Category Archives: building

info and ideas on the building process

paint and pot lights

We have some of both.

About a month ago, we auditioned a painter.* He seemed really good, and keen, and asked all the right questions, and had a lot of experience, and came highly recommended, and. . . he ditched us. There wasn’t much of a conversation about it, but we’re not working together. So our general contractor pulled through again. We knew he would do a meticulous job, so here we are: he is at least three-quarters through the house, with the first and second floors now complete and just the interior walls of the basement left to do.

*Doesn’t that sound like more fun than, say, “meeting a contractor”?

We are using Benjamin Moore Aura paint. We tried it in our current house, and really liked it. It has great coverage, has low VOCs, and the colours come through as quite vibrant.

CC110 muslin/zen. This is our main colour throughout. It’s a kind of beige-ish cream-ish white-ish neutral, with pink-ish undertones in some light and yellow-ish undertones in others. Like a muslin zen. We really like it.
CC100 flurry/chanvre. Ceiling in the kitchen (all other ceilings are knock-down, so have not been painted). This is a white-ish white and looks far more like snow than hemp (okay, I had to look up “chanvre”).
C92 autumn leaf. This is on random walls: one in the kitchen, one in the living room, and a patch of wall up from the first-to-second-floor stairs.
2134 whale grey. Two walls in treehouse room.
HC51 audobon russet/ myrtille. This is an extra colour that we had in our palette, but have not yet used. Again–it looks much more russet-y than blueberry-ish. I would wonder what part of the “myrtille” was that shade of brown, and definitely not add it to my pies. We are considering a good spot for this colour, and until we find it, it will stay in the “ideas” file.

Pot lights
They are in. We went with black baffles and white “flanges” in both the kitchen and the living room. It’s a guess as to whether that’s best. An educated guess, but a guess nonetheless. We’ll tell you in a year or so, whether we have made the right decision.


blower door test

The house envelope is super-insulated and super-sealed. In a passive house, the objective is to seal the home envelope so well that heat energy created by the sun, wood stoves or the back up electrical heaters stays in the house (as long as possible) because there are so few air exchanges or leaks.

The blower door test helps you measure how well your builder/team sealed the envelope: “With a blower door, builders can quantify airflow and the resulting heat
(or cooling) loss, pinpoint specific leaks, and determine when a home needs additional mechanical ventilation.” Energy conservatory has a good article on the testing process.

Rob Gawreletz from Alberta Eco-Visors came the other day to do the blower door test.

blower door test from inside

blower door test from outside

After an initial first reading, Rob depressurized the house so that outside air would try to enter the envelope. Then we walked around and identified a few spots where there were minor leaks around doors and windows that had not yet been caulked for painting etc. We noticed that the plumbing stack, which wasn’t hooked up yet, was not closed off. Oops. And we felt some leaks around where the HRV intake pipe entered the box. Both were easy to fix with duct tape.

The test is helpful. You can correct any minor leaks right away with acoustical sealant or other types of sealants in finished areas.

I’m really glad we went with the spray foam on rim joists and the blown in cellulose walls too. They are sealed nicely.

The results were good: .63 ACH (after we sealed the obvious pipes) – .84 ACH before). Congratulations to Doug the builder and the crew. Excellent job.

An average home today is 1.5 ACH or higher. The net zero homes in the city are at about .7 ACH or so after much hard work. . . so we are in the ballpark.

Doug Hyde (DC Hyde Construction, Athabasca) and his team were meticulous and deserve all the credit. Doug told me that he was trained to always take much care when sealing his homes. But this was the first time in his long career that he ever had one of his buildings assessed with the blower door test. Now that he saw the few small errors and fixes, he is looking forward to the next home and next test. And that’s how your good builders become even greener.

I hope Doug becomes an ambassador of the blower door test for other consumers and other builders up north, where winter is long and cold. If there were more grants to reward smarter building standards, as there are in other countries and provinces like British Columbia, then Alberta would be further ahead.

Tomato Man


These are some of the windows that I think will need window coverings, in particular to keep the heat in in the winter and the heat out in the summer. The large south-facing windows (and to a lesser degree, the east-facing ones) will be contributing greatly to heating the house during the day, but we’d like to prevent them from heating the outdoors at night. The Mill Creek Net Zero house project looked into window coverings a bit. . . I’m wondering if the Hunter Douglas product might be a good one for us too.

