February 29, 2012

choosing insulation

We're going to have to start choosing a lot of building materials for the Bennett House shortly.  There's heating systems, insulation, exterior wall facing, roofing, windows, and flooring to start us off.  It's a lot to research in terms of comparing products and prices.  Insulation has been a thorn in my side since we applied for our permits.  I originally didn't put that much thought into it and just took the advice of Gigi, our contractor and others and specified BASF closed cell spray foam insulation for our permit application.  

It has the highest R value of all the insulation products out there and is really being marketed as a bit of a wonder product.  Higher R value means a better insulated home, means better energy efficiency.  The one thing that kept niggling away at me however, is that it is still a petrochemical product that has the potential to off-gas-- plus it is practically fused to your home once it is installed so would be hell to remove if a problem did arise.  Once I looked into it further I decided that I really don't know if I want to use this product in our home.
Spray foam is formed as a result of a chemical reaction between two fairly toxic substances.  An A-side (isocyanate) and a B-side (polyol plus other additives) along with a blowing agent.  When it is installed correctly there is supposed to be an immediate chemical reaction between the 2 sides that forms an inert, solid insulating mass.  The majority of problems that people have (and there are horror stories all over the internet) seem to occur when the installation is done improperly.  Either the spray is done too thick, or there is not an equal amount of A side to B side.  But it worries me enough.  Especially when it is approximately 3 times the cost of traditional insulation!  
So I've been researching "greener" options and came across this:

Ultra Touch Denim Insulation by Bonded Logic.  It has zero VOC's, is mould and fire resistent and it is made from re-cycled blue jeans!  Well actually it is mostly made from the offcuts from denim manufacturers that were otherwise going to landfill, but still very interesting.  You can't get this stuff in The Home Depot, but I managed to find a distributor in the Toronto area -- Eco-Building Resource.  They quoted me $1.50 per sq. ft. for R21 (based on our total square footage).  Definitely more expensive than fiberglass or mineral wool, but not nearly as expensive as spray foam.  The only downside to this insulation (other than cost) is that it seems to absorb water like the Dickens!  I did a little test on my sample and it soaked in the water, matted down the fibers and stayed wet for over a day.  This kind of concerns me.  I'm not expecting any leaks in our walls, but from what I understand, moisture is always something to consider in a home.  Hopefully a good vapour barrier will deal with any potential problems. 
Mineral wool insulation is the other option I am thinking about.  It is made from spun basalt rock fibers, is relatively cheap, impervious to water (although I didn't test it myself), and fire resistant.  The big downside to mineral wool (Roxul is one manufacturer located in Milton) is that they use formaldehyde as a binder.  Some of my research shows that there is actually quite a lot of formaldehyde in this insulation.  Bummer!  There doesn't seem to be any perfect insulation out there!  One suggestion was to let the Roxul "breathe" for approximately 2 weeks before installation to let it off-gas.  This should, along with a good vapour barrier, keep the formaldehyde out of the indoor air.  Not sure if I'm all together comfortable with this either.  And with this logic, we could go back to the spray foam and use a good tight vapour barrier as well.  Who would have thought there would be so much to think about!  

February 25, 2012

Sickly me

I've been sick in bed most of this week and so am behind with my posting.  But work hasn't stopped at The Bennett House.  Our crew is working overtime to try and have the house ready for an opening in the framer's schedule in 2 weeks.  If we don't make it for then we'll have to wait another 2 months for him (or find another framer).  I couldn't see how we'd manage it and made a specific list of what needs to be done before we could call in the framer.

  1. Support 2nd floor and remove original brick back of house on 1st floor 
  2. Support original kitchen ceiling and remove brick wall between kitchen and sunroom
  3. Demo sunroom
  4. Support existing main beam in basement
  5. Support kitchen floor from basement
  6. Remove double brick wall separating outside storage room from basement
  7. Remove existing block wall enclosing outside storage room 
  8. Dig out outside storage room to level the floor to the rest of the basement
  9. Pour concrete footing for 4"HSS post to hold existing basement beam
  10. Pour concrete footing for 3"HSS post to support kitchen beam (note 1 on DWG No. 102)
  11. Pour concrete footing for 2 X new square 3 1/2" posts to hold up 1st floor addition
  12. Pour concrete footing for new south-west corner foundation
  13. Build new foundation walls for south-west corner of basement
  14. Underpin north-west corner of house under kitchen
  15. Install beams in basement (2) and lintel for back French doors
  16. Install steel beam on first floor
  17. Install flush beams on first floor sitting on steel beam (2)

