It’s been a while since the last post. We took June off and went to Georgia for a family vacation. In July, we switched preschools for the kids and at the end of the month, Ellen started kindergarten. Yay!

As for the bathroom addition, I put in three weekends in July to finish the rough electrical. I’d never done much electrical and was worried about my work being inspected, but I did my homework, did the best job I could, and we passed without a hitch. Yay again! So now we have lights and power in the bathroom.

August is the month of plumbing. Our next inspection is for all the drains, vents, and supply lines run behind drywall. This past weekend I completed the drains and vents. In a couple weeks I will do the supply lines, so now I am studying pex piping.

In September I plan to take the week off around Labor day. That week we will complete the rough plumbing and framing inspections, and presuming we pass, we’ll be doing the drywall. By the end of that week we should have the room drywalled, painted, and open to the rest of the house!

In October, it’s time to start on the shower and interior finishes. Like staining the concrete floor and installing cabinets, tile, trim, doors, and so forth.

By November, we should have all the fixtures installed and useable. No more trips to the shed to do laundry. We should be able to use the shower, toilet, and sinks. We might not be quite ready for a final inspection, though, as there will need to be a step or ramp for the exterior door, and a bunch of other details.

Well, I’ve not posted much in like a month. Which is typical of me, since I’m not really one of those people who start a blog and actually post things to it. But hey, I’m doing stuff! I even have pictures to prove it.

Basically we finished siding most of the bathroom, and then I hired my friend Reuben to paint all the gable ends and eaves olive green. Behold!

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We are presently in the middle of installing the redwood siding. This weekend Caleb and I installed the horizontal redwood lap siding on the west wall, and finished preparing the east wall.

We are using 12′ long redwood 1×6 boards, construction heart grade and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. This means that the boards came from sustainably managed forests, and the trees were neither harvested by clear-cutting nor were old growth. There is no way and no how I would use redwood that was not FSC-certified or reclaimed. “Construction heart” means the wood has knots in it, but is all heartwood and therefore has higher resistance to decay and insects. It should last a very long time.

I picked up 45 boards, special ordered from Big Orange. About half will be stained, half painted, depending on where they will be installed.

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The last couple weeks have been fits and starts. Basically finishing up the exterior insulation and installing the strapping.

I used 3/4" plywood "straps" screwed through the foam into the studs. The straps serve as attachment points for the siding, which I will put on next.

Finishing the foam was a laborious process. All the seams of the foam had to be taped. If I couldn’t tape them for some reason, I had to fill the gaps with spray foam. This was important to make sure there were no air leaks (or at least as few as possible).

To give an idea of how meticulous the air sealing has to be, here is what I did to seal around the sewer cleanout. I first sprayed expanding foam, then waited for the foam to cure before I trimmed it and finished with tape.

I had to use 6" long screws to attach the strapping. It was a little nerve-wracking to drive these screws through thick foam, but I only missed a stud three times. I had to use a corded drill; the cordless drivers could only drive a few of these at a time before the battery power gave out. I almost overheated the drill, too.

At the top and bottom of the walls I had to put insect screening. Once the siding is on, there is a continuous air space between the siding and the foil-faced foam. The concept is called a “ventilated rainscreen“. The siding can be a little leaky; any moisture that gets behind will run down the foam and out of the wall, or evaporate. This improves the durability of the building by reducing water intrusion and extending the life of the siding and, in the case of the wood parts, its paint or stain.

The air gap also allows the reflective foil facing to serve as a radiant barrier. This is pretty important in a hot climate like ours. It reflects a lot of solar energy away from the building in the summer time.

This is the aluminum insect screen at the bottom of the wall. It wraps around the strapping. When the siding goes on, it prevents bugs and other critters from crawling into the air space between the siding and the foam.

I started installing the foam insulation on the exterior walls this past weekend. I took a couple pictures this morning but it was difficult to get good shots. The glare from the sun reflecting off the foil facing was blinding!

One layer of foam. A second, thicker layer will follow.

There will be two and a half inches of polyisocyanurate foam insulation board on the outside. It’s predominantly in two layers. The first layer is an inch thick, and is tacked to the framing with cap nails. The second layer is an inch and a half thick, and is temporarily held in place with long screws and plywood washers until we install the 3/4″-thick plywood strapping. We use 6″ screws to secure the strapping to the framing.

