History of Green Building Concepts Project

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I uncovered some papers dated from 1995, nearly 20 years ago. I had just graduated from Stanford University School of Engineering with a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering, High Temperature Gas Dynamics Laboratory branch, with much interest in fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, and heat transfer. I though I could parlay this into the alternative energy world of 1993, but no nation or industry wanted to bet billions on the future. The only positions available involved nuclear generating stations, pulverized coal combustion (now called Clean Coal), commercial refrigeration systems, or air bag inflation systems (similar to current Takata Corporation). I thought I had a unique opportunity and bravado to pursue my dreams, and had the financial backing from my family to move forward.

I did not think it would take 20 years! In this old letter, I describe my aspirational home office addition project. I wonder if time has been kind to these ideas? Has the built environment responded to the dire situation that is global climate change? We do not welcome, but as a building community, we must respond to the reality of global climate change. We assume the mantle one of my Stanford Engineering professors started, Stephen Schneider (dead at a young 65). It’s up to his engineering disciples to continue on in the struggle. We must go beyond issuing the proper insurance or reinsurrance to deal with the dramatic effects of climate change, but respond dynamically to future threats. My Global Climate Change research published in 1992 predicted a coming tipping point to curtail emissions. We are five years past I consider possible climate change reversal. We must now respond to the dire consequences of inaction.

Other than a change in language from handicapped to disabled or Macintosh to Mac the requirements never changed. We call them USGBC LEED, CalGreen Rated, GreenPoint Rated, or NAHB Green. Nothing has changed. As an individual I know why it took 20 years to accumulate enough wealth, knowledge, the birth of the Internet (called nascent World Wide Web) and design mojo to build a one of kind architectural interesting test platform, but why has the industry lagged so behind what I called basic building science circa 1990?

Letter to AIA San Fernando Chapter

20 December 1995

Hello AIA,

I called by phone yesterday looking for a referral to one your members. This note is to further specify my design and experience requirements. Please send a list of qualified architects by fax or mail in the next few weeks.

We are in the preliminary stages of planning an addition/guest house for my family home. I send my involvement in the project and what mechanical and building systems would be required and to see if one your members would be comfortable with these requirements:

1. Ultra high efficient building (i.e., wood foundation, insulated structural panels, advance windows, etc.)

2. Passive solar cooling/heating if possible

3. Reduced total energy of structure (recycled materials, engineered wood, etc.)

4. Separate HVAC and ventilation system

5. Home automation where possible

6. Natural lighting when possible (solar and fiber optic)

7. Universal design protocols (fully accessible to handicapped individual) ADA compliant

8. Proficient computer skills (world wide web, e-mail, Macintosh)

I take an active part as designer-owner-builder of my home. Currently I plan to perform most of the construction and general contacting for the job. Thank you.

Cordially,

Ismael Rosales

2015 Update
I did not get any actionable referrals back in 1995. This letter in 2015 would have many people knocking on my door. My structure is more than 74% complete and the Public Open House is nearing.

Tools of the SIP trade

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The contractor finished assembly of the structural components of the project. Air sealing and applying the weather and fire resistive cladding come next. I though it would be a good idea to review some of the tools I’ve learned to use to make construction easier, and many times essential to a structural insulated panel building.

Cordless Adhesive Dispenser
I applied at every joint, intersection, overlay, and boundery a bead of panel mastic to seal the structure. After distributing over 60 tubes of 29 oz size, the DEWALT DC546K performed admirably. The tool weighs around 8 pounds, but saves the fingers to dispense such a quantity of mastic.

Cordless Palm Nailer
Practically every wall required a plethora of nails to act as a shear wall, living in a seismically active location. I’ve pounded over 250 pound of nails without the use of a pneumatic nailer. Skilled nailing acts as a key component holding up this building, where each nail does not break the panel skin, so achieving the maximum holding power. The majority of nails have been 8D box nails, with a good share of 8D common, 16D common, and 10D common nails. Along the walls in each 2 x 4 contains two rows of 8D box nails at a 3 inch spacing, making fasteners seem to be 1-1/2” separation. Without 3 palm nailers, I would still be pounding nails. The Milwaukee Palm Nailer 2458-20 has had it’s problems, but the manufacturer stood behind their product 100% in prompt repairs or replacement no questions asked.

Parallel Bar Clamps
It is often seen that truck straps are a good tool to sandwich two panels together at the seam, but I’ve found much better control and flexibility using long bar clamps. I have a system based on 50 inch clamps and extenders, where I can get a 16 foot or longer clamp to ease a panel together safely and efficiently. Likewise, a clamp will hold a panel together before panel screws complete the job at the corners. Sears once sold a Craftsman Parallel Bar Clamp system based on the Bessey Vario K Body REVO series of clamps with movable upper and lower jaws.

Shoulder Injury Delays Project

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Venerable Mac software developer Dantz, coined the phrase, “To go forward, you must back up,” referring to software that would automatically duplicate and restore computer data. My online documentation of my SIP house has been lousy, and only the very fortuneate who have visited the jobsite has seen the progress. Over the next couple of weeks I plan to revisit the past, and restore the missing posts over the years. Most of this project is found on private SMS micro blog feeds, to give me the timeline to restore the missing information.

