This site is going to document our new home from start to finish, hopefully with a lot of pictures and information. The focus for the site, as well as the home itself, is a net-zero passivehaus design which will get all of its energy from roof-mounted solar panels.
One of the biggest question marks when building the house in Vermont using passivehaus ideas was how it would handle truly cold weather. It is recognized that heat pumps cease working well at low temps because their main mechanism of action is to extract the heat from the outside air and turn it into hot air to heat your home. When the temperature is down where it was this week in Stowe, you need to start relying on other forms of heat to keep temperatures up, ironically when the outside is at its very coldest.
What follows is a very boring breakdown of temperature management in our house. I apologize in advance, but if you are reading this, I assume you’re at least somewhat curious how this experiment is working out so… here we go.
This morning we woke up to -30F outside and this is the coldest in a string of very cold days which have been dipping into the -20s. To prepare for the dip in temperature, I put both heat pumps on and ran a small space heater I bought as an experiment this week. The question it is meant to answer is whether or not we want another electric wall mounted heater installed in the main room. It was suggested by our architect last week and the electrician, when prepping and wiring the house, put electrical leads to several walls where we thought added heat might be required so it would be a simple matter to install them. But my wife and I resisted because these are things that would only be used, at most, for one month of the year and only a handful of days during that month (January obv), but we’d have to look at the heating element all year long. So the space heater was a stand-in to answer the question – would another electric heater even help or would the heat it generates rise up to the 20’ ceilings and be useless to us anyway.
The results were somewhat inconclusive but useful nonetheless. The problem we are honing in on is this – on days when it is bitterly cold it is generally also very sunny, so the time in question that we are very concerned with keeping up temperatures is during the night and morning hours until the sun gets high enough to come into the house. The solar gain in our concrete slab, we have seen this week, acts as a battery storing heat throughout the day and doling it out during the night. If you string together a few sunny days (which seems increasinly rare lately) the house temperature stays very warm, almost too warm by the second and third day despite temperatures ranging from -10F to -14F. Below that and you start seeing other issues emerge.
After our -30F night, the house temperature was a chilly 64F this morning. We keep the house set at 68F so it wasn’t a huge drop but you could feel it. I had the small space heater running in the spot where we imagine the wall-mounted unit to be and the nearly-useless heat pumps were running on both floors. We started a fire in the fireplace around 8:30. About an hour later, the temperature was back up to 67F and rising, the sun is blasting through the south wall and it seems on target to be very toasty in the house soon, despite the temperature outside remaining a stubborn -20F.
Performance-wise, we had a final blower door test this week and got a .6 which is the target for a passivehaus. This comes despite having exterior penetrations for a range hood, dryer vent and fireplace. That said, those were the three leakiest areas during their testing with the fireplace taking the prize for being least helpful as far as preventing heat loss. The folks who came out from Efficiency Vermont seemed impressed with the result and our builder was able to seal a few leaky conduits in the mechanical room which appears to have helped quite a bit. Also helping the mechanical room temperature is the fact that I set our heat pump water heater into full electric mode until it warms up a bit. Since the heat pump water heater was making that room cold, it was competing with the heat pumps trying to keep the house warm. The electric bill will be slightly higher but I think we will get some efficiency as a result.
When the temperature outside hit -20F we starting seeing condensation and even ice in some spots on the doors. On the front door, one hinge had some condensation and below that some ice droplets had formed. On the lift-and-slide door, the seam had ice along its length and condensation along the bottom. As the sun hit these, the black metal frames warmed up and dried the condensation and felt warm to the touch.
Despite the extreme angle of the roof, the solar panels are mostly covered with ice and snow. Usually the sun will bring the temperature up to the low 30’s clear the ice and snow and we start the process over again but the outside temperature hasn’t risen above 15F for about two weeks or so which makes the ice and snow from the last big storm linger. It looks like we might hit 32F on Tuesday so, with a little luck, we may shed some of the obstructions and get back to generating electricity. I’m not worried about it but it is interesting to see how this plays out over the course of the season.
Overall the house is standing up to these temperatures well. I think -30F is about the coldest we’ll see for a while. The average in Stowe for January is 17F for the highs and 2F for lows. The coldest day on record in Burlington is -30F and that was in the 1950’s. I think we are well outside of what we expect for “normal winter weather” right now. If we can make it through the next five weeks with no problems and a good sense of how to handle temperatures like this, I think we’ll be in great shape for the future.
