Saturday, March 8, 2014

Working Together to Save Energy, Bit by Bit

“We are living on the planet as if we have another one to go to.” ― Terry Swearingen

This picture was taken from the second floor Billiard's Room, looking up toward the little loft.
You can see the installation of the closed cell spray has begun on the ceiling of the loft.  

The National Association of Home Builders just reported on a recent national survey (December 2013) regarding the features that are most likely to show up in a typical new single-family home in 2014. The great news is that the list includes a number of energy efficiency features that many builders will be including in their new homes, among them low-e windows, Energy-star rated appliances and windows, a programmable thermostat, and insulation higher than required by code. 

This is great news! In an industry driven by market demand and pricing, it wasn't too long ago that most builders resisted building "green" due to the increased costs and the fear that homeowners would not pay for green features.  Now the tide is turning.  The consumer, manufacturers, and builders are working together to save more energy.   

For our new home in East Beach in Norfolk, Virginia, Bruce and I wanted to include a number of energy-saving features, although we didn't go quite as far as we would have liked (darn budget!).  We had discussed incorporating geo-thermal heating and cooling, LED light fixtures throughout, and foam insulation in the house, including ceilings, floor, and walls. While we couldn't include all the features we would have liked, we did include many energy efficient features. The inclusion of these features will provide us with lower fuel bills and a more comfortable house.  

Everyone picks and chooses. These are the energy efficient choices we made for our new home:

ZIP System® Sheathing and Tape: Our builder, Jim Schneider of Schneider Custom Homes recommended the ZIP System for us. It’s a one-of-a-kind structural roof and wall system with a built-in energy-efficient barrier that keeps moisture out and reduces air leakage, while still allowing panels to properly dry. Zip forms a tight barrier against unwanted air leakage, for a durable building envelope that promotes energy efficiency and increases interior comfort.

Our Windsor Legend Series feature
a high energy performance rating.
I love the R-PG50 Rating!
Windsor WindowsWindsor’s Legend products are made from state-of-the-art cellular PVC, which is guaranteed not to rot, warp, crack, stick or swell.  Windsor also offers the only 25-year warranty in the industry. The Legend Series that is installed in our home is Energy Star compliant and features Quality Cardinal® loE 366 Glass.  The super spacer dual-seal moisture barrier technology is designed to be one of the most thermally efficient spacers in the marketplace and reduces heat and cold conduction, which results in more comfortable living.

Rinnai Tankless Water HeaterRinnai Tankless Water Heaters save money on your energy bill by heating water only when needed, unlike a traditional tank-style water heater that heats and reheats water all day long. Based on DOE ENERGY STAR® lifecycle estimates, tankless water heaters can last up to twice as long as traditional tank units.

Closed Cell Foam insulation: Closed cell foam insulation is more expensive than typical batt insulation, but highly effective as an air barrier and a water vapor barrier. It is often used in roofing projects or other outdoor applications, but can be used anywhere in the home.  Bruce and I opted to use foam insulation on our ceilings and our contractor also sprayed around windows and outlets to reduce any air leakage. 

Closed cell foam insulation in the kitchen has started.
Foam insulation around the windows.

Spray foam insulation saves on energy costs and lowers utility bills. Studies by the US Department of Energy show that 40% of a home's energy is lost as the result of air infiltration through walls, windows and doorways. Buildings treated with spray foam insulation typically insulate as much as 50% better than traditional insulation products. Insulation that is sprayed in buildings protects against moisture, which provides the benefit of reducing the chance of harmful mold and mildew. Eliminating mold growth reduces the likelihood of rotting wood in a home, and allergic reactions to mold spores. In addition to building temperature and moisture control, spray foam insulation is often used to reduce noise. Foam insulation serves as a barrier to airborne sounds. As an extra incentive, homes treated with spray foam insulation often qualify for state and federal tax deductions.

ECOBATT Quiet Therm Acoustical & Thermal Batt Insulation:  This was a happy surprise from our builder! Knauf EcoBatt™ Insulation represents a level of sustainability never before achieved. It is sustainable, made primarily from sand and renewable resources, has a lower embodied energy than traditional batts, and its rapidly renewable binder eliminates petroleum-based chemicals. It contains no phenol, formaldehyde, acrylics, or artificial colors. EcoBatt has a high recycled content, containing a minimum of 61.9% post-consumer recycled content, and is thermally efficient resulting in an excellent insulating value. EcoBatt reduces airborne sound transmission and significantly improves STC ratings of wall configurations. EcoBatt is being used in our home for everything except the ceiling which has closed cell foam insulation. I love the fact that even insulation the insulation that Jim Schneider is installing is more environmentally friendly and will help make our home quieter.  