Seems like a lot of work to do in 2 weeks, no?  I would say impossible, but our crew said, they're going to give it a try--- and so they have.  It is unbelievable how much they have accomplished in the week that I've been sick!  Truly amazing!  I think they might actually do it.  At least enough of it to get the framer started as they finish up.  Looking good!  And even better news is that we had our first inspection yesterday and everything went super well.  Always a good feeling with a project this large to hear that the inspector is happy with the quality of work being done.  

This is the current state of the first floor.  Those are temporary supports.  It will all be open plan in the end when all the beams go up.  But the big brick walls are down that ran through the interior of the house.

This is the second floor back of the house.  Again, the big old brick wall is gone and this area is ready for framing.

I call this picture "The Burrow".  It reminds me of the Weasley's house in Harry Potter #6 (I think).  No? Maybe I watch too much Harry Potter!

The underpinning of the Northwest corner of the house.  Holes had to be dug 4 feet down and 18 inches (they did 20) across at 3 foot intervals and filled with concrete.  I think there were six of these to be done in total.

The basement walkout starting to take shape.

The basement walkout really starting to take shape!

All that old foundation stone was getting thrown away in the bins!  Seemed like such a waste to me, especially since I've been pricing limestone for the backyard retaining walls and it is expensive stuff.  So I got the guys to stack the bigger pieces in the backyard for me and I'm going to try and recycle it.  I love the idea of using the original foundation walls to build the retaining walls.  I might even try to do some of the building myself when it's less dangerous to be hanging around back there.

Yep, gorgeous stone!

February 24, 2012

I got a Liebster! -- funny because that's our nickname for our youngest daughter

Prerequisite: A Liebster gets awarded to a blogger with under 200 followers

  1. The recipient must mention who gave him/her the award
  2. The recipient then passes it onto 5 worthy blogs also with under 200 followers and inform them
  3. The recipient tells readers five things so readers get to know them better

First of all a big thank-you to Ava at  Turning Hope into a Home.  It is very exciting for me to think that someone actually reads my blog!  I love reading Ava's blog since she started it only a couple of months after I did and is going through some similar reno decisions that I am.  I particularly like her great floor plan images.  

Today I am going to pass the Liebster Blog Award on to 5 really great Canadian blogs:

1.  rad - renovations are dirty  - Sarah and her husband Mat have done all the work on their home themselves with much help from Mat's father (I can relate to that!).  I like her DIY section and love their living room rug!
2.  High Park Haven - Katie hasn't written her blog for about 3 months now but I do really like her DIY ideas and that she lives in my neck of the woods.  The last time she wrote she said she was 39 weeks pregnant so I suspect she's been a little too busy to be blogging!
3.  Under This Danforth Roof - Lisa takes great pictures and blogs about all of my interests - home stuff, kids, food, and products.  She too is in the Toronto area.
4.  This Dusty House - Nette and her husband are also in the Toronto area.  She has a great writing style and lots of interesting posts - I'm planning on making her tortellini soup recipe.  And she's just so darned cute!
5.  AM Dolce Vita - Michelle has great taste.  I love what she has done with all the rooms in her house. She is also an artist (and a pretty good one!). She got a Versatile Blogger Award already so has pretty much answered the 5 questions already.  Great blog anyway!

Now for the 5 random bits of information about myself:

I have three girls who were all born at home with the help of some wonderful midwives.  Although I have met many women who have had home births recently, it was a bit of a rarity 10 years ago when my first was born and I didn't get much support from friends and family.  My husband, my sister and my mother-in-law were the only ones who fully supported my desire to have a home birth.  All three experiences were the best moments of my life and after the first, I didn't want to give birth any other way.  

I spent my summers as a child at my family cottage just south of Parry Sound.  I still love it there and now share it with my sister's and brother's families.  We are so fortunate to be able to have a place like this to enjoy with our own kids.

