Folsom's Rainbow Bridge

Folsom's Rainbow Bridge
Rainbow Bridge crossing the American River in Folsom, CA

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Energy and a New Begining

It has been a very long time since I updated Local Fruit! - so long that I don’t even know if the links are still connected.  But here we go with a quick update that should have occurred several years ago.

The very green house in old Folsom was completed in October 2012, and when we moved in we started tracking utilities.  Before construction began, we projected that the intense insulation and solar system would reduce our energy usage by 30%.  We would have been happy with an actual savings of 25%.  However, the actual hard dollar savings between our prior home and the new home-both homes of comparable size-was well beyond our goals.  The actual savings in dollars was 67% for electricity and 71% for natural gas.  The savings in kWh and Therms was equally impressive.  The outstanding energy reduction results are a compelling case for the use of advanced framing techniques and superior insulation methods in construction. 

The down side of building such a solid and well insulated home is that when it warms up in the winter, the upstairs zone is overly warm.  I find it occasionally too warm to sleep at night.  In the winter I like to sleep under the weight of a comforter, which means I get too warm at night.  When it is coldest in the winter and the furnace heats the downstairs zone to 68-70 degrees, the upstairs will warm up to 72-74 and stay there! So last winter when we had a good freeze, lows in the 20’s for a week, my bedroom window was open 4-5 inches all night, every night. During a normal winter the house is very comfortable, but a during a really cold spell it is actually too warm.  Such a warm little house! When I am a little old lady who is cold all the time, maybe I will finally close that window…

We planted what little area we could plant. The historic district lot is small at only 50’ wide which allows for a small and easily manageable patio and garden.  Located by a river and greenbelt, the views are borrowed from nature as are the wildlife. The landscape area outside the fence is deer territory; they regularly trim the bushes and have twice eaten the grapefruit tree down to stubs.

Back to Local Fruit!   This blog started as a way to share the experience of building an energy efficient home in a cool historic neighborhood in a fun California town.  Stay with me as I expand the Local Fruit!'s  footprints to add vineyard tales in northern California, especially El Dorado and Amador counties.  The Local Fruit! adventure will continue in 2015!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Finishing Construction in Old Folsom!

Russet release (red) being stamped
Hello and welcome back to Local Fruit!

Our home now has flatwork, which is construction talk for the finish concrete used in patios and stairs. The back patio included stamped concrete for the porch and garage steps; the front concrete work includes a short sidewalk. The back yard was designed and framed a few days before, but Rich was still modifying the shape of the front steps on the morning of the pour. It was fun to design the shapes ourselves, collaborating with spray paint and a tape measure. We love the stamp pattern called Roman Slate. All of the concrete in our home was delivered and installed by skilled tradesmen, and it was a pleasure to meet them and admire their work.

Pouring front steps

After the concrete pour, the next thing was to build the fence. Unfortunately the fence fails to keep rude people out of our yard. The day the fence was installed a couple walked in the gate expecting to tour our home.  The next evening we found large dog prints and a pile of poop in the patio area. During the day someone had brought a dog with HUGE paws into the yard and left behind a HUGE pile of dog poop. Peeeewww.

White Oak - with the oil in progress

Today was exciting as we met the floor subcontractor, Phillip Hawk, and saw how beautifully the floor finishing is progressing. First the raw wood was installed, covered in putty, sanded and oiled. We won’t be able to walk on the floors for three days while the oil application sets. Next week the floors will be given two coats of urethane coating. Our flooring subcontractor is truly an artisan!

The $/SF of prefinished flooring was a little lower at big box stores and the wholesale distributors, but when considering the cost of flooring parts and installation on stairs the cost for prefinished floors would have been higher than the cost of flooring using raw materials and local craftsmanship. The quality of our floor is superior to prefinished floors: it feels very solid and will have a smooth water impervious coating. Solid wood flooring is more durable and easier to maintain that prefinished flooring.  It has a long lifespan and can be repaired and restained many times if needed. Sorry that these photos are grainy, they were taken by a Palm Pre cellphone.
White Oak - Raw wood installed

Oil application in process

Oiled white oak really warms up a room
Big news today! The solar PV meter was set today! I don’t know if it was connected to the utility, but I will check over the weekend to see if the meter is spinning backward. An upcoming blog entry will talk about our experience with the solar installation and the anxiety of dealing with our electric utility (SMUD) for solar meter connection and energy incentives.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Old Folsom Is My Hood

Hello and welcome back to Local Fruit. Today’s blog is not about construction, but a short commentary about life in old town Folsom.

