August 21, 2014

It works!

When we designed the house, we tried our best to eliminate the need of AC. We pulled all the stops:
- roof are built with double-decking (see prior post);
- exterior walls are built with the same idea;
- thermomass to average out the temperatures at night and during the day;
- closed-cell spray foam;
- relying on the shade of the old trees;
- etc.

Then, we wait and hope that this house will be cool enough in the summer.  Well, based on the many visits we had so far, the design works. Even when it is very warm outside, you can immediately feel the "coolth" upon entering into the house. We used to know the design will help, but now we are glad to know how well it works.

January 26, 2011

Big Ideas - Double Roof Deckings

Double Roof Decking

This house is already under a large shade tree, but, in order to make it a true "ductless" home, we need more than that to be free from the need of an air conditioner. The purpose of double roof decking is to put this entire house under "another roof" with sufficient ventilation in between, kind of like placing the house inside a barn without walls.

The advantages of double decking, in addition to keeping summer heat out, also gives the roof one extra layer of protection.  We put ice-and-water-shield over the entire bottom layer of roof decking.  So, even if the house is totally neglected for decades, the roof damage will likely only go as far as the top layer roof decking and the bottom layer will still be intact.

1x2 are used for spacing the two roof decking at 24" on center, sitting right above the roof rafters.  2x2 would have been better, but it is harder to work with. The layout needs to be in such a way that provides strong support and sufficient ventilation.

Coming Next:
   Double Wall Ventilation
   Ductless Homes
   Building Process

January 25, 2011

Design Considerations

With this renovation, we have to constantly balance these considerations:
  • Livability
  • Allergy-Friendliness
  • Preservation of Historical Characteristics
  • Within Budget (Yeah, right!)

Each of these objectives, if carry out to the extreme, is going to encroach on other goals.  Additionally, we did not know the full extent of the project until we are half-way through the process.  We wanted to change as little as possible, but toward the end, we removed all original "additions", replaced half of the 1840 walls, and rebuilt the entire roof.  Because of the changing nature of this project, we had to constantly re-evaluate the balancing of these objectives all the time. (See our earlier posts on "before" and "after" floor plans.)

1. Livability

Livability is our prime design consideration. We tried our best to make this house functional, comfortable, healthy, and pleasant (within the constraints of other design considerations).  Here is a list of ideas we tried to implement:

- Efficient kitchen - optimize the work-flow from refrigerator to sink to cooking surface to dining table back to the sink, ideally counterclockwise (it ends up to be clockwise)
- Capture the view of the backyard (the 2F east bedroom is my favorite)
- Spacious, yet cozy
- Interesting in colors and form, yet not too loud
- Larger bedrooms
- A bonus room for storage
- A functional office
- A first floor bedroom
- A room for our grand piano
- Wrap-around porch

Wrap-around porch provide a buffer zone between indoor and outdoor.  We will not feel as "trapped" in diverse weathers because of this transition zone.  It fits well for a historical house. and also makes the house more visually "stable".  The 24" eaves also serve as a buffer zone in a similar way.

Wrap-Around Porch

2. Allergy-Friendliness

This should have been part of the "livability" design consideration.  But, since it means so much to our family, this became a design consideration as important as the rest of the livability factors.  In the past, we have seen reasonable results in allergy-relief by making some adjustments in our living, such as:

   - Reducing carpets
   - Regular housecleaning, keeping bedding very clean
   - Avoiding air ducts (we used direct-vent fireplace and room heaters)
   - Running air purifiers (we like Surround Air's Multi-Tech),
   - Central vacuum
   - Proper diet, and a lot of vitamin B and C
   - Exercise

With this house we will keep doing these. No carpet will be installed, only area rugs.  We will also have central vacuum, and good ventilation (more details in future postings).  Additionally, we also made it a truly "ductless" home.

A Ductless Home - Without air ducts, heating can be done with radiant in-floor heating (running water under the floor) It is more efficient and more comfortable than traditional heating, but cooling can be challenging without air ducts.  It turns out that, with the large trees around this house, cooling without air duct is feasible.  Throughout the summer working on this house, there are only a few days when the heat (mainly humility) is noticeably uncomfortable.  In addition to utilizing the shade of the trees, we also added additional layer of ventilation space beneath the roof and behind the exterior walls (more details in future posting).  Additionally, closed cell spray foam insulation was used throughout the house, and we also added a layer of decking in the attic, creating yet another layer of ventilation. So this house is practically under two layers of ventilated roofs which are under the shade of trees.  I think, other than heat generated within the house by human and appliances, indoor should be as cool as the shaded outdoor in the summer, although there may be a couple days a year when a de-humidifier will help.

Houses with radiant in-floor heating tend to have less air movement, and are more likely to be moldy.  With that in mind, ventilation is especially important for this house (more details later).

Also, all walls and ceilings are plastered, not sheet-rocked because ... (you might have guessed) plaster is much more hypoallergenic.