I love to cook.  At least I do when I have a glass of wine in hand, some music on the iPod and some time to give to it.  I love trying out new recipes and often will try to recreate meals I have at restaurants.  I'm not a big baker though since I'm not great at measuring things out.  I prefer to cook by taste and instinct.

I love Vegas!  I've been there twice now and would go again in a heartbeat.  Everything in Vegas is over-the-top and there is something to see at every step.  There are also some amazing restaurants there-- I had one of the best meals of my life at Shibuya in the MGM Grand.

My husband and I collect art.  Not expensive art from big name galleries (because we can't afford it).  But every year on our anniversary we buy a piece of art from a local artist that we both really like.  Some of our artists have gone on to do some pretty big things (we like to check up on them every now and then) and others have kind of disappeared.  After 10 years of marriage we are kind of running out of wall space!  This is a bit of a problem at the Bennett House as well since we are planning on making the main floor so open plan --you need walls to hang art!  I actually designed some spaces around a few of our favourite pieces (my dad thought I was crazy).  Last year's artist was Karen Kawarsky (and the year before that for that matter!-- we've never done that before).  We love her work.

February 17, 2012

Got the building permits!!

We finally got the building permits this week and it has been a whirlwind of non stop activity since then.  We have all been a little short tempered with each other (especially my dad and myself!) during this long and frustrating time of dealing with the city.  I won't even bother going through the long, tedious story of what went on, but in a nutshell, over the last 6 months we have dealt with Architects, Designers, Structural and Geotechnical Engineers, Arborists (twice! because the first one did a lousy job), City Examiners in Building, HVAC and Plumbing, HVAC Designers, Site Plan Control, and Urban Forestry.  The biggest hurdle we've had to jump, however, has been our own ignorance of the processes involved.  It has been a learn on the job kind of experience, and I expect that is how the rest of the renovation will go as well.  But, we've got our permit, and that's all that matters right now!  Hooray!

Now the structural demo can begin.  First to go is the original brick back of the house (that was running awkwardly through the middle of the house).  We start on the second floor and move our way down from there.  It took our guys one day to temporarily support the roof and get rid of this 2nd floor wall.

This is the view out the third floor with the roof supports.  We're planning on extending the 3rd floor out onto that flat roof.

We're going to have tonnes of these old red bricks.  I'm trying to think of a way to reuse them somewhere.  Backyard pavers was suggested to me yesterday.  I'm not sure there will be enough whole ones for that, but I may use them in gabion baskets for the backyard retaining walls.

February 13, 2012

100 year old drains

The old houses in our neighbourhood have constant problems with basement flooding and sewer back-ups. It's a stinky, messy, expensive problem if it happens in a finished basement.  Usually the root of the problem is exactly that -- big old tree roots.  The old original drains are typically made of soft clay that are easy for the roots to get into, break apart, and block. 
With our basement currently unfinished, now's the perfect time for us to deal with all this unglamourous stuff.  We decided to replace the old cast iron stack while we were at it.  They are quieter than the newer plastic models, but it is really old and rusted and an extremely heavy weight to support.  We'll just make sure we insulate the new stack for sound.

That's the old clay pipe sitting to the side.  A few roots are visible but there were a lot more!  The white pipe is the new main drain that exits the house and hooks into the city system.  We also put in a cleanout just outside the house.  There wasn't one at all before.

We had to measure out and mark the basement layout on the concrete floor in order to place the new drains for the bathroom and laundry room.  Kind of neat to see it all laid out in spray paint on the floor.
We'll have to leave all this work open for the inspector to look over so this is the way it is going to be left until then.


February 10, 2012

Got the ravine permits!

After long last we finally got the go ahead from Urban Forestry to dig out a section of earth in our backyard.  We were asking to do this so that we could make a basement walkout but were so naively unaware of how much effort, money and time it would all take!  Since our contractors were pretty much just waiting for our permits to come through (really wonderful guys-- we could have easily lost them to another job) they got to work with the digging as soon as we got our notice.  
It is this top level of grading that we removed that was previously held back by the stacked stone retaining wall.

The level of ground just behind the chairs.

After 2 days of digging and 3 bins, this is what it looks like now.  You can see the door to the basement level (currently an outdoor room) is now on level with the ground.  I can almost imagine it with french doors already!