We have enjoyed old Folsom for over twenty years, and we especially appreciate the unique character that is found in an area as richly diverse as old town. There are interesting and charming residential areas that are home to some of the most appealing sites in the city, and of course there is the commercial historic district that is fertile for people watching. Since the renovation of the historic district there is a renewed vitality in the commercial district and more interest from tourists and regional residents alike.

Scott St. & Sutter St.

For the past year, while living on the outskirts of the historic district during construction of our home, we have frequently walked to the job site or to Sutter Street for dinner, a cold beer, or just to enjoy the sites in the neighborhood. We have probably passed this beautiful home on foot maybe a hundred times, and many more while driving.
Lucky Dragon

Of course the home has been under renovation for years; the grounds are gorgeous and this painted lady is one of Folsom’s finest monuments to a rich past. But look closely and you will see a dragon! And four-leaf clover! It is much fun to see creative renovation at work.

On our wanderings through the older residential areas we have seen TV antenna in trees, totem poles carved as bears wearing bikinis, wonderful arbors and incredibly gnarly fine but massive old oak trees. The alleys have as much to offer, and some alleys have wonderful homes and gardens tucked quietly off the main streets. We have yet to take a walk in the hood and not be greeted by young and old- when I smile there is almost always a smile returned and often a few kind words. There are neighborhood animals that are friendly, like “Senator” the older black lab who greets with sloppy kiss in hopes of a scratch on the head. There are animals to watch, like the lone coyote that we observed for ten minutes at Coloma and Mormon St., loping and resting on the grass. He did not seem a threat but it is unnerving to see a predator openly strolling in the neighborhood.

Over the past twenty-four years we have witnessed a renewal in the old area, and many once shabby homes are now charming and well tended. I believe that the turn around was inevitable due to the progress brought by two main influences: the growth of the suburbs sprawling in the newer developments and the arrival of light rail transit. With the attractions of the river, bike paths, the Sutter Street commercial area and the influx of restaurants, more tourists discovering Historic Folsom. But stroll a few blocks away and there are homes dating back to the late 1800’s to the 1940’s with wonderful charming porches, gardens and arbors.

A horse or ox shoe circa 1850 from Bridge St.
We love the old town, and the people who live and work here. There is character in the old town, and we are eager to finish our home so we can enjoy the hood more than before.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Final Grading in Old Folsom

Hello and welcome back to Local Fruit in Folsom, Ca. The past few weeks construction really seemed to slow down as the work in progress was interior, detailed and time consuming. The finish trim took a full two weeks to complete and was followed by a week of interior painting and prep. This blog is about grading, water permeable surfaces and the beginning of landscaping for our new home in Old Folsom.

Graded future patio and sloped side yard
Two exciting milestones occurred last Monday: final grading and the delivery of the solar panels. Quality final grading is critical to all construction projects to ensure water drainage is adequate, but even more so when dealing with a narrow and sloped lot. Our lot drops 10 ½ feet from the southeast corner to the northwest corner, which may not seem like much except the lot is only 50 feet wide so the slope is significant across a short distance. Returning the slope to the original grade is important to prevent water damage and to protect the heritage oak trees. A sloped lot also means that we should plan for the water that will come from neighbors uphill…at least we know the area well and understand where water runs in the rainy season.

The grader was a real master, a man named Martine with incredible skill. He brought equipment including a tractor that was about 25 years old and wonderfully patched up. The seat was 100% covered with red tape and there was a rag used to plug a hole in the sidewall of one the tires. To me, Martine had an uncanny resemblance to a Mexican version of Dustin Hoffman, especially when he was concentrating on the job at hand. We walked the lot to review our design-not an engineering plan but the simple design drawing from my PC home design software-a print out which is not technical enough for a grader. Martine then walked the lot with his hands out, mentally calculating and “feeling the flow” of the lot. Several hours later, I went home to pick up a few cold beers and returned to find the laser shooting the back yard. Martine said he was 1 ½” off in one corner which is amazing because we did not provide any before of after measurements. Think about it… a true master who read the slope, returned the soil perfectly to original grade (which he had never seen) and did it all using old school gear with no measurements. I think this was a challenge for Martine and he seemed to enjoy the challenge. I was honored to meet him and to watch him work; I can recommend his work without hesitation to anyone need a good grader. It is so inspiring to watch a master tradesman in action, especially a magician like Martine!