Energy rated light fixtures:  We ordered most of our light and fan fixtures from Progress Lighting and brought a few key pieces with us that we already owned. Some of the fixtures are Energy Star and LED compliant (we wish all of them were). We are using railing-mounted soft LED lights to illuminate our front porches which have an open rafter construction technique. Our electrician is also installing LED accent lights for interior cabinet lighting and accent lighting. Our Energy Star rated ceiling fans will save on energy costs, too.

James Hardie Fiber Cement Siding: "The single most important factor in green architecture is durability. If you want something to be green it has to last a long time. It has to handle water, heat and UV radiation. Fiber-cement handles all three exceptionally well." Joseph Lstiburek, BASC, MENG, PhD, PENG  

HardiePlank lap siding is the most popular brand of siding in America and can be found on over 5.5 million homes. Engineered for Climate®HardiePlank has earned the Good Housekeeping Seal and comes with a 30-year warranty.  The Fiber cement siding resists damage from freezing temperatures, snow and ice, and moisture, and maintains dimensional stability under challenging weather conditions.  It's noncombustible, too.  
Our home will also include other sustainable materials such as CertainTeed Panorama porch railings that we'll be using on our back porch and for the staircase to the carriage house apartment, Clubhouse Solid Plank decking for our back porch and apartment staircase, and Wolf PVC porch boards for the front porches.  

It's so nice to know that modern construction materials make it easy to be a better friend to the environment, while also saving money on operational and maintenance costs. This is great news, indeed!

Installation of the James Hardie siding has begun.  The house has no face as yet.
The porches should go up this week.

Coming on our next blog, "A Home with a Face."  The story of our front porch (it should be constructed this week!). 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

February Stands for Flurries (of Activity!)

"Each of us is carving a stone, erecting a column, or cutting a piece of stained glass in the construction of something much bigger than ourselves."


This is one of Bruce's frequent expressions and it sure is fitting to describe the flurry of activity on our new home in East Beach.  Plumbers, electricians, framers, trimmers are scurrying around the job -- the list goes on and on.

First, take a look at everything that is going on outside:

This is the view from the front corner of the house.
The Windsor Windows have been installed. 

Trim work has begun in the rear courtyard.
The future screened porch is starting to take shape.

Our future neighbors' home has begun.
Bruce and I can't wait to meet them!

Meanwhile, Kristi Leonard from Schneider Custom Builders has been scheduling hundreds (a slight exaggeration, but not by too much) of meetings, most recently with Lighthouse Electric for electrical and AV equipment. (Thank you so much to our East Beach friend Bob who has helped us think through our audio decisions. You're terrific!) Also, we've met with the plumbing contractor to determine location placement of things such as the Rinnai Water Heater, faucet placements and HVAC returns.  And this is only the tip of the iceberg in our decision-making tasks.

Bruce, our Lighthouse AV contractor, Jim and Kristi
discuss computer, TV, and audio options.

Kristi and her associate from Schneider Custom Builders
consult the plans.  They are standing in the dining room with the
living room to the left and the entry to the right.

The staircase begins in the dining room and follows the exterior of the house to the upstairs.
A light well at the top of the stairs with three triple windows spills light downward.
Our architect Jeremy Sommer of Sommer Design Studios knows how much importance we place on light. The placement of the duct return is important as a built-in buffet will nestle against the staircase.
Our friend and interior designer, Jacqueline Johndrow of Romancing the Home (Warwick, New York)
envisions a blue wall as you go upstairs to set a contrast to the painted stair rails and buffet.
I can't wait to see it come together!

Bruce and Jeremy worked hard to ensure I had my bathtub.
The tub is angled on both ends.  Can't wait!
A triple window will spill light into the bathroom while
Bermuda Shutters will provide privacy.  No peeking!!!!
I was thrilled to see the level of craftsmanship and detail going into the house.  Thank you to Jeremy Sommer for designing a house that is chock full of details and to Jim's crew who is lovingly carrying out the painstaking work.    

Four hand-carved beams will support the upper front porch.

