House Presentation

2011 February 13
by Otto

I recently spoke at Stanford University about the energy efficient components of our house.

Here is a video of my presentation:

Stanford Efficient House Presentation from otto pohl on Vimeo.

You can also download the presentation here: 525 South Black Presentation

LEED Gold, baby!

2011 February 12
by Otto

LEED GoldWe recently got the call: our house has been officially certified as a LEED Gold house. That’s pretty exciting.

Looking back on the process, what was interesting was how many of our points we had before we even started: the location counted for a lot. The key is urban infill and proximity to amenities such as shopping, restaurants, and recreation. We also got a lot of points for the miserly energy usage of the house.

Our weakest point was probably landscaping. Going with a traditional grass lawn in need of irrigation, even if we kept it small, didn’t score us a lot of points. The other place we missed some points was in using recycled products.

Then there were a few places where we didn’t get points for things we thought deserved them. We found both of our bathtubs, for example, on the side of nearby streets, discarded by renovating homeowners. With a little cleaning we thought their 1950s design fit our new house perfectly. The USGBC’s LEED rating system, however, was not impressed.

But overall we’re pretty proud and excited about the LEED Gold status! We’re one of the first (maybe the first?) in Montana, and across the country I think fewer than 1,000 houses have reached LEED Gold certification. Of course, if we want a plaque for the wall, we still have to pay for it.

Building a House in 23 Seconds

2011 February 11
by Otto

Here’s finally the time lapse video of our house construction. I wrote about setting up the camera to do the photography in one of my first blog posts, and I diligently collected photographs for about 6 months. I finally got around to putting them together.

To be honest, the time lapse video a little disappointing, a shortcoming due to two problems.

First, I had originally mounted the camera on a conveniently-situated telephone pole, which would have been great. Unfortunately, the first thing the contractor did was install the temporary power pole right in front of my camera, obstructing the view. So I moved my camera to the temporary pole, which seemed sturdy but proved to move around a lot over the months. So the time lapse video is a lot more wobbly than I would have liked.

Second, my home-made construction of the camera housing worked great until we had a hard rain storm in April. This soaked the camera and ruined it.

But enough of the negativity: check out the video!

Untitled from otto pohl on Vimeo.

Initial Home Energy Efficiency Analysis

2011 January 5
by Otto

Well, the calendar has closed the books on the first year of the house. Although we only finished the house in August, and then promptly spent very little time in the house other than Thanksgiving and Christmas (but with people staying there in between), I did gather some data on the house that’s worth sharing. Here’s the schematic of the energy systems and both the current and accumulated performance:

Home energy system overview on the evening of December 31

read more…

Some Final House Photos

2011 January 5
by Otto

After much delay, here some photos of the finished house & landscaping:

exterior

the front street view

read more…

(Almost) Final Photos!

2010 June 3
by Otto

The house is rapidly approaching completion. Well, “rapidly” is overstating the case, at least emotionally speaking. As we’ve neared what should be completion, things keep coming up that push the actual finish date further out. It seems like every subcontractor still has one small thing left to do – caulking the floor, putting on a last grate, installing the thermostat – as well as writing us a bill that’s larger than what we expected from the estimate. Oh, except that the bill-writing part seems to go very quickly.

But momentary frustrations aside the house is looking *beautiful*! Check out these photos (kitchen photos to follow as soon as the final appliance install and countertop unveiling takes place):

Living Room

Living Room

read more…

Final Construction Phase

2010 May 10
by Otto

Or, How Soon Can We Get Our Certificate of Occupancy?

Here are a few quick pix of our house. We’re hoping to get our Certificate of Occupancy in the next week or so, which is required in order to finalize our house mortgage. And since the best rates are given to people who don’t require a long “lock” time, we went with a 30-day lock mortgage last week. So the clock is ticking! Right now the house is in that final pupa stage where it still looks like a construction site disaster, but where it will suddenly at the end, when the debris is moved out and the carpets rolled out, it will suddenly transform into a finished house. We shall see.

read more…

Cabinet Meetings

2010 April 5
by Otto

The kitchen cabinets are coming in. It’s a really exciting time at the house, where the project pivots from being a dusty construction site to more of a finished-house-in-progress. You can now see what the house is going to look like, which is both exciting and a little daunting. Decisions we made based on drawings, photos in catalogs, and our gut intuition are now suddenly spread before us in full 3D. The oak floor on the main floor is now stained dark and polyurethaned; the first final paint colors are on the walls upstairs; tile is appearing in the bathrooms; and, of course, the kitchen, the most expensive and most debated room in the house, is receiving its cabinetry.

Jess Armitage and Scott McPhie install cabinet lighting and the cabinetry

Jess Armitage and Scott McPhie install cabinet lighting and the cabinetry

You can’t really see the floor underneath the blankets, but since the house is going to be so bright and white, Anne wanted a dark floor. It’s a beautiful coffee color that looks like it will really offset the white walls and cabinetry nicely. I spent more time obsessing about the finish. There are several options: very high VOC finishes like the Swedish Glitsa; oil-based polyurethane finishes; and water-based polyurethane. If you search around online you’ll find various people who swear by one or the other product, but the trend clearly appears to be to the low-VOC water-based finishes. They are now so good that there is hardly a reason to introduce higher-toxicity finishes into the house. Our finish needed only a day of drying before workmen could come back in the house.

Upstairs, the landing/hallway area is starting to take final form. The big north-facing windows that give light to the hallway are painted and uncovered again. The small window to the stairwell we added in the last minute to add light to the hall bathroom is in and painted; and the bookshelf is done and painted.

The windows are in and painted; the bookshelf is painted; we're getting there!

The windows are in and painted; the bookshelf is painted; we're getting there!

In the bathrooms, the addition of the tile is really starting to make the space look plausibly like a usable space. In the photo below, you can see the tiling on the floor and around the tub, as well as the little built-in cabinet that is built up around the opening for the laundry chute (the opening is covered by paper in the middle of the cabinet).

In the master bath, tiles and cabinetry are giving the room a final look

In the master bath, tiles and cabinetry are giving the room a final look

I forget whether I mentioned this previously, but we found that tub on a curb about two blocks from our house. Someone was gutting their house, apparently, and had no more use for this mid-century tub that was almost in perfect condition. We’ll take it!

We’re Getting There…

2010 March 28
by Otto

The house is starting to take shape on the inside. Here some photos:

Mark Prince lines up a cut for the stairs

Mark Prince lines up a cut for the stairs

read more…

Fireplaces vs. Wood Stoves vs. Zero-Clearance Inserts

2010 March 14
by Otto

We always wanted to have a fireplace. There is a strong emotional component to having a central hearth, and watching wood burn on a cold winter’s night is wonderful.

Our original plan had it on the staircase wall, like this:

original location of fireplace

original location of fireplace

and in elevation:

original fireplace location in elevation

original fireplace location in elevation

It seemed so cool. We imagined a floating, wall-mounted sideboard that happened to have a fireplace in it, very modern and chic. We thought that we’d build a half wall over the staircase so that the stovepipe could run up it. In short, we spent so long planning it and discussing it that we were pretty blindered to reality by the time building happened.

read more…