Thursday, September 30, 2010

Some Progress, Mostly Not Noticable

The reason I've not been posting is that not much is happening on our job. The project manager who didn't do anything for 2 1/2 months disappeared, taking "leave of absence" for stress. The guy who took over project management, Paul one of the co-founders of the combined green architectural/construction firm we are using, now has 5 jobs in total, including three that the former project manager dumped on him, and he's pretty swamped. Today during a meeting I asked him when the 200 amp electrical service was going and he said: "What 200 amp service?" Bad sign. It seems other customers were complaining too, and the whole situation was almost a duplicate of the case last summer with the solar thermal installation and the incompetent plumber.

Anyway, I've been encouraged by the reports I'm getting, though of course it will be even nicer to see some work actually being completed. Paul and his assistant Christine put out the solar for bid, three bids came back. One is a roofer who "is interested in getting into the solar business". Hmm. Am I "interested in acting as a training site for a reduced fee"? This is a question I need to ponder. The solar company who put our system up in 2004 punctured the roof in at least 3 places, two of which we only discovered recently after the roofer on the current job did a leak test. The third place was an ongoing battle getting the previous roofer to fix, he finally fixed it this spring but in the quickest and least likely to last way possible: he sprayed polyurthane foam over the roof in the area of the leak. We had extensive mold damage in one closet and had to tear out the drywall, treat the mold with chlorine bleach, and redo the insulation on the ceiling, put back the drywall and paint. At least this current solar installer is also a roofer, so he will probably do a good job on the roof. But whether he'll do a good job on the solar design is another question.

We also finalized the location of the HRV vents. This was a long and complicated process, since I was interested in getting  exhaust vents high in the central hallway, which has 20 foot ceilings. The idea is to draw down the stale heated air that rises to the cathedral ceiling, extract the heat,  and recirculate fresh heated air in the lower part of the house. We ended up adding two ventilation chases, one in the back bedroom and one in the front bedroom closet, that will exhaust air from near the cathedral ceiling in the hall. We also had to move the HRV on the east side of the house into the chase under the roof above the master bedroom. If you recall, our HRV system consists of two independent HRV units, one on the east side of the house and one on the west. The west side is simple: just install in the attic. But we never really figured out what to  do  with the east side. Forrest, our architect, thinks we can keep the noise down by hanging the HRV from  wires so that the vibrations are not transferred to the building structure, keeping the master bedroom vibration free. We will see.

Forrest finally convinced me that the electric on-demand backup  should be installed in a newly constructed overhead closet above the upstairs bathroom door. He told me a while back that NREL recommends backup hot water heaters for solar to be installed above the actual solar storage tank, but he never told me why. While traveling in Europe, it suddenly occurred to me one day that this was probably because  the  hot water from the solar tank would rise into the connection  pipe with the backup water heater, eliminating the short gout of cold water that would hit the on-demand heater if it were below the solar tank. This would thereby ensure that the on-demand heater doesn't switch on and then quickly off  when the hot water is drawn out of that solar tank. I was holding out for putting it in the mechanical closet where the current gas-fired tank backup heater is.

Paul keeps discovering stuff that the now-departed project manager forgot to do. Apparently, he never wrote anything down. The electrical service upgrade is just the tip of the iceberg. But slowly, Paul and Christine seem to be getting the job in hand. Although it has been really hot this week - actually, the first long stretch of hot weather we have had all this summer - colder and rainier times are coming. If the work is not complete by Halloween, so that we can move back in, we are going to have to work out some way of keeping part of the patio outside our bedroom door dry so we can  continue to live partially outside. Right now, we are living in our master bedroom suite, with a long walk around the building to get into the kitchen through the garage.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lack of Progress

While on my recent business trip in northern Europe, daily emails flying between the lovely wife and the contractors left me somewhat disconcerted. The upshot of the emails was that nothing was getting done on the job. It seems the project manager consistently didn't show up to open the house for subcontractors, or didn't even schedule the subcontractors, and basically seemed unable to plan and execute on the job in a professional manner. This was not something we had anticipated, since the architecture and contracting firm that we had selected, founded by the two guys dedicated to and knowledgeable about green building, came highly recommended.

As it turns out, we and they were victim to exactly the same problem that we had last year with the solar thermal contractor. The project manager had only been working for them for 8 months or so, so they really had little idea about how reliable he was. Hiring someone is always a gamble. The resume looks good, the person looks like he/she will work well with people and is personable (as this guy was), but when it comes time to execute and deliver, they fall short. Perhaps this guy wasn't able to handle more than one project at a time, it sounds like they were asking him to do 3.

Anyway, we've told the architect and the head of the contracting part of the business that we no longer want to work with the guy they put on our project as project manager because he was not getting any work done. In the 2 1/2 months the job has been ongoing, the only thing he managed to get done is have the drywall removed (and even then he missed one wall and the ceiling of a closet), and put in some steel reinforcing where structural problems were showing up. The homeowner inspection  prior to foam insulation was supposed to be on  Sept. 20 and we are nowhere near having enough done for that. Before we had him taken off the project, the project manager said something about the structural engineer wanting additional re-enforcing around the skylights, which might involve having to open up the roof, so we may be more than a month away from the homeowner inspection.

There has been some progress. Here's a few pictures showing the steel reinforcing the framers put in. This one shows how they joined the two halves of the header that the former owner drilled through for the hall toilet vent:

 Here they put a steel plate in to couple the load bearing beam above the header over the sunroom entrance to the header. This is something the former owner forgot to do when he built the sunroom:

 And  here the two sides of the ceiling peak have been tied together. This is where we were seeing the ceiling cracking. The steel should ensure that the beams don't move:

 In addition to structural reinforcing, the framers put up plywood along the two chases where a backing for foam is needed. The fiberglass batt was just tacked on against the drywall, but foam needs a backing to expand against. And they also cut a hatch which will open into the chase so that the HRV system can be accessed for cleaning:

Finally, this past week, the electrician did some work  installing new outlets in the garage, some wiring in the living room for an FM radio antenna, and wiring for the electric skylight shades. You can see the latter in the following picture (yellow wire, lower right):

Hopefully this week we'll finally get the information on what the structural engineer wants to do to reinforce the ceiling. It will likely not be cheap, but since we canned the geothermal, we are running a under the original budget, including the design costs. If we hadn't canned the geothermal, we would have been  about 50% over by the end. But we are now looking like maybe a month or a month and a half before the job is finished, where we had been told it would be done by the end of September.