The year has ended. It was a challenging one for us in many ways but we are settling in to both the house and the state of Vermont. We went to a New Year’s party that was a very Vermont experience – it was raining, beer was chilling in a canoe filled with snow, there was a giant bonfire surrounded by appropriately-dressed people sipping beer and eating chili, kids were running around in the dark sliding down snow mounds and sledding down ice chutes like total maniacs. It was a good night, when all was said and done.
The weather was very cold in December, dipping into the negative numbers on one or two occasions, and we were able to see where the house’s insulation performance held up its end of the bargain and where it was a problem. We generally keep the house at 68F, which is comfortable for us. We wear short-sleeved t-shirts or light flannel shirts most of the time. On the coldest days the house is 67F downstairs in the main room when we wake up. That’s a little too chilly for us but easily fixed by wearing a sweater until things heat up. We are currently heating the house with a variety of heat sources which lends credence to the phrase mentioned in previous posts that this house will have a learning curve.
On 90% of days, the house is heated solely by the heat pump in the first floor hallway and the heated floor in the main bathroom. There is another heat pump upstairs but the heat is rarely lower than 69F up there because the heat rises from a 68F first floor. It is more commonly between 71F and 73F up there. There are issues with rooms in the “corners” which are mainly the rooms on the north side of the house. We expected this and installed an electric baseboard heater in the guest room and the ambient floor heating in the main bathroom which solve the problem of slightly lower temps in those rooms. On the bitterly cold, cloudy days, we have built a fire in the fireplace. Within two to three hours, it will raise the ambient temperature in the house by 3-4 degrees, lifting the main room from 67F to 69 or 70F. I wish I could tell you how much the solar gain raises the temperature when its bitterly cold but it seems like we haven’t seen the sun since November here. I suspect that the sun will do enough to raise the ambient temp that we wouldn’t need a fire but we’ll have to see when the sun comes out.
The ERV is doing a decent job at preserving some humidity levels in the house. It has gone from the high 60% levels of October down to 40-41%. This drying has had some effects on the wood floors which are shrinking width-wise as they dry. The summer will surely see them expand slightly as they breathe. One issue that has yet to be completely resolved is the seam along the ceiling that abuts the guest room. The caulk/paint combination that was used to make a perfectly straight line has shrunk and separated making a very messy looking split. The painters came to fix it and we’ll see how it holds up over the new few months. They need to return in the spring to paint the porch pillars so they can fix whatever happens between now and then.
We finally had our water softener installed. It was a fiasco, requiring a large hole to be cut in the drywall behind the washer/dryer, but once it was done and the appliances pushed back, it no longer bothered me because I couldn’t see it. It made an immediate change in the water quality and we are extremely happy with the results. I removed all of the orange/yellow hue from the toilets, showers, and tile using a cleaner and the rust colors haven’t returned so that problem is solved and the water tastes great too.
The kitchen appliances from Fisher Paykel continue to be excellent. The stove is a revelation and we’re extremely happy with going all-electric. We thought we’d miss having gas on the cooktop but we don’t miss it at all.
We have a barred owl that makes occasional appearances in the trees outside of our south side windows. I was able to snap a picture of him through our spotting scope. He is usually hunting rodents in the small strip of woods to the south.
We made a few design considerations when we started working with our architect, Harry Hunt. We wanted materials that wouldn’t wear out quickly and we wanted a house layout that would take our lifestyle into consideration. We both function better when there is little clutter. Having junk scattered around like piles of books, the chaos of toys and toy parts, all are distracting and detracting and we wanted ways to discourage them or hide them if possible. The book piles are contained easily in the library, as is the bulk of the toy mess. The kitchen has a large sink to deposit dirty dishes and keep visual clutter to a minimum. The pantry is large and situated out of most lines of sight. Our laundry is also our walk-in closet so all clothes easily go into it when they’re dirty, get washed and then put right into the drawers, shelves or hangars as they come out of the dryer. There are just two areas which are problematic – the counter near the side door which attracts a lot of miscellaneous stuff like mail, boxes, etc. And the rug in front of the sofa in the main room which takes on a lot of random toy garbage which seems unavoidable with a four year old. I would say, despite those two spots, the design is working as we had hoped.
This photo was taken at this time last year.
One thing that becomes more striking as time goes on is the community of Stowe in general. We have met some friendly, kind people since we’ve moved here. We are always having good interactions with people in restaurants or stores and it tends to repair some of the damage to my general outlook on society that is currently being done by the awful people in the world, like the anti-vaxxers and seditionists. We’re making contacts and relationships here and I’m hoping it continues.
