Dream House

I am in the fortunate position of being able to afford to build myself a new house (well...perhaps myself and the bank). Having been to several 3rd world countries and knowing that there are lots of people in the world who don't even have housing, I felt a few pangs of guilt about this. I had a decision to make: rehab the old or build new. The cost to rehab my old house was going to be substantial. It was October of 2009. My husband had passed away in August from liver cancer. I was in the depths of grief and sorrow. I needed a project. I decided that if I had to plunk down a lot of money anyway, it was better to build new. I also decided that if I was going to build new, I was going to build green. My new house will be both beautiful and "green". I will share the journey and the adventure with you.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Energy Star and Green Built Programs

 Its been a challenging week. Its that in between time of year here in Wisconsin. We are anxiously waiting for warm breezes, the songs of the birds, the smell of moist earth, and the pushing through of the flowers and grasses from the ground...and yet it feels like it will never happen! Snowstorm on 3/22!  I dug my car out of the snow before going to work for what seems the millionth time this winter (even though by the calendar its supposed to be spring). Its also been a week where I am faced with the fragile-ness of life. I have heard of several people dying this week that I was acquainted with. The numbers of the dead in Japan from the quake and tsunami keeps on growing.  My brother in law in Seattle discovered he had cancerous mass on his pancreas last week, underwent  a 10 hour surgery called the Whipple procedure, and is on a ventilator in an ICU there.
   The fundamental questions of "Why I am here?", "What is it all about?" come to mind. So for me, part of it is caring for life, caring for the earth, and being compassionate towards this planet that we call earth and the people in it. Faced with our own mortality and limitations, we can either give up or we can do our part to change what we can, to leave a legacy for the next generation. In what now seems to be my grand scheme of building a house, it seemed reasonable to build it green in the best way I could as a way doing just that.
     Its a many layered process. A big part of the process for me is  making the house  Energy Star certified. Energy Star is a national program. Each state has its own certification process and credits that can be earned. Here is what it's website (http://www.energystar.gov/) says: " To earn the ENERGY STAR, a home must meet strict guidelines for energy efficiency set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These homes are at least 15% more energy efficient than homes built to the 2004 International Residential Code (IRC), and include additional energy-saving features that typically make them 20–30% more efficient than standard homes." So the focus of the program is on certifying new homes to be energy efficient. An outside consultant who is  involved in the Energy Star program does the certification. They make site visits during the building process. First, they review the building plans to determine the efficiency in the design. They make site visits during the framing and insulation portions of the building process. Finally, they do performance testing for air tightness, ventilation capacity, and verify combustion safety. There is cost involved for the builder and homeowner (roughly $800-1000 for the homeowner), but rebates are earned for putting in the extra insulation, and completing the assessment. This first step in building an energy efficient home (before using alternative sources of energy) is to build a tight envelope to the house. This flip side to this is that this sometimes results in poor indoor air exchange, and usually an air exchanger is added in to the house.
     I am also having the house Green Built certified. This is a Wisconsin program. (http://www.greenbuilthome.org/). Its aim is to promote energy efficient homes and buildings that minimize the impact on the environment. The cost for certification is $150. To qualify for a green built home, each home must earn a total of 60 points or more in a number of specified areas. First and foremost, the home must be Energy Star certified. Points must also be earned in the following areas: siting and land use; landscape conservation and stormwater management; energy efficiency; materials selection; indoor air quality; plumbing and water conservation; waste reduction, recycling, and disposal; builder operations; and efficient use of space. For instance, under the efficient use of space, although I won't earn points for having a house under 2500 square feet, I can check off 2 points for having a home designed for flexibility to allow for changing uses in the future, 1 point for having a home that shares a common driveway with at least one other building (my neighbor), and 1 point for having a bonus room over the garage. If my home was under 1500 square feet, I could earn 5 points. The checklists are quite extensive, and you can learn alot about green building by reviewing them, so check out the website. (If the pictures don't show up, then click on the the little box).
My mom recently viewed the house. She said, "I always told you to tear down your old house and build a new one. I never imagined it would be a palace!"

 Below are two of the cultured stones I am debating about. Opinions welcome.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Towering Heights

     I just got back from New York City. It was fabulous! While there, in addition to eating wonderful and expensive food, and seeing the Broadway hit Mama Mia, and visiting touristy sites like the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, I gained new perspective on the tallness of buildings. Ever since beginning my house project, I have a new respect for architecture and for the process of building. What a skill! I saw many beautiful buildings in NYC, all of them tall. As it turns out, NYC is on an island, so there really weren't many options, other than up, when they wanted to expand. Knowing there are so many buildings in the world that are taller than my house, comforts me as I adjust my conciousness to my future living space which is tall and big. My sister, Kathleen, and I had a good laugh over my green building project and the size of my house. Truth be told, I know large houses are not in line with green building principles. I will lose points on my "Build Green" check list for having a house that is greater than 2500 SF. Somehow, it looked smaller on paper! I can't tell you how many times I criticized McMansions, and now I have one! That being said, my builder is following Energy Star and Green Built certification in other ways in building this house. I love it all the same! Its beautiful!
     I also wish the local policemen here in Neenah, Wisconsin could see the taxidrivers in New York City. They drive really fast when given any open space at all (which, of course, is rare in the congested traffic of NYC). Talk about a high stress job--taxicab drivers in NYC have it. So I have another confession to make. I have achieved a record for my self in obtaining yet another verbal warning after being stopped for speeding for the 3rd time in 4 weeks. This occurred around 8 am. last Wednesday. I was taking a new route to work because they have closed the road I usually take due to construction. Unfortunately, I now have to pass through a school zone on my last couple of blocks before getting to work. Bingo! Flashing red and blue lights in my rear view window! This time, I did not know the policeman. At first I was ready to accept my fate for what I thought would certainly be a speeding ticket. I sat in my aura of doom as he went back to his police car to look up my record. I could see the imagined computer screen in my mind: "Verbal warning, 2 weeks ago, Cecil St., Neenah," and who knows what else! Then I changed tactics. I recently read a book, called The Secret. It basically talks about positive thinking. So I affirmed that I was a good driver, and that I loved God, and he loved me, and at the same time told God that I didn't intentionally speed, so please forgive me. It worked! The police officer came back with the verbal warning slip and I swore to him that I would reform.