The upstairs north- and northeast-facing corner windows (just behind the balcony in the first picture) are from the bedroom. Here, we would like something that can block the early-morning June 21st 4am sun, obscure the view from the outside in, and maybe also allow us to see out when pulled. A dream? Maybe. Isn’t there some kind of magic fabric that will do all this? While still having an insulating factor of more than R2? Just asking. . . .


we have drywall

It has been a long time coming. So, to celebrate, may I present fifty or so of my favourite pictures expressing the drywall beauty. Next up, mud & tape.

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town sewer hook-up

Last fall, while digging the foundation, we discovered that our sewer lines ran diagonally from our house and across our neighbour’s second lot. We knew that we would have to remedy that, and finally got around to it this summer. It involved tearing up the sidewalk and street, locating the main sewer line, tying in to it, and semi-repairing the street and sidewalk. It will be completely repaired the next time the town crew works on streets and sidewalks.



stair pans

The concept on these stairs is to have pans filled with poured concrete. The stair pans and stringers were fabricated offsite and delivered and assembled in place, one flight from the first to the second floor, and another from the basement to the first.

stairs, first to second floor

Once assembled, it was solid and strong for carrying weight. However, because it was designed with two C-channels bolted together to construct the single stringer, there was some side-to-side flexing within the stair flight. We spent about a week consulting with everyone involved, from architect and engineer to general and welders to come up with a solution, which was a plate running the length of the stringer and welded (in-place now, which got exciting as things heated up around the subfloor. . . ) to encompass the width of both C-channels. We had plenty of experts after the fact to tell us that we should have started with a kind of square channel instead, which would have given us the strength and rigidity that we now have. Now, we have stability throughout.

stair, first to second, repaired

stair, first to second, repaired, side view

stair detail, repaired

The entire stair adventure took about four weeks, give or take. But don’t they look fantastic?

catching up, part two

It has been a whirlwind. Well, not completely all confused and tumultuous, but there has been some of that too. As there is over a month to recap, I’ll try to be brief yet thorough. Moving back from today, and maybe also forward from June. All business–no pictures.


Signed a deal with a tiler and ordered tiles; picked strawberries for next winter’s pies; checked out a sample kitchen cupboard—a “lower,” one with the mixer stand—and confirmed drawer pulls; wrote some cheques, and confirmed with the assessor that we are 80% complete.

Results: tiles are not what we had originally picked out, but are 55% cheaper and 80% nicer in colour; strawberries were sweet and plentiful; mixer stand cupboard is a dream, and the drawer pulls make our kitchen to be straight of Dwell magazine (well, give or take); cheques=goodbye money; 80% done is a guesstimate.

in the past week

Cement board is up in two of three bathrooms; upstairs bathtub is in place; kitchen sink has arrived; and the mop bucket/ dog washing station is now formed with a fancy schluter shower bottom. A little more than I had hoped for, but the dog will love it, I’m sure. Rim joists are being insulated with rigid foam, slot by tiny slot (each of these slots needs to be cut out and fitted around the I-beams—something I never in my life thought that I would have to know. But now that I do, I had better get a picture of it, right?).

other tidbits of interest

The spray foam that we had used around the windows did not stick to the fiberglass window frames. Which meant tuck-taping around each of them—which only really took a day, I think. Sigh. I guess it’s better to have found this out now, though, than after drywalling and so on.

We had an arborist over to take a good, hard look at the tree. Turns out, this year’s growth has been great, and it has already set buds for next year. This is good news! It is, however, “over-mature,” and has a few knocks against it (um, losing several limbs, a lot of roots, and its top might have something to do with it). This is not-so-good news! Overall, we are optimistic. And will start succession planting this fall.

The balcony now has a metal cap on the handrail, and is sided.

The kitchen drop-ceiling now has pot lights in it. We managed to place them all with no one raising their voices.

Stairs are not yet in, but are on order, and should be under the welding torch as I type this. Once they are in, we can start drywalling.

Siding has been coming along. Slowly. But it looks great. And the Genie lift stayed put, exactly like it should have.

In all, a good month-and-a-bit. I’m missing things, but don’t yet know what they are. Will try to do better in the future. I thought I’d use the giant “level one” headings this time, to make up for not being around for so long. Is the shouting working?