3. Historical Characteristics
The house had been added and modified during the last 170 years.  We do not hesitate in removing the additions, but we tried everything we can to preserve the original portion of the house.  The original house was a rectangular hand-hewn post-and-beam structure (built like a barn).  Some of the posts and beams will be revealed.  Walls was sheathed by huge planks of wood, some out of oak and some out of softwood.  We kept the original staircase, but replaced the stair treads.  We kept the original floor joist beams, but added additional support to them.  We preserved some newspaper wall coverings and other artifacts.
Revealing the Original Posts and Beams

January 23, 2011

Floor Plan - As Built

Floor Plan - As Built - 1F


Floor Plan - As Built - 2F

Floor Plan - Before

Floor Plan - Original - 1F
Floor Plan - Original - 2F

The People

Builders - Two individuals, Randy and Dave, contributed a lot of their time in this building process.  They both go to the same church, both were/are missionaries, both are trustworthy, and both brought a lot of skill, expertise, ideas, (and tools) to the renovation process.
Randy (Mapel Valley Homes) is responsible for a good majority of the renovation work

Dave, a missionary to Sudan, did a lot of work on this house from June to December, 2010

Dave said:
Work on this Whitneyville home has been a labor of love, an adventure to peel back the layers of history and find the original post and beam with it[]s mortise and tenion and old hand cut nails construction throughout.   The worst of the house had to be faithfully removed and the new put back together.
    It was a pleasure to use 2x6 construction, to see a double roof installed and another air envelope on the exterior wall.   The best insulation available on the market was used on the house.  Radiant heat was installed in all of the floors, which is the most efficient and comfortable heat available.  There was no drywall used in the restoration.  Plaster board was used throughout which is stronger and provides a better moisture transition away from inner walls.  This home is definitely an “Audi” or equal to a[] 45 mpg [h]ybr[i]d.  It will save the home owner thousands of dollars in utilities, and should last another 100 year[s] without much problem.
    This home is oozing with character, history and unique features. The trees surrounding the home also give the house stunning character with the majestic Douglas Firs in the front and the century old White Oak in the back.  We often see deer walking through the backyard as well as large assemblies of turkeys meandering through.  We also have seen a Pilated Woodpecker.    I especially like the upstairs as I took down the old Tamarak  rafters and put up the new knee walls, rafters and dormers.   With the cathedral, vaulted ceilings at 10 feet, this is not [a] cookie cutter ranch home. 

Homeowners - I am a software engineer, but thoroughly enjoy architecture design and hands-on building.  My wife enjoys interior design, and both my sons made a special effort to come home to participate in framing, plumbing, electrical, and flooring work.

Helpers - We tried to make it mutually beneficial for our helpers as well as ourselves.  As much as we can, we like to see the helpers walk away with a new set of marketable skills and experience.  These helpers are diligent, eager to learn, and, above all, have more muscle than we older men do.  Without them, we would have progressed 3x slower.

"Young Kyle" and Randy

David and Elliot watching Randy working
Tyson helping out with electrical work

"Big Kyle" and myself
The crew

January 18, 2011

The Setting

Although the house was quite "unlivable" when we purchased it, this house has a lot of attractive characteristics:
* Historical significance
* A year-round stream with a bridge and large boulders creating soothing noise
* There are two large ancient oak trees on the property.  We especially like the one that is 30' south of the house - it is the most beautiful oak tree I have seen. I would even buy the property just for this oak tree.
* Rural setting, yet close to town - livestock potential
The large oak tree viewed from 2F East bedroom - We ended up putting two sets of large PELLA doors here
News from the 1860's - we also found artifacts such as medicine bottles, iron, etc.

December 24, 2010

History of This 1840 House

This 1840 house was the original post office of Whitneyville in today's Alto, Michigan.  Let's talk about Whitneyville first.

The Whitneys were among the early settlers in Cascade Township. The families of Zerah Whitney (1784-1873), a Connecticut native, and his sons Ezra (1815-99) and Peter arrived in the 1841-42 period and took up land at the site of what soon became known as Whitneyville. The hamlet acquired the township's first post office in 1849 and eventually contained a sawmill, grist mill, store, blacksmith shop, church, and a few scattered houses.[source]

Whitneyville was the final stop of a stagecoach line connecting Battle Creek and Grand Rapids till around 1870, and this 1840 house served as a stagecoach stop for a period of time.  Its significance declined after the building of a railroad to Grand Rapids in 1888. [source]

Judging by the trim work of the house, it was a fairly upscale house in the 1800s.  Over the course of the next 170 years, numerous remodeling and additions were added to this house.  By 2009, the house was in a destitute condition and was bought by the Ko family (blog authors) through a foreclosure.

Street View - Entry to the Old Post Office on the Left

This Living Room is Probably the Original Whitneyville Post Office - Entry to the Side Enabled Better Room Utilization
The Second Floor East Bedroom

The Ancient Oak Tree
We quickly recognized the historical significance of this house, and tried to find the balance of preserving the "oldness" of this house, making the house livable, and doing all these within our budget. In the next few posts, we will share the design considerations, special characteristics, and the building process of this 1840 house.