The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has been running rampant, even in Vermont now. We have been playing it as safe as we can, avoiding restaurants more than I would like but until this calms down it seems like a sensible course of action. We have found some places that we are growing to love that are large and filled with what appears to be people being safe. Alfie’s Wild Ride in Stowe is fantastic, ZenBarn in Waterbury Center and our first pizza delivery from Piecasso’s are keeping us motivated.
Another view from last year. What a difference a year makes.
Winter has finally arrived here in Stowe, Vermont. For the last month, snow has been teasing us with flurries here and there but nothing has stuck. Stowe’s skiing was supposed to start on November 19th but there wasn’t enough snow for that to happen. But this weekend, after a few days of light snow, the town filled up with skiers and the slopes were in full swing.
I would estimate we got about 4-5” of snow – enough to try out the shovels, the tractor snow thrower and figure out what needs to be kept clear. One of the main things about snow we were told prior to moving here is that, if you don’t take care of snow properly when it falls, get used to it because it will be around until mud season because the temperature will never go up high enough to melt it until then.
The temperatures have been cycling between 30F and 10F and so we have been working through the process of heating the house efficiently. So far, even down into the low-teens, we are just heating the house with the heat pump outside of our mechanical room on the first floor. We are keeping the temperature at 69F which seems very comfortable. Since the heat makes its way upstairs, it tends to be about 71F on the second floor.
I have set up the bathroom floor heaters to kick on around 5AM and shut themselves back off at 10AM so there is likely a little heat coming from those sources. Holidays have the house more populated than usual so there is more ambient human heat being introduced into the space as well. If you add in the intermittent sources like cooking, hot showers, solar gain (rare lately) and a wood fire a few days ago, you have a decent amount of heat contributing to the heat pump’s efforts.
So far there are a few downsides with the house, albeit minor ones.
- The concrete floor temperatures are pretty chilly, especially at night or when it is cloudy.
- The incoming water is causing condensation and, hence, dampness in the mechanical room.
- The Zehnder has a hard time evacuating the shower steam quickly in the main bathroom. If you don’t keep the interstitial pocket door open between the sink area and the shower area when showering, the steam stays trapped in the shower side. With guests, we are having more hot showers than usual and it is causing some paint issues.
- If you keep bedroom doors closed at night, they get less ambient heat from the heat pump. Because of the Zehnder, they aren’t frigid but they are definitely lower than the ambient temperature of the main room.
The STUV fireplace has been incredible. For such a small chamber, it takes very little wood to generate a great deal of heat. On the two days we had the fire burning, the heat was hitting 78F upstairs. It was a toaster 74F downstairs.
So far, my verdict is that the house is performing very well. Sitting here now, the temperature outside is 17F and the entire house feels great and is consistently warm using just a small heat pump on the first floor even after an extended period of dark, cloudy, snow-filled days. That was the goal and it appears the goal has been met.
For those of you watching this blog over the course of the last few years, you will already be aware of the shipping and logistics nightmares that have been problems throughout the project due to the pandemic and supply line issues.
One of the biggest and longest-delayed items on the furniture front has been the sofa for the main living area. We ordered it in May from a company in California which seemed to have the best mix of design choices, materials and quality. On their website, you assemble the sofa from choices presented to you. Once you click “submit”, they respond with a schematic drawing of the sofa which you then approve. They also sent a folder with leather samples and materials for us to approve and, once their checklist was complete, they put the furniture into production.
The original ship date was August which was going to work out well when we expected the house done at the end of the summer. But as the date of the house completion slipped, the sofa slipped as well going from September, to October, and finally November.
Once it was shipped, we followed the progress of it as it made its way across the country. I was dreading the arrival because, if it was damaged in any way and we had to get it remediated, it could take months and months so my worry for getting this piece of furniture into the house safe and sound was off the charts.
The day finally arrived and the crew showed up slightly late for their delivery window. Snow was pelting down, adding another worry. But they exited the truck, brought the pieces in and assembled them in their final resting spot within minutes. They were undamaged and in great shape and, as usual, all of that worry was for nothing.
The kitchen is coming together with our replacement bowls from East Fork and a consistent style on the shelves. The shelves are fairly easy to keep clean with micro-fiber cloths and, although the side island is dusty in these pictures, clean counters devoid of junk and appliances really make things look nice.
As far as the house itself goes, construction-wise, there are still some pain points.
- The backyard area behind the summer porch will likely not get done until Spring. The concrete company is currently trying to finish large jobs like foundations and floors before the snow hits and little patios like ours don’t make the cut for attention. Our builder is looking at alternatives, but it is unlikely to happen. The follow on effect of that is that we can’t add the final layer of topsoil behind the summer porch or grass seed or finish that area for months. We got close but it looks like it just isn’t going to happen which is a great disappointment.