Landscape design - patio, trees, trellis, grapes (makes sense?)
It is satisfying to start laying out the landscaping, at least enough for the landscapers to bid on the project. We are hands-on owners, especially with the landscaping and landscape design. A dear friend used the term “No dry cows” which means don’t plant anything that is not productive. We hope to grow plants & trees that are edible, or at least have other household value. There will even be four raised beds so we can plant a spring/summer and a fall/winter garden. The City provided compost bin has been in use for several months, and we are beginning to haul potted plants from our little rental yard. We must be careful, or the deer will get to our plants before we can install fencing. Between the birds, dear and occasional worker, the figs have been well eaten this summer!
We originally planned to have water permeable surfaces for our hardscape, which means pavers or hard surfaces that do not create runoff. Rainwater should filter through the patio or sidewalk to the soil and become groundwater, verses draining off on the surface to the storm sewer and away from the soil. Worse yet, uncontrolled runoff causes erosion and damage to the municipal storm sewer system.

Unfortunately, our project has cost over runs in other areas, and permeable surfaces are no longer an option. The most attractive hard surface is stone, which is now out of the budget. Stamped and stained concrete may be what we end up with.  concrete provides more color and texture options and should be very attractive. The current design has a much reduced the patio area to create more planting areas for small fruit trees and ground cover. This will give us the best of both: more beds and greenery and a smaller more intimate patio for the outdoor dining area.

With a little creativity, a slope is a landscaping asset! Even a narrow lot looks better with grape vines, yes? If we put grapes on the fence, perhaps the deer will nibble on grapes and quince, and leave the roses alone.

Solar Panels on the west side of the roof
The solar panels were installed today, but are not yet hooked up. I will blog about the PV system in a week or so.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Drywall, stairs and figs

Installing sheetrock over foam insulation
Hello and welcome to Local Fruit in Folsom, Ca. This is a quick blog entry to show construction progress for this week. After insulation was installed last week, and inspected, the drywall was installed this week. The next step is to tape and texture the walls. The texture will take a few days to install because is it done by hand, and should take a few days to dry.  Thankfully the weather conditions are ideal for texturing and drying.

The construction schedule is really picking up pace and things will come together quickly now.

    Apartment kitchen
    This week Walls, stairs to garage
  • Next week tape, top, texture the walls
  • 2 weeks out install trim
  • 3 weeks out paint 
  • 4 weeks out install cabinets

Wow. Now that the walls are built the rooms have taken on a completely different look and feel than when the walls were just studs. There are still many decisions to make in a very short period of time, including colors. Choosing colors has always been a challenge for me and may cause more than a little stress. there are sample colors on the exterior but narrowing down the options from the top three to the perfect color can take a long time in our house.

Looking down at the fig tree and across to the sunny front yard
We walked to the house tonight. It was a pleasant summer evening and as we neared the house we noticed that the stair stringers had finally been installed to allow the sheetrock workers to access the apartment. This picture shows the fig tree and main house from the landing. Someday soon we will be able to pick figs from the landing!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Investing in Insulation

Hello and welcome to Local Fruit Folsom. This week’s blog is about insulation and the building envelope. Throughout our new construction home project the focus has been energy efficiency. We chose to invest in building a quality envelope around our living area because our goal is to minimize our utility bills and try to get to a net $0 in annual utility bills.

Soy-based closed cell spray foam in exterior walls

After using advanced framing to maximize the energy efficiency from a structural and framing basis, we selected highly efficient windows and turned our focus on the insulation of the building envelope. The objective is to build a very efficient home and use a solar PV system to minimize the actual purchase of utility power. When focusing on energy efficiency, the absolute most important element in the design of the home is the insulation.
Open cell foam under the roof deck

We attended Greenbuild in 2009 in Phoenix and saw a demo of a hybrid system at the CertainTeed exhibit. Seeing an actual demo structure allowed us to better understand what we were asking of our builder in 2010, and of our insulation subcontractor in 2011. Learning about the envelope and advanced framing also helped us to choose a quality builder who had experience with green building techniques.

