Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Happy Birthday to our Grandson Blake

Blake is 6 years old today, and that makes
me feel like jumping too!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Working on the Office

It’s been a while since I have posted any construction photos, so here goes. I have been working under the garage building the office / family recreation room. It seems like the project has been going on for months, and I guess it has. (When a guy is partially retried I guess he shouldn’t get it too much of a hurry!)

Thursday afternoon the freight company delivered windows I ordered from Pan Abode Cedar Homes, so I took advantage of good weather to install them. Since I have had so much trouble getting Milgard Windows to honor their warranty on a defective window I decided there was no way in you know where that I was going to purchase another window from them. So, on the advice of my contact at Pan Abode I ordered Weathervane Windows. And, so far I’m glad I did. In all the sliding windows I have installed or worked on over the years I have to say these are the smoothest.

Two of 4 windows cut out and nearly ready for the glass.

Windows installed

Another view of the same windows

More on the Milgard Window; as mentioned above I have installed a fair number of new windows over the years, both in new construction and remodel projects. I had always had good luck with Milgard, so when we decided to build we chose Milgard Windows. If you scroll back through the previous posts you will note between the house and the garage we needed 30 windows, and some of them are fairly big. The 30 windows were all their top of the line wood clad fiberglass windows. Anyway shortly after installing one of the bigger 4-0 X 6-0 Low E Argon filled windows we noted it was fogging, which of course meant a bad seal. Well that was a year ago and the window has still not been fixed. First we waited for months and months until they sent the 1st window, of course it was the wrong size. Then after a couple more months they sent the right one. That was last September. But as luck would have it the installer cracked the window as he was finishing the job. Now I don’t blame him, because working with glass there is always that risk. So a 3rd window was ordered and is supposed to be delivered Monday to be installed next month sometime. I guess we will have to see how it goes this time.

But, the long and the short if anyone finds this post via a search engine I could no longer suggest Milgard Windows. I heard they were bought out by a big company a couple of years ago and ever since their service has been poor. I have heard good things about Weathervane Windows, so I hope what I have heard holds true.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Serious Snow

The last 10 days or so it has been snow, snow, and more snow! If it isn’t a record it must be darn near one.

Most people are complaining like crazy, but I like it, even though I’ve been shoveling snow like crazy. The forecast is for more snow through the weekend then rain on Monday; now that I’m not going to like.

A lady asked me the other day who was plowing our parking area. I think she was surprised to find out we have shoveled it all by hand. This photo was taken yesterday morning, 2/8/08.

This photo was taken this afternoon out our bedroom window.

Another photo taken from the bedroom window.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Heating a Home

Heating Systems

All too many times I have seen heating systems that have been designed for homes more as an after thought than taking center stage as they should in cold climates. Way too often heating costs are much higher than they should be simply because the system was not well thought out. In today’s world of escalating energy costs before the ink hits the paper for the building prints you should have a good idea of how you are going to heat your home. By preplanning how you are going to heat, the house can be built in such a way that you are not only going to save on your heating bills, but the house is going to be comfortably warm too.

Keep in mind that heat is transferred in three ways, Convection, Conduction and Radiation. All of us are familiar with Convection and know that hot air rises. We also know that different materials conduct heat at different rates. However, many of us find that the movement of heat by radiation can be bit puzzling even though we experience it everyday when we feel the warmth of the sun.

By thinking about how heat is transferred and remembering that heat moves from warm to cold we can build a home that is not only comfortable but economical to heat. The fact that Pan Abode Homes are made of wood helps us in our quest for comfortable inexpensive heat. This is because wood has a low *U-factor. In other words wood does a good job of not conducting heat away from where we want it even though it has a relatively low R-value. Additionally the thermal mass of wood will help keep temperatures uniform within the living quarters through a 24 hour day by slowly absorbing and then releasing heat.

If we build the ceilings of our homes relatively airtight we can assure that the transfer of heat via convection will not rob our homes of the *BTU’s that we have generated to heat the home. If we not only insulate well but use materials such as wood that have low conductivity rates this too will help insure we keep the warm air where we want it. The same is true of our floors; lower conductive materials will help keep our home warm.