- One of the beads of caulk and paint along the ceiling of the great room is splitting and drying so it needs to be redone. As the house continues to dry out, I suspect we will see more of this but for now, this is the one glaring issue. It isn’t super noticeable because it is so high up but if you know where to look, it looks like shit.
- We have some lighting fixtures to put in but they haven’t arrived from the supplier yet.
- The rest of the networking cables need to be wired up.
As far as the important stuff goes – actually living in the house day-to-day, we have very few complaints. Our property is secluded and the house is set back far enough that the road rarely comes into notice. The house is so insulated and tightly sealed that you can’t hear anything outside of the house. After our experience in our last house with morons on loud motorcycles blasting by every few minutes and general hillbilly idiocy with deafening diesel pickup trucks, this is like heaven. Every window we look out, we see woods, or a pond, or mountain peaks sneaking a view through some trees.
We are also insulated by the choices of other people, which is always a big thing for us. We looked at a place in Elmore that we loved but it had acres and acres of land around it that we would have had no control over. It could have been sold to have houses built on it right in front of us, or worse. All around us now are shielding trees, especially in the summer. Since we own the trees, no one can cut them down and present us with an uninterrupted view of an ugly house like the one around the corner from us that is currently under construction.
Another huge quality of life change is that we are just 5 minutes from our child’s daycare and even less from his eventual elementary school so our time spent commuting is a fraction of the 180 minutes we used to have to do in PA.
Next week, I’ll have some details on the solar setup. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who is following this nonsense. It’s my favorite holiday because it involves turkey and day-drinking. Also the kids will all be here under one roof which I’ll be very happy about. Cheers.
The past few weeks have felt like we have moved past the “just moved into our new house” and into the phase where we are settling in and becoming more comfortable.
There are a few stumbling blocks when moving into a new house and I would add a few more to that list when moving into a passivehaus. The systems like the water heater, heating systems and general temperature and humidity control are always going to have a learning curve but in a passivehaus they take on a very important aspect in your daily life.
I remain slightly skeptical of how well the heating systems are going to handle the deepest winter here. So far, the house has performed well but we haven’t had a temperature much below 20F. We mostly keep the heat pump on “Heat” mode downstairs at 69F and it is more than enough to warm the first floor and keep the second floor around 71F. The humidity in the house has been fluctuating between 49% and 54%.
On sunny days I have been turning off the heat altogether since the sun will heat the house throughout the day well into the 70s. The evening will see a general cooling of the house, especially on colder nights, of 2-4 degrees. I think the lowest I’ve let it get down to is 67F which is generally what we’ll find after a chilly night and the temperature at 69F when we go to sleep. If it was a sunny day, the temperature usually runs a bit higher throughout the day. I think my new tack is going to be to turn the heat on when we go to bed set to 69F so it doesn’t dip too much while we sleep. It will probably save money over time because the heater won’t have to work so hard in the morning. That said, I don’t think they are working too hard currently and having one small heat pump vent heating the whole house is pretty remarkable.
But on a series of days when it is gloomy and rainy there is no sun to boost the heating efforts and, while things have so far been fine, when we have multiple days in the negative temps, it remains to be seen how the house will hold the heat or, rather, how effectively the heating systems will replace the heat loss.
This weekend we had our first fire in the Stuv fireplace. The first fire in a new fireplace always will have some off-gassing from the new paint and/or oil coated parts of the stove itself, but the overall function was beyond excellent. It pushed the heat into the room and burned the wood very efficiently. I would say we burned less than a dozen pieces of split firewood over the course of the day and, despite the heat pumps being off, the house was 71F in the main room and 75F upstairs.
The last remaining big piece of furniture, the sofa for the main room, arrives on Tuesday from California. It has been traveling the country since mid-October and the “final mile” truck should be unloading it mid-morning. Fingers crossed that it all goes well. Furniture delivery is one of the most stressful things I’ve had to deal with during this build and move process.
About 100 years ago I was in art school for fine arts-painting. I did a lot of paintings during those years, especially when I returned to college after a year-long hiatus, that end up speaking to folks still. They were strange formats, sometimes on hollow body wooden doors, or thick canvas. Over the years, the collection of these old paintings has dwindled but the few that made it here are getting hung where they might enhance the look of the place.
