Sunday, February 24, 2013

Electrical Rough ins

Electrical rough in started this last week.  They have a few more days of work yet from this posting, and hopefully they finish up and things get inspected this week.  I have foamers scheduled on Friday to foam the sloping roofs, eaves, and clerestory walls so we needs things finished up. 

Nothing special here to show, just a typical wiring of a house...minus the can lights.  Ok, we have 2 can lights in our master bathroom over the tub and shower since apparently you can not have a surface mount fixture said the code official....No problem there, they will get wrapped in batts and foamed in the attic. 

The bath fans are super efficient Panisonic fans sized correctly for each bathroom.  The feature a light as well as a night light function. 

We are installing a whole home audio system.  For the speakers that go into the ceiling, I built boxes out of scrap osb for them to go inside.  This will allow me to air seal the box above it in the attic and still blow the full r60 on top.  After drywall is installed, its just a matter of cutting the opening for the speaker without having an insulation in the way.  All of the wire is in-wall rated 16 gauge.

Each room gets a box with a Cat5e cable ran to a central hub which will be in the living room.  This will have a key pad on it that controls the audio sources and allow each room to play anything they want from the speakers.  I placed the controls on the wall at switch height in each space.

Each room will get RG6 and Cat5e cables as well for TV and data.  While we will have wireless, hard wire is still faster and more reliable I think.  Cat5e cable is pretty cheap so why not put it in the walls?

In our bedroom, I am installing the tv mounted on the wall.  For the tv media box (directv or mediacom), I built an opening in the wall into our closet.  I will build a shelf that these will sit on.  You can see the outlets and data we are installing for the tv and for the items on the shelf.  I will also have a box that connect the items on the shelf to the tv via HDMI cable for a nice clean look. 

I am doing a similar concept in the living room.  The media closet on the left will be 2 built in cabinets.  The upper cabinet will have glass doors to see the equipment inside.  The dvd player, tv media, receiver and whole home audio will live in this location.  You can see all of the Cat5e data and while speaker wire ran into the closet location.  These are for the whole home audio connections.  Obviously power is placed inside the cabinet.  I ran a 1.5" low voltage flex tube from the media cabinet to the back of the tv over the fire place.  This will allow me to fish the HDMI cable through the wall to connect the tv to the receiver. 

This image shows the controls for the HRV and also the thermostat location in the hall.  The HRV (below) stat give us several options for air control.  The setting include continuous circulation or time intervals on low, medium, and high speeds.  Will be nice to cook come bacon, turn it on and have the smell gone in a fairly short amount of time!

The HRV is a Fantec model sized for 3500 sqft.  A heat recovery ventilator (HRV) works by pulling fresh air from the outside as it also sucks air from the returns in the house.  It crosses the air (does not mix it) which transfers some of the heat from the already conditioned air with the new exterior air, thus recovering some of the energy used to heat the air from the furnace.  In then discharges the 'old' house air outside and supplies fresh air to the supply registers inside. 

You can see the insulated duct connecting the HRV to the main ducts.  The only problem is they did not really install it how I think they should.  The problems are on both the fresh air supply as well as the exhausted air.  They have the fresh air from the HRV supplying to the top of the supply plenum above the furnace.  This is fine, except colder air is getting dumped into the conditioned air lowering the temperature of the air being supplied to the house.  Another issue is, while the HRV had a filter, it still needs to send the fresh air through the filter on the furnace.  They need to have the fresh air supplied into the bottom of the return plenum right in front of the filter.  This will allow the fresh air to run through the furnace filter and get conditioned prior to being sent into the ducting. 

The issue with the return/exhaust side is the exhaust duct (seen on the right side of the return duct branch).  They way it is set up is only pulling exhausted air/return air from one half of the house.  This needs moved to be at the top of the return plenum so it can suck air from all returns in the house. 

Here is the Lennox furnace referenced in a previous post. 

A couple pictures of the duct sealing referenced in the previous post.

And back to electrical...

I decided to place the living room speaker boxes in the walls instead of in the ceiling since they are so tall.  This location is definitely not ideal, however the Polk Audio speakers have aimable tweeters, so that will help direct the sound down better.  The entire OSB wall area gets foamed, so boxes are needed here as well. 

Here are the boxes on the other side of the living room.  Since that is air space over the garage trusses, I cut through the OSB and mounted them on the back side.  Also seen in this picture is the kitchen...without any can lights.  Cans, besides being major leaks of energy, cast a lot of shadowing since they are a very directional light.  A kitchen is a bad place to have shadowing, so to overcome it....they install even more cans.  Shadowing is created because the can is highlighting the space directly below it, and in most cases, that is the top of your head.  Kitchens need to be full of light, but the light at the task at hand.  The lighting concept is quite simple really.  Provide lighting for tasks and then provide indirect lighting to illuminate the space without shadowing. 