Now to that mysterious heat; radiation. Radiant heat is a form of energy that travels via electromagnetic waves. These waves do not heat the air they travel through. They release there energy when they hit an object, like people, furniture, floors and walls. In turn those objects release some of that energy in the form of convection or conductive heat. By properly placing windows we can gain significant heat in our homes via solar radiation. If those homes contain large masses of materials such as wood that have a low conductivity rates then the energy is stored for later use. If we then combing in floor radiant heat which works much the same as the radiant heat from the sun we can insure economical, comfortable heat all the time. By heating a surface such as the floor of the home heat is transferred via radiation until it hits another object. This is why people often feel warmer in a home with radiant heat even though the air temperature is cooler than in a home with other forms of heat.

As you can more than likely tell I’m a fan of in floor radiant heating. I’m certainly not a heating expert, but even with my limited knowledge I could nearly write a book on all the attributes of radiant heat. In my own Post and Beam Pan Abode Home, a custom Pan Abode Homes Cutter Design we used Warmboard to hold the PEX tubing for the in floor heating. Of course the design team at Pan Abode did a great job of working with us to insure that the Warmboard worked for our application. Since we were building in Southeast Alaska we knew we would be working in some very tough conditions so we elected not to install the Warmboard until the house was weathered in. This meant that all the rough openings for doors, ceiling heights and so forth had to be part of the design.

Now that we have been heating with the radiant heat for about a year I’m even more pleased with it than I thought I would be. I had read several times that ceiling fans were not necessary with radiant heated homes because there is not much heat loss via convection currents. I found this hard to believe so a ceiling fan was installed in our cathedral ceiling home because I was sure the 2nd floor would be roasting without it. Man was I wrong, as there is truly little to no temperature rise from the 1st to the 2nd floor. I find the only time the fan gets any use is when my grandson are visiting and that is because little kids find that turning off and on a ceiling fan is fun. So far the only problem we have had with the radiant heat is the fact that some of the zones don’t turn on very often because the woodstove more than heats the main living areas. And, because the house has a tight ceiling, convection currents of warm air rising don’t have anywhere to escape so even with the woodstove on, the 2nd floor is seldom much hotter than the 1st floor.

For anyone who is reading this and wants to know how a single 50 gallon hot water heater supplies the BTU’s for the in floor heat please e-mail me. I can be reached at southeastcedarhomes@gmail.com. I’d be happy to pass on what I learned designing and putting together our heating system. You can also see photos at this link: Heating System

* U-factor is a measurement of the ability of materials to conduct heat. The lower the conductance the lower the U-factor.
*1 BTU or British Thermal Unit = 1 degree Fahrenheit raise in temperature of one pound of water. Or about the equivalent of burning one wood match.

Deicing Wood Decks

Deicing Wood Decks

After we completed building our 1500 sq foot Alaskan yellow cedar and western red cedar deck I knew I’d have to do a bit or research to find a deicer that would not harm the deck, or the house. Here is what I found.

In cold climates deicing of wood decks is often a necessity if the deck is going to be used safely. Selecting the wrong deicer can significantly reduce the life of the wood and fasteners in the deck. The most readily available and lest expensive deicer sodium chloride (salt) should never be used because salt is by far the most corrosive of all the deicers. Salt will be absorbed into the grain of the wood and will slow precipitate back out every time the deck is wet greatly reducing the life of the metal fasteners. Salt also attracts and holds moisture.

Deicers that contain potassium chloride are not as corrosive as sodium chloride, but they too should not be used on wood decks because they are still way too corrosive for metal fasteners.

Urea based deicers also known as ammonia sulfates are considered fairly safe around pets, children and are not very corrosive to fasteners. However, urea based deicers should be used carefully if your deck is located near streams or lakes because urea which is also used as a fertilizer releases nitrates. Increased levels of nitrates in some water bodies has increased the growth of both native and invasive species of aquatic plants to the point that the water losses oxygen and kills fish. So, urea based deicers should only be used in areas where water runoff will not enter streams and lakes. In some areas ammonia sulfates are banned so if you are going to use them be sure to check with local regulations.

