It has been a while since we did an update on our house, and since MOVING IN has been our main goal this year, it is time to show off our progress. Last time we posted we had just finished installing the cabinets. Since then, we have been checking off the items that we need to get our certificate of occupancy.
Electricity was the first thing on our list. Moving the power from the temporary pole to the house meant we were done with all the digging around the house and could get the grading done. To get the necessary permits to put power on the house, we had to install of of the electrical fixtures. We needed scaffolding to reach these fans in the living room, but once we had them, they made working inside a lot more pleasant.
Needing to get the fixtures installed also gave us the push we needed to finish our porch. The porch is a major feature of the house and a big outdoor living space. We used beadboard for the ceiling and of course put up ceiling fans for summer comfort.
Once the fixtures were installed and the electrical trenching was done, we had the area around the house graded and a driveway installed. With each passing project it looks more and more like a finished house!
While all this work was being done on the outside, on the inside we were working through our list and making the house feel more like home. Once we had the cabinets in, we moved on to the rest of the kitchen.
One of our favorite features is our farm sink. We found this double drainboard sink on Craigslist. When we got it, it had several chips in the enamel, but we had it refinished and can’t wait to use this treasure!
Megan installed a tile top on a reclaimed vanity and we installed the bathroom sink downstairs.
And we hired a colleague of Jonathan’s to do the tile in the shower. He did a great job.
Upstairs, we installed the wood floors that we reclaimed from our church’s 1891 chapel.
But one of our favorite projects, and one that makes a huge difference making our house into our home is the hearth and wood stove we installed. This is our Jotul F-1 that we found unused on Craigslist.
As you can see in the background, we have started on the window trim, the last big project before we can get our c/o. Once we do that we’ll still have a few more project like finishing the floors and installing interior doors, but we are getting closer and closer. So this winter, you know where we’ll be: Sipping hot chocolate in front of a fire, reveling in the hominess of our hearth and the comfort of our home.
As we wrap up the we farming season for the winter, it is fun to look back on some of the highlights of the past year. One we never shared with you was our photo session with Bethany Cubino of Chasing Skies Photography.
Bethany is a talented wedding photography, and you can see her great work on her website. She took lots of great photos of us as a couple around the farm and house.
Bethany also got a few of us in with the flowers.
She also did a great job of capturing Frolic life:
And of course, no family photo shoot would be complete without some photos of Mr. Bingley!
At last. It seems like we’ve been working toward this inspection since we put up our first wall August 1 of last year. But finally, we passed the “rough-in,” a major inspection in which the framing and all the trades (the electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and gas) are checked off before they get hidden behind the insulation and drywall.
The framing has been the biggest project. We love our tall ceilings, but we didn’t realize what a bear it would be to build. It is definitely a challenge to work so high, and it has added complexity and cost to the construction process. On the other hand, we love the spacious feeling. We are certain that our tall ceiling and large windows make our small house feel comfortable. If we had had more experience we probably would not have done it this way, but we are glad we did. Plus, we only have to build it once but we get to live in it our whole lives.
The height of our ceilings have made framing complicated and challenging.
It is a good thing we didn’t know better, or we would have built a conventional roofline and ceiling.
We’ve been working toward our framing and rough-in inspection since last March, when we put on the siding. The punch list to get this inspection has seemed endless. Blocking, in particular, was a never-ending project: nailers for drywal, nailers for cabinets, nailers for wainscoating, fireblocking, fireblocking, fireblocking… The amount of work to do with minimal visual changes was a bit discouraging.
Still, we have had moments of triumph: One morning this week, with no insulation in the house and before the sun came through the windows, it was 38 degrees outside and 48 degrees inside. The thermal mass of our floor and careful air sealing have paid off. This winter, too, is the first time we can see the sun streaming in through our living room windows, and we love it.
Doing our trades has been a steep learning curve.
One of the first things we did was find a tub on Craigslist. (We had to get it in before the walls made it impossible. We found a used cast iron tub, hauled the White Whale to our front door, unloaded it from the truck, and realized the drain was on the wrong side of the tub! Fortunately, we were able to find another one that faced the right way. These suckers are heavy!
When it came to the rest of the plumbing, we hired it out. There is only so much we can learn at once and we decided to tackle the electrical instead. That was definitely the right call. laying out the water supply and the slope and venting requirements for the drains would have been quite overwhelming.