On 22 June 2012, my two year LA building permit expired! Usually that means paying the City an additional fee. This time I have the City on my side, and they like the progress I’ve made, and want to see me finish the house, so far without additional cost. In anxiousness to continue to build, I drove myself a little too hard.

I am in the process of building the second floor of the addition, and had to move and prepare the wall panels. After repositioning 22 panels, I damaged my shoulder muscles.

Foolishly I thought I could work through the pain, and was able to groove out the foam, cut the posts that fit into the side of the panels, and prepare the bottom plate, until I could not lift my arm to my mouth. After one week of extreme pain, and two of sling rest, I’m getting a little more movement back in the hand and shoulder. I still cannot lift my arm over my head, but am mostly pain free and will try next week to start hammering and assembly of the wall components.

Shoulder pain is not to ignored, especially when you need your arms to build a house.

SIP Floor Installation Progress

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After taking the informative SIP background class from Green Builder College, called “Builders Education with SIPs,” I learned very few projects include SIP floors. I decided months ago, if I was going to try building a SIP structure, it might as well include the entire structure from the ground up, so it would include SIP floors, SIP walls, and a SIP roof.

The floor panels at around 13′ x 4′ in dimension weigh in around 200 lbs each. I can easily slide them around the jobsite on my oversized sill plates or cart them around using a handy Telpro The Troll cart. Were it’s been particularly challenging is placing the panels around the seismic concerns of holdown hardware and shear walls bolts. These foundation anchors go down between 24″ and 40″ into the concrete foundation, and define the structural footprint. I’ve had to lift the panel over the bolts instead of moving them into place like the other panels.

Another problem I’ve had is the panels are designed for dimensional lumber for support, mostly 2 x 10, which actually measure 1-1/2″ x 9-1/4″ in size. A lot of locations require the use of engineered lumber like LVL, which my local vendors do not make! I’ve had to buy larger material and cut off the excess that takes a lot of time and effort. It has been like the old timber frame homes using hand shavers and block planes to reduce the 9-1/2″ engineered material to fit into the floor panel.

I also had no idea how tough some of these engineered woods are, and boring a hole for the anchor bolts took a high torque 1/2″ drill and 17″ long auger bit to get the job done. My 12V tools and standard 1/2″ drill got about 3″ down before binding and stopping. Good thing I have a 500 RPM drill that can handle those agressive augur bits.

I initially tried to attach all connection using common nails and a titanium head hammer, but after 100 nails, I am now using a palm nailer, and what a difference! no more hand fatigue. The titanium hammer is great for a lightweight tool to reduce elbow and forearm injury, but my hand was hurting after nailing. The palm nailer works great so far.

The Price is Right and the Project is Release Candidate

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Today I delivered the completed construction drawings to my window, door, skylights, and sandwich panel contractors, and put down a substantial down payment for delivery of my new climate change house sometime in the future. If anyone wants to help me out, come on over to raise the roof, literally.

Probably the biggest question about remodeling is the cost, which is developing quickly. It certainly depends on the type and quality of construction. I ran this project though a professional bidding package, and got a number. I am doing most of the work, and all of the planning, so I can save resources to apply to more esoteric aspects of the addition. The estimated cost was $243,900 using SuperBuild Building Software and products Premier Building Systems structural sandwich panel package, Andersen Windows series 100 window package, Serious Windows 925 swinging patio door package and maybe $19,000 Vacupor vacuum insulated panel package.

Premier Building Systems Bid Letter

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After many months of making drawings, it’s that time to get a project bid!

“It’s been a very long time since I contacted you on a SIP addition project. Do I continue to go directly through PBS or my local distributor to order my panel project? Over the past year, several of the products I have patiently waited for have became legal to use in the City of Los Angeles, gaining their LARR numbers. The last item I was waiting for, PEX plumbing, became legal on 1 August 2009, so now I can continue my addition project.

The scope of the project has also grown, as the original idea has grown in size requiring a new estimate.

The drawings may not emphatically state it, but these are the dimensions of Premier panels I would like to use:

3-1/2″ core thickness wall SIP walls
9-1/4″ core thickness roof SIP walls
9-1/4″ core thickness floor SIP walls

If there are any details that are missing, let me know, and I can make corrections quickly. Not included are drawings detailing electrical chases and skylights in the roof panels, an extra horizontal communications chase in some of the wall panels, and placement of vertical electrical chases for switches and receptacles (standard 16 inch receptacle chases and 45 inch switch chases from floor please include where possible, but I also need a chase at 20 inches from floor for ethernet, cable TV, and telephone on certain walls).

I look forward to Premier’s new 2009 estimate. It’s still best to correspond through e-mail, as I am away from the voice phone frequently. I am working with a new window manufacturer, and the exact window rough opening on several of the triple mullion is not set (RO is currently 8”0″ x 2”0″) and may change before the shop drawings. The Roof panels will have skylights, not included in these preliminary drawings. There are no outstanding issues this year that will delay this project. Thank you for all your help.

I was looking over my drawing and did some surface calculations, that may help you give me an estimate in my SIP project:

3-1/2″ core wall panels, 1948 square feet
9-1/4″ core floor panels, 770 square feet
9-1/4 core roof panels, 542 square feet

These numbers are gross wall/floor/roof dimensions devoid of window or door cuts or skylight holes. Thank you for taking the time to get me another estimate for my project.”