This horizontal painting really works well on the upstairs hall area. It echoes the window shapes across the room which are also long and horizontal. The light blasts through in the late morning and allows for some visual excavation of the layers I built up and having a dark counterpoint to the window is interesting. It seems like it was made to be in that spot so I’m happy we held on to it. That painting is around 20 years old which is slightly shocking.
We are supposed to get our first accumulation of snow this week. It might be an inch or so but I’ll be ready.
The storage facility was emptied out this week and so we no longer are bearing the expense which is helpful because November is shaping up to be our most-broke month ever. Every expense that had been in stasis for months is coming due – almost-final bills from the builder, college tuition for two kids, pre-school tuition for another kid, lighting and electrical supplies (they were under a contingency for the build and we are buying them all up front), huge surprise tax bill, regular Stowe taxes, life insurance, car insurance and a host of other things. It’s pretty crazy.
We have spent the majority of our free time this week emptying boxes that we fetched from the storage facility and stored in our garage. Their numbers are dwindling but one sad thing that we’ve had to come to grips with is that our terrific collection of bowls has been lost somewhere during the move. We have been collecting bowls from East Fork for the last four years or so, buying them when they have “seconds” sales and special colors on offer. We even based the color of the walls in our library on one of theirs called “Night Swim”. Not only were we bummed out that we lost them because they were essentially irreplaceable but they are super expensive when you’re not buying them on sale. We had a total of three bowls in the house since we moved in and it just didn’t make sense to buy temporary bowls so we shelled out for the East Fork replacements. This all kind of goes with our philosophy that we want this house set up right the first time and it may cost a bit more at first but we’ll never have to think about it again.
Something that continues to be somewhat shocking is how the house handles noise. Because it is so tight and the walls are so thick, sound barely penetrates. A leading indicator of how well this insulation works is our dog, Orbit, who is a Corgi with huge ears and crazy hearing. In previous houses, he always seemed on edge due to ambient sounds outside, whether they be car noises, or neighbors mowing, etc. In this house, he hears nothing outside of our normal day-to-day noices so he seems very relaxed. Noises outside aren’t loud enough to each his over-sensitive ears. This applies to contractors putting in concrete forms right outside the library windows, cars in the driveway, other dogs in the neighborhood barking – these are things that would have made him go apeshit prior to this house. Now, nothing. Huge quality of life upgrade for everyone.
The lack of sound applies to sounds going outside of the house as well. We have a family of deer that come into the back yard and eat the grass fifteen feet away from the back porch. With Henry yelling and running around on the other side of the triple-pane glass, the deer don’t even stir.
So far, the loudest things in the house aren’t what you would expect. I guess it is probably ranked by cost too, with the cheapest thing making the most noise.
- Water pump in mechanical room (for the water heater evaporation line)
- Toilet seat (with that fancy bidet situation)
- Water heater (generates noise and cold (and hot water obv))
- Dishwasher (its pretty loud when its running, but not disturbingly so)
The weather has been pretty rainy since we got here in June. Sure there were some super stellar weeks in the summer months but there was also an unseasonably high amount of rain this year too. If it continues into the snow season we could be in for a big one.
One of the most challenging things about this house will be heating and cooling it effectively and efficiently. Balancing all of the houses heating sources seems like it will be difficult. I think we are close to being prepared. A project for next week is putting on the tractor’s tire chains. We also could use those stakes you put along your driveway to indicate the edges when plowing and some snow&ice melt but otherwise we are prepared for as much snow as Stowe wants to throw at us.
Speaking of weather, I’m finding that the house is very dependent on the weather in almost all respects which gives the house a kind of unpredictable feel, and not necessarily in a good way. If the sun streams into the south windows, the house can run for days without turning on the electrical heat pumps. We had four or five days straight where the sun would heat the house to 70-72F during the day and it would slowly drop through the night and end up at 68F by morning. These were full sun winter days and not quite mid-winter temperatures, although some of those nights were in the 20’s. That bodes well for those super crisp post-front days.
On cloudy cold days, however, I am currently keeping things comfortable by running the main floor heat pump at 69F. That easily heats the house to 69F downstairs and 72F upstairs. We are also running the bathroom ambient floor heat from 5:30AM to 10AM at 72F which gives those rooms a warmer feel and it keeps those floors warm for quite a while after the electricity stops.
I think the heat will continue to be a puzzle to solve for the whole year but once we have a solid base of how to handle things, it should be fine. I think the coldest room in the house might be the spare room but we put a baseboard electrical heater in there if it is needed. For the most part, the Zehnder moves the air around in the house pretty well. Also ambient heat sources like cooking and doing the laundry contribute to the overall heat profile of the house during the course of the week.