Two layers installed, with all seams covered with foil tape to prevent air and vapor intrusion.

Later, once all the strapping is installed, we’ll attach the siding to that. We will put corrugated steel siding on the north and south walls, and redwood lap siding on the east and west walls.

So far I’ve got the north wall insulation complete, most of the east wall, and the first layer on the south wall.

The foam insulation is fairly expensive, but there are many advantages of the foam insulation over conventional batts:

  • The continuous foam on the exterior eliminates “thermal bridging”, which is what happens when you insulate only between wood studs. Wood studs are terrible insulators.
  • The foam has a foil facing which serves as a radiant barrier. Put it in the sun and you can feel the heat reflected back at you. This is invaluable in a hot, desert climate.
  • Foam has a higher insulation value per inch than batt insulation. If it’s thick enough, you can eliminate batt insulation entirely and leave the stud bays open, thereby facilitating utility maintenance in the eventual remodel.
  • Batt insulation is difficult to install properly, especially if you have pipes or wires in your wall. To get the rated insulation value, batts have to be installed darn near perfectly.
  • Foil-faced foam is waterproof and impermeable, so it serves as both a moisture barrier and a vapor barrier. If installed on only one side of a wall, it makes the house more resistant to moisture. Just be careful not to create a “moisture sandwich” by installing impermeable surfaces on both sides of the wall. By choosing to use polyiso on the exterior, I can’t use a waterproofing membrane on the walls of our shower.
  • Foam insulation board doesn’t itch or release cancer-causing fibers into the air for you to breathe. It’s extremely easy to cut, handle, and install.

I chose this design because I wanted thin walls, and I wanted to be able to run utilities like pipes and wires in exterior walls. I am able to have a high-performance structure framed with 2X4s instead of 2X6s; in a bathroom, those inches really count.

This next weekend, Caleb and I will finish the foam install and the strapping.

Our bathroom addition isn’t going for any sort of “Green” certification, but I am trying to make it as “greenish” as possible. I’ve definitely had some Green Building Fails, like the foundation using seven cubic yards of concrete. That’s seven cubic yards of carbon into the atmosphere for a piddly bathroom, compliments of yours truly. I definitely could have done better!

But it vastly exceeds insulation requirements for our climate, is sited for passive solar, is built using durable materials and methods, specifies no mechanical heating or cooling, specifies energy-efficient or low-water-use appliances and fixtures, provides a permanent greywater reuse system, and it even calls for a rain barrel. Perhaps it will look cool enough that future owners won’t decide it’s ugly and tear it apart for remodeling.

Most of those green features really don’t add much to the cost of the addition. Some even qualify for rebates and tax credits. But sometimes trying to find stuff is a real pain (try asking a local lumberyard about Forest Stewarship Council-certified lumber). Trying to determine what really is environmentally responsible versus what is simply “greenwashed” is a challenge, too.

Given that, I think our addition should qualify for some kind of Green award after all. Maybe if I give my kids some markers and green construction paper they’ll make one for me. (They’ll have to learn how to spell first.)

This weekend we installed the three clerestory windows and the door.

Clerestory windows

The shed next door proved to be a handy platform for installing the windows. I built a sturdy scaffold from extra 2x4s and plywood and leaned it onto the shed roof.

The windows are of the awning type, which means they are hinged at the top and open with a crank. The screens go on the inside, though they aren’t installed yet. I will install them after construction is complete so they don’t get torn. They are aluminum-clad wood windows and very energy efficient units. Installing them was pretty easy, except that the self-stick flashing doesn’t stick to tarpaper very well. Nothing a few staples couldn’t fix.

Door viewed from shower area

The door is really pretty. The light that comes through in the morning is very cool. I can’t wait to take my morning showers in here!

The door is extremely heavy. It is a fiberglass door (we didn’t want a wood or steel door in a shower area) but the weight comes from all the glass. It is triple-paned, which was necessary to meet energy efficiency requirements. Since I was careful to make sure the stud on the hinge side was plumb during framing, the door was not difficult to set. The hardest part (other than wrastling its bulk into place) was installing the lockset, which required some modifications to the stock bore.

Well, as of today, the addition is “locked up”… literally. Hooray! A major milestone achieved. Next week: lots of foam insulation.