 BJ has been working hard on getting the beams just right. 
This is a picture from the upstairs Billiard's Room looking up to the storage loft.
The Billard's Room features a vaulted ceiling, upper front porch,
and a small beverage station. 
Meanwhile, Jacqueline, Kristi, Bruce and I have been hard on the trail of finalizing finishes! Jacqueline is leading the way in selecting tiles, granites, cabinets, light fixtures, and on and on and on. This is fun stuff!
This is the palette for the kitchen. The Iceberg quartzite will go on the island which features a walnut base. Perimeter cabinets are a soft gray with a light glazing and topped by a honed, enhanced gray granite.  The back splash will be either the marble and shell circles or a marble diamond pattern.

What is our blog without Beau Beau?!!!  Here is Beau Beau and Bruce taking a snack break while doing house research on the computer in our Virginia Beach home.
They spend a LOT of time on the computer.  Bruce is a natural researcher and studies hard before making important decisions for the house.  THANK YOU, BRUCE AND BEAU BEAU!!
My two wonderful guys!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

From Sketchbook to Reality -- Our Home Takes Shape

"The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists."
Charles Dickens 

Bruce told me earlier this week that he's afraid he'll love our new home too much. It's true, when you create a home together from scratch you put your heart and soul into it. Bruce has been the true driver behind so many of the features of this home, working mind-to-mind with Jeremy Sommer, of Sommer Design Studio, the talented (and patient) architect who designed the house.

The talented framing crew for Schneider Custom Homes
Already we love our new home.  It's been amazing to see it take shape as the framing has been in full construction mode for most of December and January. The framing is almost done now.  Just a few tweaks and the porches remain to be built. Jim Schneider's (Schneider Custom Homes) framing crew has worked on cold days, snow days, and Saturdays to keep the house on track. (Thank you, BJ, and our other framing friends!) Jim's foreman, Jeff, has been on site daily as well and has been wonderful to work with. He's agreeable to slight tweaks (can you make this alcove 1-1/2" deeper?) and it's clear he knows his stuff. The best thing is that the people who are building our home take great pride in doing quality work. We are grateful for this.

Bruce standing in the rear courtyard,
 beside the future screened porch.
Bruce and I have been able to walk through the rooms and envision how we'll be living in the house.  We know where our furniture will go, where Beau Beau will peek out from windows to make sure humans and their pets are on their best behavior, and where our grand kids will play in the sleeping loft over the billiard's room.  (They'll have a wonderful view of the Chesapeake Bay, by the way!)

Beau Beau loves to stand guard!
Luanne, Monica, and Kristi at Superior Granite.
The wavy gray and white granite right behind us
will be used for Bruce's and my desks in our new office.
During all the construction, Bruce and I have made hundreds of decisions about fixtures, furnishings, and equipment (FF&E) with the help of two very special people.  My dear friend and interior designer, Jacqueline Johndrow of Romancing the Home in Warwick, New York, and the ever cheerful options professional, Kristi Nolasco Leonard, from Schneider Custom Homes have been invaluable during this process.  They've sorted through thousands of cabinet choices, light fixtures, tiles, carpets, hardware options, doors, windows, and other materials, each of which had to be priced, compared against the budget, and vetted against design and utilitarian parameters. Kristi has met with us (no lie) at least four times on granite decisions alone! Jacqueline flew down to spend three days with us to help with selections.  This was a blessing as she and Bruce hit it off immediately.  In fact, sometimes I think their minds are more in sync with each other and she was MY friend first!  (Secretly, I think this is great.  :-)

This weekend, Bruce and I went to the site to see our new windows which just arrived on Friday from Windsor Windows.  I've used Windsor Windows on my past two homes and loved them.  I'll take pictures once they are all installed and post them on the next blog update.

The framing is almost completed.
Meanwhile, stay warm and dry.  More snow may be in the forecast!  Monica
Building the roof of the screened porch in the courtyard.
The first Windsor windows were installed on January 24, 2014.
Kristi's mom sandblasted this
champagne just for us!
How cool is this!  A wedding gift to me and Bruce
from Schneider Custom Builders.

Views of the Chesapeake Bay will be enjoyed
from the front porches and windows
of the Billiards Room and Kitchen.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Where We Love is Home

"Where we love is home -- home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts." Oliver Wendell Holmes
Dr. and Mrs. Bruce Ellsworth Johnson

Our new home is under construction, as is the neighborhood in which we will soon live, and our relationship, newly sealed in marriage. As Bruce and I took our wedding vows in our emerging home under the guidance of our dear friend, the Reverend Albert G.Butzer III, he reminded us that all relationships are under construction.