Our solar is generating more questions than answers right now. Now that it is up and working, we have two meters to figure out and the electric company website does quite a bit to muddy the water as well. I have an app for SolarEdge, the maker of the solar panels, which gives me some good read-outs on their effectiveness but I don’t know how it all rolls into the electric bill. I do know that the bill last month was astronomical because they were running industrial dehumidifiers for most of the month.
I doubt we will have a clear picture of our solar loads until the end of next summer. Until then, the amount of electricity we plan on using is a rough guess based on some modeling by Efficiency Vermont and our build/design teams.
I called late last week to see if the water treatment company could come any earlier to install our water softener. The answer was not only a “no”, but a “no” that me think our install date in late November was also in jeopardy. So that sucks.
The office is coming together slowly but surely. My wife is enjoying the setup and I have my synths set up and my gaming PC. The gaming PC is a few years old now but still plays most games fine but the synth should be fun to play with on snowy nights.
Furniture-wise, we are down to our last sofa delivery. It is due in Stowe this week and, once it is in place, all of the planned furniture purchases will be in the house and we should be pretty well furnished. That’s a huge relief because shipping and receiving stuff like this – fragile, easily-destroyed furniture being carried cross-country – stresses me the hell out.
Lastly, our lighting situation is still in limbo. There are some sconces being shipped, a replacement globe for the kitchen light and likely a few lingering items. No news on when they will arrive or get installed.
This week we lived with minimal interruptions from subcontractors. That can be good news or bad news depending on what you’re looking for. If you want things to quiet down, then you were great shape this week. If you wanted your house finished, then maybe that wasn’t so great.
We started the week with the solar team arriving bright and early, before the sun came up, and they started pulling a new set of wires because Stowe Electric insisted it be a different way. No one was happy with that decision. After a full morning of work (re-work…) they were ready for testing so we called Stowe Electric and they said they’d get to us when they had a chance. And it wasn’t going to be right away. So the crew had to leave again with solar still not working. Disappointing because it was the last sunny day in the forecast for the foreseeable future.
The interior of the house made incremental steps with us getting boxes from the storage space and hauling them in, unpacking them and putting the cardboard in a huge, ever-growing pile in the garage.
The electrician still stops by here and there to get exterior lights working and running wires for lights that are still on back order.
Outside, we have a mudpit in the north where the patio is due to be poured but we are on the bottom of the concrete company’s list given how small the task is. I just need it done before its too cold to pour concrete because we don’t want a frozen mudpit all winter. The prognosis isn’t good according to our builder. The concrete guys are doing big jobs like floor pours and basement walls before they do a small 8x10 patio for us.
The grass started growing from the last round of landscaping which is a good sign. I am hoping its well-established before the snow falls.
The leaf season has lasted a good long while this year. Trees are definitely starting to lose their leaves this week due to the rain and winds that have arrived but there is still a good amount of color around depending on where you look. As the leaves drop, we get a good idea of the views of the Worchester range to the south and the Pinnacle to the east.
I was dreading the delivery of a sofa this week. The last big delivery we got was a fiasco with the UPS driver insisting he couldn’t make it down our road and I had to bring a car to fetch the giant light from his 25 foot trailer (which is now hanging in our main room).
The dispatcher from the shipping company called on Friday and said that we were ready for delivery and said “We aren’t sure about your road so maybe plan on getting a truck or something in case we can’t make it down there.”
To which I replied, “I already did hire a truck. YOU are the truck I hired.” There was a few seconds of silence and he said “We’ll see you at noon.” I wasn’t happy.
Noon came and went. An hour or two later, the truck appeared and a good-natured Vermonter emerged from the driver’s seat. He said the road wasn’t a problem and he delivered here often. He helped unload the sofa, moved it to the house and carried it to where we could install it easily. All that worry was for nothing. The entire experience could have been worry-free so I’ll try to keep that in mind for the next two sofa deliveries.
Stowe Electric finally did arrive the next day to touch a testing device to the shut-offs and meter. It took 30 seconds and we were ok to start up the solar. A solar installer arrived later in the day to do the commissioning process so we have active solar panels now.
We also got our Certificate of Occupancy from the town of Stowe this week. It may not seem like much but we’re moving towards a “complete” house slowly but surely.
My wife had a few days off this week to help unpack and generally settle things down in the new house while our son was in pre-school. Because we didn’t have to keep an eye on him, we were productive in getting things organized.