Task lighting will be achieved above the counters with under cabinet lights.  They will be a continuous T5 strip fixture under the upper cabinets.  T5 fixtures are bright and use almost as little energy as LED lighting does.  The advantage of T5 fixtures, in my opinion, is they are a constant light.  LED are typically dots of light every inch or so, which can create minor spotting effect.  For task lighting over the island and sink (since there are no cabinets) pendant lights will be used with either CFL or LED bulbs.  3 pendants are over the island and 2 are over the sink. 
For the indirect lighting, I am installing double T5 fixtures above the cabinets.  They will be set at a slight angle directing the light out into the space instead of straight up into the ceiling.  The ceiling paint will be a gloss finish to help reflect and bounce the light around better.  This concept should create a near shadowless space that is bright and provides plenty of light at the counter surface for the tasks at hand.

I furred the kitchen wall out to make it easier for installing electrical since there is quite a bit on the wall in the kitchen.

Speaking of installing electrical... alot of people asked how it is done in ICF walls...well here it is.  Using a hot knife...or actually a charcoal starter (I recommended to the electrician to get one of these $8 items...they claim they work great) they simply slice out the foam for the wire.  They then shove the wire into the channel.  We will go around after the inspection and fill the void with expanding foam.  This will replace the insulation as well as hold the wires from ever coming loose. 

The final image is of the living room.  This will have a large 72" ceiling fan that will pull any hot air down back into the space.  4 additional lights will be hung from the ceiling to provide additional lighting.  They will have either CFL or LED bulbs. 

Sun Enters the House

Well the sun was shinning today and really melting starting to melt the snow.  I decided to bring out my good camera for some images instead of always using my phone.  I took pictures of every single wall in every room as well as the ceiling spaces.  This will document where everything is if I ever need to reference wire runs in the future.  However I noticed something with the full sun shinning today...the sun's depth with in the house.  I did a solar study with my model of the interior to see where the sun would hit the inside.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the sun was hitting far back into the space as the model displayed. 

South elevation getting full sun.  You can see the overhangs are just barely shadowed just above the windows.

Clerestory windows collecting full sun.

I messed with the aperture on the camera to enhance the sun spots on the back wall from the clerestory so they really pop out.  I estimate from the window to the spot that is about 25' the sun is reaching.  I placed my hand on the spot and the foam was warm to the touch, and cool to the touch in the shadowed area.  Pretty cool.

Looking at the front entry and towards the bedrooms collecting sun.

Sun in the bedrooms.

Even the laundry room gets some sun action.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

HVAC and Plumbing started

Now that the roof is on, windows and doors in, I called in the subs to start their work.  While the hvac design was a massive indecisive headache for me, I landed on going with the tried and true system that will work.  Having gone down the road of geothermal, heat pumps (both ducted and mini split units) and traditional gas furnace/ac unit...I ended up selecting the traditional gas furnace.  Several reasons backed this decision.

First off, gas rates in our area are very low.  To make it more appealing, the gas company (Black Hills Energy) has some very attractive incentives for energy efficient design.  In fact, they are the best out of Alliant and MidAmerican Energy.  Their new home construction Energy Star 3.0 package gives a $5000 rebate if gas is used for the furnace and the water heater.  Obviously the home design exceeds ES3.0 guidelines, so now we just have to make sure the HVAC meets the requirements. 

Since the gas rates are low, it makes even a furnace running at 95% efficient on par with heating costs with an air to air heat pump.  Obviously the efficiency of the ASHP (air source heat pump) drops as the exterior temps drop, with a shut off around 15 degrees.  I needed a backup heat source anyway, with the choices being a gas furnace or an electric coil in the blower.  Electric heat, while a 1:1 efficiency, is an expensive way to heat.  Electric rates are so so, so the all gas furnace made more sense in this case.  Cooling costs using the ASHP were lower than the AC unit, however not that much.  With the ASHP, that would be classified as the main heating source, thus I would not get the $5000 rebate.  There are rebates to be had from Alliant Energy (power supplier) but they are not nearly as high.  Mix the lower rebates with a higher cost of equipment (ASHP being higher than a furnace/AC) it just did not make any sense.  The pay off was negative years in this case.

So we move on to geothermal heating and cooling, or ground source heat pump (GSHP).  Many people think this is the thing to be had, and it is certainly is expensive.  But when you start to dig into the technicalities of it, it did not make sense for our specific project. 

First off, it is an expensive system to install.  Being on a lot, we would need to go vertical wells as opposed to the more cost effective horizontal wells.  These cost around $2500 per ton of heating, and the heat load would require 3 tons.  Technically a 2 ton system would handle it, but a 3rd well would be put in to account for ground temp drops in the coldest of winter when the delta is the highest for heat loads.  This is $7500 right there.  The actual air handler and pump (that pushes the water/glycol mix through the buried piping) equipment is not that much more than a typical furnace system.  However include a filter and HRV along with all of the ductwork installation, that part is around $15,000.  Add the cost of the wells and the total installed system is around $23,000.  While are area geothermal installs is pretty cost effective compared to other parts of the country, lots of math still needed to be done to see if that high upfront tag worked itself out.