Of all the various deicers it is clear to me the most environmentally friendly as well as the least corrosive is Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA). In fact some studies show that CMA is also a wood preservative because the calcium neutralizes acids and it inhibits rust and other metal corrosion by neutralizing salt’s natural corrosive properties. (If you live near the cost airborne salts will be partially neutralized by CMA) The biggest drawback to CMA deicers is that they are several times more expensive than other deicers. However, if you look at the cost of deck maintenance and replacement then CMA deicers are a real bargain. Luckily CMA deicers are becoming less and less expensive as municipalities and other large users of deicers are purchasing larger quantities each year. They are doing this because they are finding that using CMA deicers cuts maintenance cost on roads, bridges, and other structures.

Before I totally decided to use CMA as the deicer on my deck I had a few more questions to answer. Here they are:

1. How is Calcium Magnesium Acetate made? CMA is a combination of dolomitic lime (limestone), magnesium and acetic acid the same acid that is found in vinegar.

2. Is CMA safe around children and pets? In many tests CMA has proven to be as safe as common table salt to children and pets.

3. What temperatures does CMA work in? CMA works best above 15 degrees Fahrenheit but will work down to temperatures of -20 degrees or lower. (Check the manufactures label and recommendations.)

4. What is the environmental concern when using CMA? CMA like all deicers does have some concerns. It has been shown to deplete oxygen in water, but far less than urea based deicers. In many test CMA has shown to be the least harmful of all deicers to water quality.

5. What does CMA do to floors and carpets? Like most deicers CMA is water soluble so it will clean up easily and does not harm most floor surfaces.

6. Does CMA harm vegetation? CMA of all the deicers is one of the least harmful to most vegetation.

There is one last thing to consider with all deicers when used on decks. Make sure you check that the deicer you select doesn’t include dyes that could discolor the wood. I ran out of CMA deicer and substituted a deicer with potassium chloride that contained a green dye; now I have some permanently green stained wood in portions of my deck. Of course read and follow all the instructions on the packaging.

Sunday, February 3, 2008


As we walked on the frozen lake yesterday afternoon and we looked over at our house I once again realized that we live in paradise. The last couple of weeks the lake has been good and frozen so we have taken many walks on the lake. This morning we walked to the library via the lake and then Connie walked to the grocery store. Both were interesting shortcuts.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Considerations When Choosing a House Design

Considerations When Choosing a House Design
By: Marcel LaPerriere

Esthetics: Will it look good and be a home we are proud to call our own?
Function: Will the house fulfill the needs of my family? Will it provide the shelter and comfort that we need in our home?
Cost: What will it cost to build?

Many design classes will teach you that there are 3 things that must be consider when designing or choosing a design. They are; Esthetics, Function, and Cost. After many years of working in the building trades I will argue that a 4th should be added and that is Serviceability.

Many years ago an architect told me his primary goal was to design a home that the owner would always be proud to say they owned. He said it was important that each and every time the owner saw their home amongst the other homes they would proudly point to theirs with no hesitation. This architect demonstrated to me how important esthetics is; especially considering that a house is part of what makes a home for your family.

Obviously when we decided to build our dream home we all want the most value for our money. We want our home to not only look nice but we want it to be comfortable and function well too. Balancing a budget to build a functional house while still making our home look good, can be a challenging task. Add in the fact that we want a low maintenance house, and then the task can become even more of a challenge. However, I would point to red cedar as being one of the most ideal building materials to help us achieve our goals of functioning well, and be esthetically pleasing while still being easy to maintain. By incorporating red cedar into our family’s home balancing all of the design criteria lessens our challenge.

Red cedar functions very well in most building environments and is an especially good building material in our rain forest environment. Red cedar is also a very affordable building material that is easy to build with. And, who doesn’t like the looks of red cedar? Now for the 4th consideration that I have added: Serviceability. Red cedar is known for its longevity. It is extremely rot and insect resistant and hold finishes well making it an easy material to maintain over the life of the home.

Yes, we could all live in tarpaper shacks. They would fulfill our need for shelter. Even with heating costs that tarpaper shack could possibly be economical. However, ascetically a tarpaper shack would not be very pleasing to our eye, and would not function well for our family. I will stick to my assertion that you will have to look long and hard to find a better building material than red cedar. It functions well, it is very economical, it is very pleasing ascetically and best of all is easy to take care of. Short term and long term you will get more value for you’re our hard earned dollars with red cedar than any other building material.