The kitchen – a spot my wife planned meticulously to work with how she enjoys cooking – is a focal point of the organization. It is one of the more complete areas of the house right now, missing just a few of the decorative hanging lights above the black granite counters.
Our kitchen is planned around our tendencies and how we tend to prepare food and clean up. The drawers and counter space all revolve around the cook space and the sink is large to soak pans used for roasting or large rice cooker pots that are hard to clean.
The appliances are all Fisher Paykel, a brand we hadn’t heard of prior to this build. They are very sophisticated pieces of gear which isn’t apparent until you dig into the manuals and see them in operation.
One of the things I hate to do is run a dishwasher before it is full. The downside of this mental quirk is that the dishes would pile up inside of the appliance, unwashed, for a few days until we had enough to fill it up completely to run. That problem was alleviated with our new setup.
The dishwasher is a two-drawer system. You can run both drawers in tandem or the small lower door for small loads or the slightly larger upper drawer for normal loads. It keeps the counters clean and the dishes clean as well. So far I’m loving this thing.
We were slightly worried about buying an induction range because they were fairly new technology (in the US) and expensive. They fit into our house planning ideas that eschewed fossil fuels since induction is based on magnets. We had been collecting pots and pans that will work with induction for the last few years – since we knew we were going to buy one – and so far they have worked really well. My wife loves the range and oven. The induction heat is very responsive and there are no fossil fuel fumes to worry about. The only fumes we have to worry about are steam and regular food cooking smoke which we manage with the Fisher Paykel range hood. Major things like kitchen design are always a bit of a leap when you are planning a house but the whole setup feels perfect and we’re really happy with how it worked out.
The refrigerator is smaller than I would like it to be but we are making it work. It has made us much more conscious of what we put into it which is helpful. So far it has only meant that food no longer gets lost like it does in the cavernous back of a normal fridge. Since we buy beer fresh these days, there isn’t a lot of beer taking up room. That may change as snow slows our ability to run to buy beer at the Alchemist quickly. Despite insane peeper traffic this week, it takes about 9 minutes to get there.
The prices on the Fisher Paykel appliances were eye-watering but we are glad we were able to furnish the house with them because they are fantastic so far.
Here’s what you can see in the photos: - Fisher Paykel Range - $5,649 - Fisher Paykel Dishwasher - $1,299 - Fisher Paykel Refrigerator - $2,500
The pantry area has been great. We have put all of our supplies in it and have tons of room to spare which is what we hoped for. We can now stock it with staples and larger items from Costco for the long winter or the apparently-impending economic collapse. We also have room for canned or pickled foods as well.
On one wall of the pantry we have a butcher-block counter and shelves with huge pull out drawers underneath. This area is keeping the clutter away from the main kitchen countertop and it houses the coffee maker, microwave, mixers, food processors, etc.
The small library is coming together. We were worried that it would feel cramped rather than cozy and we’re still not 100% sure since the sofa has yet to arrive but so far it is good. All of our books have been moved to the shelves and we room to grow. The TV isn’t too large for the space which is a relief. We still need some of the wall-mounted sconces but they are on a very long backorder.
One of the stars of the place is the lighting. Our electrician has been great with suggestions, finding great lighting choices and thinking through how to best use the light in the space. The stair lights are one example where a suggestion he made transformed the house. Having the stairs lit by small, dimmable LED lights has been far more effective and attractive than a night light and we just love them.
The main room lighting has a lot of ways we can configure it. The large hanging light from Hubbardton Forge is what we use most of the time. It is a warm, subtle enough light that we can do what we need to do but not blast the room with overhead light, which we don’t generally like. The room does have high intensity overheads though, if we need them. They are organized into switched quandrants so we can target the light where we need it.
We also make heavy use of dimmers and under-cabinet lights which add to the warmth and coziness of the house. They are in the office, under the new IKEA cabinets, in the kitchen and in the pantry. Under-cabinet lights are what we use to give the room a glow without having a ton of bright light bouncing around. Obviously we have great task-based overhead lighting in those areas as well.
Something we weren’t sure about prior to moving in was how well the bathroom setups would work but I am happy to report they are both great.
The main floor bathroom is nearly perfect for us with a large shower with both rain and regular shower heads. The faucets feel sturdy and their operation is tight. We can tune the water perfectly and they are very easy to use. The tub is a good size and the filler faucets fill the tub very quickly. We haven’t organized all of the towels, sheets, and such but there is a lot of empty drawers and cabinets for that purpose so its a project for this weekend.
