor with direct access to a roof terrace.
openings are primarily located to the south to maximize solar gain, while openings on the north are sized to satisfy the code minimum for street side glazing. east and west openings are limited to minimize heat loss, while providing a balance of light and natural ventilation. exterior roll down shades will be outfitted on the south facing openings to prevent overheating during the hottest days. exterior materials include aluminum clad wood windows, charred juniper siding, and cement stucco.
view from the south (back)
interior looking south through living room
with our preliminary design in hand, our generous friends at brute force collaborative crunched the numbers using the passive house planning package, and have verified that we can achieve the passivhaus standard. check back soon for a first look at the assemblies and details that will make it all possible.
we're planning a passivhaus. in this country called a passive house. super energy efficient. it's a german system. it's pretty rigorous. there are a few built, a few more under construction. even more being planned. the concept is to create a house that is comfortable year round without a traditional heating system. it pretty much heats itself. heat from the sun, people, appliances, animals, etc. probably a small electric heater or two to supplement.
how do you do it? create a super insulated building envelope. make it super tight. maximize the solar gain. use incredibly efficient windows. minimize the losses. use mechanical ventilation and recover the heat. that's pretty much it. seems simple in concept.
we already have a site. it pretty close in. we like the neighborhood. it has great south exposure. opportunity for a garden.
the existing house is very small (not a bad thing), but in not such good shape. it's barely insulated. the windows are rotting. some glass is cracked. the rooms are oriented all wrong. we think it's time for a change. passive house is our future.
here's what it looks like now:
come back soon and i'll show you more. details. drawings. models. maybe some calcs.
it'll be a struggle, but we're up for the challenge.