Our house is constructed using four different types of insulation:

• Roof deck - 8” of open cell spray foam to achieve R30

• Exterior walls - both closed cell soy-based foam and blown cellulose to achieve R27

• Floor – Fiberglass batts

The house was framed using 24” x 6” on center advanced framing. This means that the framing is 24” apart and the exterior walls are 6” deep to allow for very thorough access during the insulation phase. There is not an exterior surface that is not extremely well insulated. In the walls, we decided to go with a hybrid system that includes 2” of closed cell foam and 4” of blown cellulose. Closed cell foam has many advantages but is extremely expensive compared to open cell foam or cellulose. By using only 2” of the closed cell foam we gain the benefits of a tight seal, added structural rigidity and improved wind resistance for the home. Closed cell foam is made from soy beans and does not allow water or air to pass and it is mold and pest proof. However, when reviewing costs it became evident that 6” of foam does not deliver as much R-Value per dollar as a combination of insulation methods.
Quite a few of the contractors wanted to be involved in a green project, but lacked actual experience. We chose Gai Kirkegaard to build our home because he had already built a LEED Platinum home in our town: he talked the talk and walked the walk. He even drives one of the most efficient cars available-proof that he lives efficiently. When talking about the envelope or advanced framing, Gai and his team truly understand the intricacies of green building.

This week was exciting as both the roof and insulation were installed. The insulation installers make a terrible mess, but as soon as they clean up we can schedule the insulation inspection. After that drywall starts and we can start counting down the weeks until we get to move in. Whoo-hoo!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lumber Mold

House with siding and shingles
Hello and welcome to Local Fruit. It has been a few weeks since I last posted an update on the construction of our home. Although framing and trim have taken longer than we expected, the project is moving along quickly now!

The siding shingles and trim are almost completed, as are rough plumbing and rough electrical. This week’s short blog is about an incredible process to protect and preserve the wooden members of a construction project using a corn product that also cleans the wood beautifully.

Mold stain on framing

Lumber Yard Molds

When framing in the winter, like we did, lumber comes to the job site from the lumber yard in a variety of conditions ranging from damp to slightly discolored (lumber yard mold). Depending on how much exposure the wood has had to rain and the sugar content of the wood, the lumber yard mold may range in color from green/blue to grey to black. In our case, the house and apartment were framed during a very long rainy season. Here is a photo of the lumber yard mold in the apartment structure. After questioning the builder about the growth in the wood, we decided to get an independent test of the wood just in case there were spores that were dangerous. After all, only a tape test analyzed by a qualified (certified) mold specialist can determine what species are present and make recommendations as to the removal of the growth.
Corn cleaning product

The tape test confirmed the presence of lumber yard mold in the apartment and in several areas in the main house. After speaking with our builder, we decided to remediate the condition using a company that follows a two-step process to treat all exposed wood: remove the growths using high pressure blast of corn fractions (like corn meal) and then apply a weak borate solution. Both steps are completely natural and chemical free, contain zero VOC’s and improve air quality after use. But this is why we chose to proceed: the end product is a clean structure at a reasonable cost.

Corn fractions after cleaning

Corn fractions up close

Borate Solution - 100% natural

After power blasting the wood, the team used air pressure to blow out all dust and debris from the house. Then they applied the borate solution which is claimed to prevent mold, mildew, moss, fungi, termites, etc. The remediation company, MoldGaurd USA, Inc. backs up their marketing claims with a guarantee against future growth.

The very green process is used in commercial multi-family construction projects to reduce both cleaning costs and liability of future mold growth. The before and after photos on their web site are very convincing and in our case the house was spotless when the team left. Unfortunately the electrician and HVAC guys came in the next day and made fresh sawdust… more for us to sweep each day.
Our builder, Gai Kirkegaard Construction, is calling for the framing inspection this week, and insulation installation next week. The heart of this house is the envelope, with efficient windows, clean walls and great insulation. The next posting should be about out insulation and our application to the California Advanced Homes Partnership for energy incentives.