The electrical was the big job we took on ourselves. We hired an electrician friend to help us install the meter and electrical boxes and get started. We have 400-amp service, instead of the normal 200-amp service, because it hardly cost us any extra and gives us plenty of room to expand for our farm.
Running wire and making up the boxes for switches and receptacles took some practice, but we tried to keep it all looking neat.
Wiring and water supply.
The kitchen has to have special circuits.
Switch boxes are extra work.
The place where it was hardest to keep it neat was where all the wires went to the exterior-mounted breaker boxes.
However, even that spaghetti-farm cleaned up reasonably well.
All of the utility equipment is on one side of the house. This photo shows our breaker boxes, HVAC compressor unit, and all sorts of coolant, electrical, and gas lines. The exterior on-demand hot water heater will eventually be mounted on this side, too.
We also hired out the HVAC. Green Country Service installed our system for us, and they did a fantastic job. We had a lot to learn about HVAC and we discovered our original plan wouldn’t work. Without an attic or crawl space, we had limited options for Plan B. In a tight and energy-efficient house like ours, it can be difficult to size the air conditioner to cool slowly enough to dehumidify during our muggy summers. However, Green Country Service was able to spec and design a mini-split system for us that would do the job. Plus, we loved their installation crew. If you need any HVAC work done we definitely recommend Green Country Service.
A mini-split uses a single outdoor compressor to send coolant to individually controlled indoor air handling units. (You may have seen units like these in hotels.) There is no duct work and each unit is controlled individually, so each room can be set for optimum comfort. Additionally, these units are very efficient and very quiet. Our system is 19.5 SEER, or “pretty dang efficient.” We have one air handler in each bedroom and one in the living room and kitchen area.
The sleek indoor units are efficient and quiet.
Our house design made installation a challenge.
In addition to installing our mini-splits, Green Country Service installed ductwork for our kitchen hood vent, bathroom fans, and an Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV). Modern, tight construction techniques offer vast improvements in energy efficiency, but can compromise indoor air quality by trapping contaminants and toxins in the house. An ERV brings fresh air into the house and exhausts stale air, improving air quality, comfort, and health. It also has a heat and moisture exchange in it, so you aren’t just blowing hot, humid summer air or cold, dry winter air into your nicely conditioned house.
Installing the ERV required duct work to move the air around. Without any attic or crawl space, we had to drop the ceiling inside and outside of the bathroom to create a space for the duct work.
ERV under the stairs.
Duct work and dropped ceiling.
We also had to create a dropped soffit in the kitchen to hide plumbing drains and HVAC ducts. We were daunted by all this extra framing, but with help from our friend Jamey it went pretty quick. We also like the way it looks. The change in ceiling height helps define the kitchen as its own room in our open plan.
Finally, we’ve succeeded in crossing one more major project (and expense) off our to-do list: Our septic tank and leech field were installed. Retrac Lewis at Jimmy Lewis & Sons handled this for us. They were fast, reasonable, and did a great job. We’re planning on using them again for grading and driveway work right before we move in.
Our land only perked 200 feet away from our house.
We were really impressed with their excavation and grading.
We were nervous the day of our inspection, but it went fine. There were a couple minor things we had to correct and we had to negotiate about one aspect of our circuit layout, but it all went fine.
With this inspection behind us, we can move on to getting our insulation and drywall on. Of course, we have new lists to work through, but we are on schedule and within our budget, so we feel great.
With an early killing frost last week, we have to turn our attention back to cleaning up the farm and planting the new peonies we ordered. First, however, we need a little break. These farmer-builders are off to the mountains for some rest, relaxation, and an honest-to-goodness (and futile) attempt to wear out the dog.
It is amazing to realize that one year ago we were doing this:
And today we are here:
We loved working with Frank Edwards and his crew from Frank E Construction. They did a fantastic job on our roof, and even installed our stove pipe while they were up there. We are so glad that we didn’t have to get up on that high, high roof!
We have been blessed to work with excellent, small, family companies on this project and we’re glad we get to add Frank to the list of people we recommend to everybody.
WE STARTED OUR HOME! At the end of June we began work on our foundation. It has been a slow and steady process and we are certain that we will have a strong foundation to build the rest of our home on. It seems appropriate that our home site sits on top of a wildflower field!
