Archive for February, 2011
Recently we completed a shower remodel at a home in Tumwater. The old shower, built in the early 60′s, had seen better days and needed an upgrade. The faucet and door were worn out. The original ceiling was at 6’6″ even though the rest of the bathroom had 8’0″ ceilings. Because the ceiling was low the shower head came out of the wall at 6’0″ makeing it uncomfortable for any very tall to shower.
After demolition and some bug repairs to the framing members, we discovered we could easily lift the ceiling to the 8’0″ level. Actual we left it down just a few inches to accommodate our tile layout. We then built into a wall a soap and shampoo cubbie, that allowed large bottles of shampoo on top and still had a 6″ area for the hand soap . we added blocking in the locations where we wanted to add Grab Bars. We moved the faucet to be near the door, so you could turn on the water without getting in, yet put the shower head on the side wall, which made the most sense with this shape of shower.
After the tile was all set and grouted, we installed the grab bars, plumbing trim and a new shower door. The homeowners tell me they cant believe how much bigger it feels with the taller ceiling. And for the elderly mother the two grab bars offer a lot of support and ease of mind for everyone.
When someone becomes wheel chair bound, things like narrow hallways and door openings are just few of the things that make it impossible for people to stay in there homes. Universal Design is the concept of designing a house in such a way that it will be easy to adapt it to accommodate homeowners as they get older. Wider hallways and doors are just the beginning. One idea is to creating a design so the master bedroom and bath, kitchen, and laundry are all on the main floor eliminating the need for stairs. Other ideas include stacking large closets on top of one another on each floor, creating a area that could easily be remodeled for a future elevator. Bathrooms that have no curb showers, so that a wheelchair can easily access it. Blocking in the walls for future grab bars, wide areas in the bathroom, kitchen and laundry so maneuvering around in a wheel chair is easy. These are just some of the ideas that make it easy to create a home that is universally designed. Designing with these things in mind, minor remodeling is all that is necessary when and if the time arrives that you need a wheel chair. Both the Cooper Project here in Olympia, and the Bouvier/Rogers Home near Offit Lake were designed with these concepts in mind.
In the last posting I started the conversation about Air Sealing walls. The idea of air sealing is simple enough, the more air you prevent from leaking through the walls, the less your home will feel drafty. The less drafty, the more comfortable your house will feel and the less energy it will take to maintain the temperature of the home. The best way we have found to do this is to air seal on the inside of the wall or right behind the sheetrock. By sealing the wall at this point, we are still able to build a wall that can allow moisture to escape to the exterior side of the wall.
So how do we do it. One method is to use plywood or OSB on inside of all exterior walls, floors and ceiling joist. Then using tape we seal all the joints and seams were the individual sheets of plywood meet. We then fir out the ceiling and walls to allow for all of the electrical wiring and HVAC duct work. We design the plumbing so its on the interior walls as much as possible. This does add to both the framing materials and labor, and has to be accounted for in the budget. In the design we strive to have as few of penetrations in our air seal as possible. Each penetration is taped to prevent air leaking past. I know this sounds like a lot of extra work, and it is, however the long term payback will more then offset this cost, and remember the home will feel much more comfortable.
The tape we use is from SIGA. (http://www.siga.ch/Home.20.0.html?&no_cache=1&L=1) remember to hit the english button on the right of the home page..They are a company in Switzerland, who have been involved in air sealing for many years. They have fabrics and tapes for all kinds of air sealing. Their American distributor is The Small Planet Workshop. (http://www.smallplanetworkshop.com) locate right here in Thurston County in the Oyster Bay area.
It has long been known that without making your home air tight, there is no way for your insulation to perform at it true r value. For example if your walls are built with 2 X 6 studs and insulated with R-21 insulation batts, without the house being airtight, the insulation performs at a reduced R value, something around a R-17. This is caused by gaps between the studs and the insulation which allow air to leak by. The problem in the past with making a home air tight was that the process would also trap moisture in the walls, which would lead to dry rot. Back in the 80′s and early 90′s air tightness was tried by installing 6 mil. plastic on the studs and drywalling over it. With plywood or OSB on the exterior of the wall, this left no place for the water to escape. I remember walking into houses before the drywall was installed and watching the water run down the sheets of plastic. This method of air sealing was quickly dropped and no real alternative was offered. Some minor air sealing of the bottom wall plate to the floor with caulk and foaming around doors and windows is about as far as we’ve gotten with the codes.
Just this year Washington state has adopted a stricter insulation code. It is basically the old Energy Star standards. One part of the code is the requirement that all new home have a blower door test prior to final inspection. Blower door test measures the amount of air leaks a home has. New homes are required to have a blower door score of 7.5 or lower. What this means is that if the air pressure difference between the outdoors and the inside of your house is 50 pascals (50 pound per square inch) then the air in your house will completely exchange itself seven and one half times in an hour. This is still a drafty house but its a start.
By making homes airtight we obviously can cut down the cost of heating these homes. Done correctly we also can build the walls in a manor that will allow moisture to escape. This is the best way to build. In future articles I will talk more about the methods behind this type of construction
The Eco Builders Guild, South Sound chapter is proud to announce the second annual South Sound Green Tour coming April 16th & 17th. We started the Green Tour last year and it was huge success. Just like last year, we will feature houses and commercial sites that represent the best in green building and sustainable practices. The homes are located through out Thurston County, including Tumwater, Olympia, and Lacey. We will also have workshops at each site demonstrating many of the features of each site. This year we have also added an expo which will be located in the new Lott buildings parking lot. It will house lots of vendors offering a huge array of green products and services.
Another big addition to the tour is that the Seattle chapter has joined in with us and will have a tour of their own on the same weekend. For more information, or if you would like to be a vendor or site sponsor please visit http://www.ecobuilding.org/events/2011-green-home-tour.