     I had no idea that I would devote this much space to speeding tickets in my blog on green building. I do hope this is the last time I have to write about a run in with the local police. Interestingly, I recently agreed to a month trial to have ads on my blog (its monetary-- if you, the reader, merely clicks on an ad, I allegedly will earn some money. So far, after a few days, I have earned a penny, and no one has clicked on an ad. So DO click, no purchase necessary. I will let you know how it is working. If there are no more ads, it means its not working). The ads are supposed to be ones that would relate to your blog. I had to laugh when I  looked on the first day that they ran the ads and I saw an ad in bold print that read: CITATION DEFENSE, and linked to a law firm.
Two of the wonderful construction workers who work at towering heights to build my house

Caroline enjoyed NYC too
More towering buildings

Lady Liberty

Sunday, March 6, 2011

OMG! Its Huge!

    Gallery homes is making fast progress now even as I am slowing down. It has felt great not to have a deadline for completion looming in the near future. The second floor walls are now up and it looks like a real house--a HUGE house. When the first floor walls were up, I blogged that it felt cozy, It still does, on the downstairs. With the addition of the second floor, and the large roof, it is feeling huge--not so much from the inside but from the outside on the lakeside. I met my sister and my niece and nephew out there this afternoon. They had come out there a little earlier and were out on the ice with the dog. I caught up with them. We then turned around and started heading towards the house. It was then that the full realization of the enormity of the house hit me. From the lakeside, its evident that there are  3 stories (with the partially exposed basement) to the house, creating more height than usual. Also, the roofs they use nowadays are a lot larger than the handframed roofs that were used in the past. As a result of all of these factors, my house  now towers over my neighbor's house. I will have no problem with getting sunlight for solar power when I decide to get that. I must admit, that I did not fully appreciate the fact that the house would be so much taller than my previous house. In the course of my interviewing 4 different builders and the architect, they all seemed to think that exposing the basement was a good idea, and in fact, suggested it, but no one mentioned how tall it would make my house. Its too late, obviously, to change it now, so I will have to adjust to the way it is (and pray my neighbors forgive me).  My neighbor from 2 doors down, Katie, came and visited me at the house on Saturday (this was before I had viewed the back of the house from the lake). She gave me lots of encouragement and is proud of me as single woman to handle the house building project on my own.  Thanks, Katie! I have had lots of helpers along the way!
    My middle school aged niece and nephew got me laughing to the point of tears as the joked about Aunt Kristin's huge house. Comments such as, "Wow, its like going from Baltic Place to Park Place in monopoly!" or "We'll have to change the story line in Little Red Riding Hood, to: My! What a Big House You Have!"   Alena is my greatest supporter. She loves large houses. I knew I had hit it big with her when she said, "Your house is bigger than any in Mahler Farms"(an upscale neighborhood of large houses that she has always wished her parents lived in).
     Other events of the week included a trip to Eco Friendly Flooring in Madison. They have bamboo, reclaimed, and FSC certified floors that they sell as well as recycled glass tiles, back splashes, etc. They have  large sections of their floor covered in the different styles of bamboo. There is natural, and stranded, and carbonized versions. The nice thing about bamboo is that it grows fast and in fact, requires cutting for the plant to continue to grow Its also very hard--about 2x harder than oak. This makes it an ecofriendly choice.  I have been planning on having a bamboo floor in my kitchen and dining room all along. However, after seeing a large expanse of it, I am not sure that I like it. Instead, I am considering a wide planked oak floor. Oak is a native species to our area, so it might be a good choice.  I also ended up going to the Feng Shui lady, Jackie Patricia in Madison. She helps me to think outside of the box, and charges me a lot for it! Here are some pictures to enjoy!
     P.S. Jamey says my house will be a lighthouse on the lake. That's a good thought! For all the future Rory's of the world who need to find their way home in the dark. (try finding your way on a boat in the dark. The bays all begin to look the same. Rory had a few stories to tell of being lost or stranded on the lake).
First floor walls up

Neighbor, Katie, and her dog, Grady, and me

Jamey, the  builder, looking out second floor window.
Cynthia, my sister, and her son, Daniel

The biggest fan of my large house, Alena

House viewed from the road

Now the tallest house in the neighborhood (trust me, it was not something I was striving for!)