How fitting that we would be married in our future home!

For Bruce and me, being married in our home in East Beach with close friends and family was symbolic of our relationship. When I moved to East Beach four years ago I found a nurturing place to live among others who warmly welcomed me to this special and unique neighborhood.  It wasn't long before I met Bruce, we fell in love, and he, too, fell in love with East Beach and became integrated into our community. Every step of the way we were supported and encouraged by those who know and love us best -- our children, our extended families, and our closest friends.

And now we are husband and wife.

And while we already love our future home and look forward to spending many happy years here, we are mindful that our home is not truly a physical place. Home is the memories you make, your family and friends, and the love you surround yourself with. As so eloquently written by Tadd Williams, "Never make your home a place.  Make a home inside your own head.  You'll find what you need to furnish it -- memory, friends you can trust, love of learning, and other such things.  That way it will go with you wherever you journey."

Thank you for sharing our journey with us.

Happy New Year!  Monica and Bruce

P.S.  With grateful appreciation to Al Butzer, East Beach Photography, Schnieder Custom Building, and the many others who worked so hard to make our special day so perfect.

The weather was a balmy 58 degrees, perfect for our two talented violinists to play.

The Johnson kids!  Bruce's daughter Angela, cousin Zachary,
and sons Ryan and Michael.

My dear friend May Spearman, twin sister Pam Beacher, me, and my beautiful daughters
Kali Hamill, April Lynch, and Allison Dubbink.  May and Allison sang during the ceremony.

Bruce and me at the altar with the Reverend Al Butzer.  

The newly weds celebrating with great friends and family!

Little Beau Beau looked very handsom in his tuxedo.  He was so excited that he danced with mommy after the wedding!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Here Comes the Bride (and Groom)!

Only Six Days to Go Until Wedding Bells Chime

Monica and Bruce

Wow!  What a difference a week can make!  After a long haul getting an incredibly complex foundation in place for our new home at East Beach, our builder, Jim Schnieder of Schnieder Custom Builders, and his team are rocking and rolling!  The house is starting to taking shape.

Two large steel support beams were installed this week.

Steel support beams were installed on Tuesday.  Take a look at these monsters!  The beams were called for by the structural engineers from Sinclair Pratt Cameron, P.C. of Virginia Beach due to the open floor plan of the living and dining rooms. In addition, there are a lot of windows, dormers, and doors, so the engineering team and our builder had to make sure the house would withstand any weather events that may arise in the future. Thus, steel reinforcement was required. Once the beams were in place, the vertical construction (framing) began on the main house.

In the background is the garage and carriage house apartment. This building is farther along as the framing started earlier as no steel was required.
Garage and Carriage House Apartment

The plan is for Bruce and me to be married in the house.  We've been sweating this as we didn't know how much, if any, of the main house would be in place by the wedding date of December 28.

But it will be ready. HOORAY! Jim and his teammates, including Jeff and B.J. and others, are working 'round the clock during the week and Saturdays to get the house ready for the ceremony.  Only rain will keep them away from their mission.  By the 28th, the one-story side of the house will be completely framed and covered.  (The second story side of the house will not be framed by that time.)

Our wedding is going to take place in less than a week!

The box bay window opening (and altar) in the kitchen.
Lee Rosenberg (East Beach Photography), my former neighbor here at East Beach and our wedding photographer, met with me and Beau Beau this morning to go over photography plans. Lee is so creative! He's already scoped out where the ceremony will take place (in front of the box bay window of the kitchen overlooking the Live Oak trees of the park), where the violinists will play (in front of our future fireplace), and where the group and family shots will be taken.  His mind works in CRAZY ways -- he's thinking of staging a shot where the future furniture will be so he can later take a shot when the house is decorated -- sort of a before and after series.  What fun!
Beau Beau on his way to supervise
 the job site.

Six days and counting....  

Rain is in the forecast for Monday, but then clear weather is expected for the remainder of the week, Christmas Day, and our wedding day.

Happy Holidays to everyone and have a Happy New Year!

Monica, Bruce and Beau Beau

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Going Vertical and Getting Married!

Let the Countdown Begin...