Geo is efficient.  I was looking at the Waterfurnance Synergy system.  It was pushing a 5.0 COP, which is extremely good, possibly the highest on the market.  However what that number fails to take into account is the other power requirements geo has, such as the pump running as well as the fans and blower.  This drops the overall efficiency, and the real world COP is closer to 3.0.  Still very good.  Still 3x more efficient than electric heat.  Using the electric rates this gives a cost of roughly $30/month per year.  Factor in the 30% federal tax rebate and rebates from the power company, this puts geo approximately the same price as the bids for a high efficient gas furnace and AC but being a 300-500% efficient system.  Seems like a no brainer. 

Getting back to the furnace, the unit I am using is the Lennox SLP98V.  It is a variable capacity 98% efficient gas furnace.  This differs from a dual stage furnace by allowing it to run anywhere from 35%-100% capacity.  With the low heat loads of the house, this allows the furnace to run at low speed and only ramp up to higher speed if needed to handle the load on the coldest nights.  With the heat loss of the home will be very slow, the furnace will rarely run at high capacity. Obviously this furnace is a very efficient gas furnace backed by a very good brand.  With it being a gas system, this qualifies it for the $5000 rebate from Black Hills Energy since it is about 96% efficient to satisfy the requirement.  With the low gas prices and high efficient furnace, the cost averages to around $40/month for this route...only $10 more dollars, or $112 dollars more a year than geothermal.  With the NET upfront cost of it being $6000 installed less than geo, this put geo  at over a 50 year payback, excluding energy rate changes obviously.  Another down side with the geo rebates is the federal tax rebate.  The equipment still needs to be paid for upfront and then wait for the tax rebate.

Here is a link to the Lennox furnace.

With all of that being said, here are some progress pics (very few currently, more to follow later) of the system getting installed.  In order to meet Energy Star 3.0 requirements, the ductwork needs to be sealed to prevent air leaks and to provide the require CFM of air to each space.  The ducts get tested with a duct blaster, which basically blows air into the ductwork and they test how much air leaks out before it gets to the space it is supposed to be feeding.  All joints in all pieces of ductwork gets sealed with mastic paste.  The return ductwork (seen below) is thermal pan (cardboard covered in foil basically) and gets sealed too. 

In order for the thermal pan to be sealed, I had them install blocking above the ducting.  Typical thermal pan install would just have a piece stapled across the stud bay.  Obviously this would allow a lot of air leak into the stud bay.  Once the drywall is on it could also bunch it up.  By installing the blocking and a metal flange, this allowed them to caulk the thermal pan to the block and stud (as you can see) and provide a strong backing for the seal to be made to the drywall. 

Plumbing has also started. Not as much to report here, its typical pex and pvc piping.  We went with a full fiberglass tube/shower unit in the main bath to allow good cleaning without caulk joints or grout lines.  I will tile above it to add some interest to it. 

laundry room rough in.

The EPS foam gets cared out and the pipes recessed into the foam. The plumbers are doing a great job with cutting the foam. 

Jacuzzi tub installed in our bathroom.  One of the few slurges in the home. 

Roof completed

Finally got around to completing framing the roof.  Right when we thought we could get it done, we had a spell of bad weather.  An ice storm followed by several inches of snow.  It has not snowed in about a month, so naturally the second we are ready to start shingling it does. 
Anyway, the garage and back half of the roof was shingled.  However it could not be finished since I needed to finish building the front porch. 

Finally got a so so day to finish framing the roof up.  It was not the easiest to do alone, but it was not too bad.  Here are a few images of the completed front porch roof.

Cedar tongue and groove planks go on the under side of the porch and the cedar 4x12 beams stay exposed and sealed.  This weekend I need to build the large column boxes all the way up and around the treated posts.  They will be built out and get covered in 1x10 cedar boards to stay natural on the upper part and stone on the lower part. 

After these photos were taken the roof was finished and shingled.  We are now water tight from above.  Good step to finally get completed. 

Granite slabs reserved

Well we ventured out to look at some stone yards to see what we could find for our granite.  We were in search of some white granites, which are not the easiest thing to find.  We headed to Epic Stone in Davenport, IA as it was recommended by a fabricator.  We ended up having some good luck, as we found a couple slabs to reserve. 
We found a few whites we thought were ok, and River White was our favorite.  This is a slab that was close, but still not quite there.  We want something with a lot of streaks in it.  I was not ready to reserve it, but it was the closest they had we saw. 

Then I was peaking at the stack of River White granites sitting there, and I noticed the batch behind the first few slabs.  They were stick out just a couple inches past the front ones, but it was just enough to see a lot of streaks and veining on the edge of the slab.  This appeared promising.  We called the warehouse worker over and they moved the top two slabs so we could see the batch behind it.  We were certainly glad we did, as these slabs were MUCH better looking and what we were after. 
There is a lot of veining, and in general the overall tone is white.  The veins are a combination of blacks, greys and dark browns.  The speckles (Blood spots as Shan calls them) are a combination of medium to darker brown with hues of plum color.  Really nice looking slab. 
This image makes it look yellow, but its white.  The overall picture shows the slab pretty well.

This closeup looks more realistic to the colors.

We reserved 2 slabs.  They should go nicely with the dark cabinets in the kitchen.