We had forgotten about getting a bidet toilet (Toto Washlet) but it was something we did back during the first months of the pandemic when toilet paper was hard to find. So far, surprisingly, its a useful device. It combines a heated seat with the normal bidet functions.
I was worried about not having a purpose-built shower steam fan in the bathrooms because the Zehnder ERV always seems so quiet but there are boost buttons in both bathrooms and, despite not having a dramatic-sounding fan, it seems to do a great job carrying the steam out of the room quickly.
HEATING AND COOLING
Speaking of the Zehnder, the heat pumps combined with the ERV seems to be a great combination. I haven’t had heating or cooling on for the last few days and the temperature is stuck at 70F, despite it going down to the 40’s and low 50’s at night. The goal would be to use the heat pumps to control the ambient temperature as little as possible and so far that’s working. We’ll see how far that extends into the colder weather but we have a lot of heat sources in the house should we need them. Solar heat warming the concrete floor in the main room, cooking, fireplace, heat pumps, electric baseboard heat and ambient flooring in the first floor bathroom all should combine to keep the temperature at a comfortable level all winter. Because the Zehnder circulates the ambient air throughout the house, warmth in one area of the house should spread to all corners fairly quickly.
The solar installation permit was granted by the town last week so the solar install team return to finish their work. The panels went up quickly and the wires were run into the mechanical room and a shut off installed on outside of the garage.
We have had some more issues thrown at us this week so hopefully that job will be done next Tuesday and we’ll start generating our own power soon after.
This week the landscaping crew installed the driveway. It transformed our property from a muddy area with a structure in the middle of it to an official-looking thing.
The excavator operator and my wife did a lot of rock work this week. Once the grading was completed, I could see my wife out every window pointing and directing the rocks to various areas of the land. Some of the rocks were places as sculptural elements but otheres were more practical. We now have a few natural benches scattered throughout the property for peering into the woods or the wetlands.
There are just a few boxes left to unpack and not much is left in the storage facility. We are completely out of the apartment and we are tying up a lot of loose ends. All of us feel more relaxed being here finally, even the pets.
One thing worth noting is how quiet this house is. For better or worse, you can’t hear anything going on outside. After the nightmare deluge of ear-splitting Harley riders at our old house, it is indescribable how great the new situation is. For example, our painter had his radio on outside of the breezeway door. I couldn’t hear it until the door was opened and it was very loud. It was remarkable how much the thick walls, triple-glazed windows and doors and tight seal keeps out the sound. Unfortunately it also keeps out cell phone signals but that’s a story for another post.
We still have very little furniture due to shipping and manufacturing delays affecting our ability to get the sofas we ordered in the Spring. We might get one of the sofas this week but it remains to be seen. The main sofas (for the living room and library) are likely to be delayed well into November.
And so here we are. Finally.
We all woke up early, too excited to sleep despite being awake most of the night planning what was going to happen when it was light enough outside to get started. Despite all of this mental effort, we still did a very poor job moving into the house but more on that later.
As we were getting the car packed up we got a text that the landscaping/excavating crew had arrived (at least a day early but glad they showed up). They were going to take out a tree damaged during the digging of the septic system, spread a load or two of top soil, install the drip edges and dig a hole into which the back patio will be poured.
When we arrived the house with a very full car, the earth moving was under way and my wife started discussing her rock placement ideas with the site foreman.
The plumber, painter and tilers arrived around the same time and got to work.
By the end of the normal work day, the tile was done, the interior painting was more or less done, the plumbing was done and we had a pile of boxes to sort through. There were a few loose ends that need fixing like the dishwasher which wasn’t in position or fastened in, or the clothes washer and drier which was in the right area but it had no power and was not pushed into its final resting place while they figure out some ducting and electrical issues. The range wasn’t in position either due to the grout being worked on.
Carl, our mad wizard electrician, showed up at quitting time for normal folks and set to work on our priorities for the remaining lights and switches. The family had take-out dinner and Focal Banger while Carl got the kitchen switches and outlets wired up, the bathroom sconces working and a variety of other things. He stayed until we were ready to go to bed and, before he left, he and I got the range set up and working (and pushed into place).
I hooked up our WiFi router and got the repeater working up in the office. Rock solid 95/95 fiber internet. I am really excited we got that issue taken care of. Last year at this time I was calling congressmen and cable company execs hoping for a resolution by the time we moved and all of that paid off which is gratifying.
We woke up in the new place with rain pouring down outside but we’re ready to get unpacking and move on with our lives in this new house. There is still a lot to do before we’re “done” but we took a huge step closer to done this weekend.
Same spot, August 2020
Same spot, August 2021