We are building a passive solar house that we designed, and so naturally over the course of the past 8 months Jonathan and I have spent a lot of time thinking about home sighting and calculating the sun’s angle at different times of the year. Passive solar means that we harness the suns energy to help us efficiently heat our home in the winter, so we have to install a concrete slab floor (from here on out referred to as “the slab”) that acts as a heat bank. It captures the heat in the winter and holds it, keeping the house warm. However, the other side of passive solar is to make sure that our hot NC sun never shines into the house in the summertime. So we have learned to calculate house position and roof eaves to achieve sun in the house in the winter, but not in the summer….whew!!
We hired out the digging and pouring of the footers to Pedro Barcenas (of Barcenas Construction). He and his crew also installed 4 courses of concrete block which helps to raise our house level up and helps the plumbing drain better. They also dug and installed our foundation drain and put in a driveway for us. They did a fantastic job and we are having them come back and pour our final slab foundation in a few weeks.
Digging the footers
The outline of the house and porch
The footers were deep due to a good thick layer of clay at the top
Rebar in the footers help reinforce the concrete
Mr Bingley looking at me in the footer trench
The concrete truck
Pedro and his crew directing the footer pour
CONCRETE, also known as money in the ground!
Next Jonathan and I spent a long time moving over 40 TONS of gravel into our foundation. Thank goodness for our neighbors with tractors who scooped all the gravel into the foundation for us. We raked it all into the middle, leveled it out and dug the trenches for the plumbing. Let me tell you what, slinging gravel in 95 degree whether ensured that our sweat, blood and tears (mostly mine) made it into our foundation.
Next our plumber, Bruce Carver, came and installed the plumbing that goes under the slab. He did such a great job and was so kind to us. We are planning on installing the rest of the plumbing in the house ourselves, so we watched and learned a lot from him.
Our awesome plumbing doing the under slab plumbing
Bruce and Caleb installing the drain pipe. Photo by Thomas Fisher.
Checking out the plumbing. Photo by Thomas Fisher.
All stubbed up and ready for inspection!
What’s next?? VACATION! Jonathan and I are leaving for for 5 whole days and getting up to my Grandma’s lake house in Maryland. When we come back we are installing insulation under the slab, a vapor barrier, rebar and then finally our radiant floor heat. We are doing all this ourselves and then we are hiring out the final pour of the slab!
Stay Tuned for Home Foundation Part II, the well digging, and for opportunities in August to help us raise walls!
We’ve been pretty quiet on our Spring Forth Farm blog for the last couple months. But even though it’s been winter, we’ve been pretty busy preparing for the spring season and getting ready to move onto our land next month. What have we been working on?
Our Logo: We’ve been working with our friend Amy Anselmo over the winter to design a logo for Spring Forth Farm. Amy makes beautiful hand-carved stamps (you can see some of her work at the Threshold Collaborative), and we knew her style would capture the elegance and energy of Spring Forth Farm’s bouquets. We are happy the logo features a tuberose, one of our favorite flowers (and one of the first flowers we grew together for our wedding).
Seeding: Many of our flowers bloom best with a period of cold called “vernalization.” We’ve had two beds of seedlings under row cover all winter. We’ve been a little worried with this year’s record cold, but like all first-time parents, we seem to be a little over-anxious: The seedlings look happier than ever. Last week, Megan started a dozen more varieties of flowers in trays, including snapdragons, dill, and, because we’re always experimenting with something, flowering kale.
House Plans: One thing we’ve really focused on this winter has been reading books on house design (A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander was our favorite). We made a list of the things we want in a house (not too big, open floor plan, a big porch, passive-solar heating design). We love our house in Hillsborough, but for some reason we found we couldn’t work on our plans at home — too many distractions. Instead, we needed to go somewhere where we could focus. Fortunately for us, we could walk to the perfect place. Most of our design work was done at the Mystery Brewing’s Public House – our favorite local brewery, where delicious drinks and a relaxed atmosphere proved the perfect place to work. Now we’re working with Jeff Gannon and Molly Luby of Green Door Design/Build, who are helping us perfect the design and drawing the plans.
The Frolic: But most of our time, nearly every free hour, has been spent rebuilding our 1969 Frolic camper. We’ve stripped and gutted the inside, installed a double bed, laid toungue-in-groove pine floors, and are working on the kitchenette and dining area. These 80 square feet will be our home for the next few years while we build our house. Look for photos and the complete story in a future post (once we’ve finished it).
These are main things we’ve been working on recently. It’s been keeping us busy here at Spring Forth Farm, but in farming a busy winter helps lead to a good spring, and we’re really looking forward to this, the first spring flowers at Spring Forth Farm.