In construction, going vertical is one of the most exciting and wonderful experiences of the building process. Last Wednesday, our new home started going up!  Check out Bruce standing on the foundation with the garage going up behind him.  He is a happy man.

This moment was nervously anticipated as Bruce and I have an important date coming up. We have decided to get married in our emerging home this December 28th!  There is no house in place, no walls, no windows, no yet.  We must be CRAZY!!!! However, East Beach is very meaningful to us and our new home symbolizes starting our new life together. Our children, grand kids, siblings, and a handful of close friends will be on hand to celebrate with us (all wearing very warm coats).

Our builder, Jim Schneider of Schneider Custom Builders, is working hard to balance building the house right with our marriage date.  Construction of the foundation took longer than expected when Blue Mud had to be mitigated by digging deep and removing loads of poor soils, re-filling with gravel, building rebar waffle cages, and pouring a concrete foundation.  A quality home begins with a strong foundation and it took some time to get it right.  This house will stand for centuries.

Jim thinks we can pull off the wedding in the house, although it won't be very far along by December 28. Sunkiss Tanning and Hair Salon has offered us the use of two outdoor heaters for the ceremony and our minister, our dear friend Al Butzer, says the traditional wedding ceremony will be fairly quick.  Our former neighbor and good friend, Lee Rosenberg of East Beach Photography, will be our guest and the photographer who will have to make magic in this crazy wedding venue.  He is GOOD.  He can do this.  :-) 

So, the countdown begins.  The foundation is almost complete.  We're waiting on a bit more steel to come in, a requirement of the structural engineering review.  Our new home will have many windows, vaulted ceilings in three rooms (living room, master bedroom, and billiards room), and large dormers that flank both sides of the living room vault.  This is a lot of glass.  The Chesapeake Bay location of the East Beach neighborhood can pick up strong winds during occasional Nor'easters. These factors can take a toll on a house, so making certain the foundation and structural engineering are correct is important.

Note the flood vents in the foundation.  One of the wonderful things about East Beach is that it's not located in a flood zone, but it's always good to be prepared for anything that may come in the future.

Jim also is installing ZIP sheathing, a good choice for this coastal location.  ZIP is a structural roof and wall system with a built-in energy-efficient barrier that keeps moisture out and reduces air leakage, while still allowing panels to properly dry. This photo shows the ZIP system installation on the garage.

Rain is in the forecast for the next few days...pray for sunny skies!


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Let the Building Begin!  Are we in Fort Knox?

During the week of October 11, two major milestones took place.  I hit a certain birthday (ends with a zero) and construction began on the new house that Jeremy Sommer (Sommer Design Studios) designed for me and Bruce in East Beach in Norfolk, Virginia!

Jim SchneiderBruce and I selected Jim Schneider of Schneider Custom Builders to build our home.  We took our time in interviewing three members of the East Beach Builders Guild (everyone of which are exceptional builders), and settled on Jim.  We like Jim's professional processes in regard to communication and accounting, his quality team of subcontractors, and especially the positive reviews by his peers and happy customers.  Most importantly, we like that Jim takes great pride in his work and reputation.  We are confident that Jim will do an excellent job for us. 

Once we had Jim on board as the builder, we hired David Ferko with GET Solutions ( to do the geotechnical engineering.  The soils are East Beach can be

tricky as Blue Mud, dredging material from the Chesapeake Bay, is frequently found on the site.  It's not really a problem, but you do need to plan accordingly.  In our case, GET advised us that pilings would not be necessary, but they wanted to keep an eye on the soils during excavation.

The work began in October for the footings with engineer David Ferko on site to analyze the soils and make sure our home would be stable for us and future generations.  David is one fussy fellow when it comes to details -- a personality trait that serves his clients well.  Not unexpectedly, Blue Mud and poor soils were found during excavation.  The poor soil had to be dug out and gravel installed to provide a solid base for the footings. This photograph shows the extent of the excavation.

Next, rebar waffle cages were installed and concrete footings poured.  You can see the work in this photo.

No lie, we have a foundation worthy of Fort Knox!!

For me and Bruce, this was a hiccup in the building process, spending more time and money than we had hoped. More importantly, we are confident we have a very solid foundation that will serve us well in the future.  We are thankful that our builder and engineer took the time to do things right.

Next up -- the fun part!  Bruce and I go selections shopping with +Jacqueline Johndrow of Romancing the Home and Kristi Leonard with Schneider Custom Builders.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!