This is the view out from the house.  With the grading now done we have a sizable flat area in the backyard which will be great for a garden and an entertainment area. The plywood wall is tree protection and sediment control.  Beyond the plywood is a fairly steep ravine which we'd like to keep relatively wild.

Unfortunately we will have to build the new retaining walls pretty much right away.  This was an expense we were hoping to defer until after the house was done.

We can't leave it like this though.  It'll just be a disaster after the spring rain.

I'm thinking of a dry stacked stone wall at the moment.  Kind of like what is already there but done with bigger stones.  We've got 70 ft. of wall to build and about 5 steps on the opposite side of the house.  Not a cheap project!

February 01, 2012

IDS 2012

Had a fab day at the IDS12 on Sunday!  I go every year with my sister and cousin just to get ideas and see what's new, but this year somehow seemed better than ever.  Maybe it's because I have so much to do at the Bennett House and practically every booth had something of interest.  I unfortunately forgot to bring my point and shoot camera so I had to take pictures with my iphone.  Not the best quality and some shots didn't work out at all (I really could have used a flash).  But here are a few things that caught my eye.

I saw white and black faucets all over the place and I really liked this one (I'm pretty sure it's by Rubinet).  It's a different take on the typical commercial style faucet (which we have in our current kitchen).  I love glass fronted white appliances that are sometimes seen with modern white kitchen cabinetry.  It just blends together so well and is a little bit different than the typical stainless steel. This faucet sort of adds to that look. 

I unfortunately didn't take note of the booth that this picture was taken from (it was showcasing the cabinets, I believe).  But it was the wallpaper that really grabbed my attention.  I thought it really was concrete at first, but it is actually wallpaper!  I Googled it to see if I could find out where to get it and found this website:  www.concretewall.no   They say they ship worldwide.  Love it!

This image was taken from the Earth Inc. booth.  It was an entire wall of moss behind a grid of welded metal. I have been thinking of using welded metal gabion baskets as retaining walls in the backyard of The Bennett House.  This idea of moss behind it just looked fabulous to me.

Aaahhhh.... Valcucine!  Gorgeous modern kitchens with everything hidden behind these amazing panels.  Even the faucet can be hidden from view!  This is a shot of the island which is a mixture of frosted glass fronted cabinets, a frosted glass countertop and a wood eating ledge.  Love the way the wood breaks up the expanse of the island but still keeps that modern clean look.

Tropics North had these amazing living walls.  They are panels of plants in small bags and the fabric of the bags sits in a trough of water.  They said that you just have to make sure that the trough is full of water and the rest pretty much takes care of itself.  Beautiful way to add live plants to any space.

Fleurco had these shower doors that were custom made by pixelating a picture of a piece of art they had hanging next to it.  Very cool.  I feel a little too exposed in a shower made entirely of glass and this is a great way to give a little more privacy.  The guy at the booth suggested I lock the bathroom door!  Funny.  Anyone with small kids understands the need to shower with the bathroom door slightly ajar.

These light fixtures at Snob were made by giving various African men a length of brass tubing to wrap around their waist.  They were then connected, engraved with each man's name and attached to light fixtures with Edison type bulbs.  Love them!

Stone Tile.  They always have beautiful tiles.  These are porcelain with little raised dots all over them.  Nice organic colours and a simple modern design.

Valcucine again.  This shot shows the hidden faucet and a butcher block that slides across the counter top to cover the sink when not in use.  Genius.

I am loving all the new, modern, brightly dyed rugs that are popping up all over the place.  Elte and Modern Weave had some gorgeous rugs, but I especially loved this graffiti styled rug by W Studio.  Stopped me in my tracks!

But of course, the highlight of the show for me was meeting these two guys!  I was a little starstruck so I ended up a bit tongue tied but they were just the nicest!  I have never before crossed paths with anyone famous, and would not normally even approach them if I did, but Colin and Justin happen to know some family friends of my husband's (also a Glaswegian) so I at least had something to talk to them about.  It was this connection to McKay Flooring in Scotland that I have to thank for this little photo! I only wish I met them at the beginning of the day when I was all fresh and not on my way out after 5 hours at the show!  By the way, I went straight to my hair stylist after this picture.  Haircut 6 months overdue!  It's funny how you get so busy that you never really notice until you see a picture of yourself.