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by Marshall Mayer last modified Aug 17, 2012 09:05 AM
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Modern Expectations in a Traditional World

by Don Chartier from Rancho Deluxe  (build blog) — Jan 04, 2012 02:34 AM
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How do you know when you're on the same page with your collaborators (architect, contractors, subs)? For some things, where you can say "I want the Kohler faucet #12345 in Satin Nickel", you're done. Try doing this with concrete. For this house, much of the exterior wall is unfinished concrete, as mentioned previously. Concrete is a wonderful material, but it's not like picking out a faucet. How do you agree on what "light, warm gray, but no brown or beige tones, natural-looking, without too many defects" looks like? You can't.

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Concrete Momentum, and Panic

by Don Chartier from Rancho Deluxe  (build blog) — Jan 04, 2012 02:33 AM
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Average Rating: 1 2 3 4 5 ( 0 votes)

Momentum is the force that gets difficult projects done and keeps people from changing their minds. It breathes life into all sorts of undertakings ("Relationships are like sharks, they need to keep moving forward to stay alive. What we have here is a dead shark." --Woody Allen in "Annie Hall.") This project ("Chartier Hermitage") has been in the works for a couple years now, and almost got built last Fall, but it lost steam when we couldn't resolve some key issues. The biggest decision was how to build and insulate the concrete walls. Concrete has essentially no insulating value of its own (although it acts as a thermal mass, like a stucco wall), and there a few ways to keep out the cold: Conventional insulation on the inside--frame a wall against the inside concrete surface and fill the openings with your favorite insulation material. Insulated concrete forms--the concrete is poured between forms made of a rigid Styrofoam sandwich. Called "ICFs" in the trade. The "Thermomass" approach--another sandwich, but the reverse of ICFs. Concrete makes up the bread, and Styrofoam insulation is the filling. The two concrete walls are held together by plastic ties that don't conduct heat. You guessed it, we're going for the third approach. This means that there can be a bare concrete wall on both the inside and outside, so the structural material is also the finished surface. ICFs force you to add another couple of layers to the wall on both sides, This has a lot of appeal for modernists, and, given that I'm paying a ton of money for this T-Mass approach, you're gonna see every inch of that concrete. It also creates its own set of concerns: Not many foundation contractors have experience with this technology. It's a proprietary technology, so there's no price or product competition It's therefore not cheap. How much "not cheap" is difficult to say, because of #1, not many people do this. We couldn't get a true apples-to-apples comparison to the conventional approach because we couldn't find two T-mass foundation guys. So, while this project is in southern Wisconsin, our concrete guy is coming from Minnesota. The finish of a concrete wall is somewhat of a crapshoot. You can clean the forms so they shine, use the right release agent, spec the concrete recipe precisely and use fancy admixtures, but there's no guarantee that it'll come out the way you wanted. Hence the panic. We start pouring in 10 days; until then, I'll be dreaming about concrete...

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Collaboration

by Don Chartier from Rancho Deluxe  (build blog) — Jan 04, 2012 02:38 AM
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Average Rating: 1 2 3 4 5 ( 0 votes)

Many contractors; I feel important. The out-of-place Bimmer is mine, but will someday feel at home with the kitchen guy's Mercedes wagon (hmmm). Barry, the general contractor, invited the key trades to meet with me and the architect, and with each other. The concrete guy won the show-and-tell award with a four-foot square sample of the T-Mass wall construction, with the Pella windows guy coming in a close second with donuts. Kidding aside, having this kind of a kick-off meeting was a terrific idea. We caught all kinds of minor inconsistencies and omissions, and might have saved a couple bucks of rework and change orders in the process. Everyone now has a face to associate with a name, and for those that stuck around, I bought lunch at the local restaurant and cheese emporium.

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*That* Goes into the Sales Brochure

by Don Chartier from Rancho Deluxe  (build blog) — Jan 04, 2012 02:33 AM
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Average Rating: 1 2 3 4 5 ( 0 votes)

The concrete guy, who will be doing the T-Mass work, has been slightly delayed because he was pouring T-Mass walls at the new penitentiary.

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Taking Shape

by Don Chartier from Rancho Deluxe  (build blog) — Jan 04, 2012 02:33 AM
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Average Rating: 1 2 3 4 5 ( 0 votes)

The footings have been poured and now the forms are being set up for the concrete and the T-Mass insulation (the blue stuff). Note the connectors, which I'm told are poor thermal conductors (that's a good thing), that make sure the insulation is in the middle of the wall and tie the two concrete walls together. The structure in the middle of the photo is the master bedroom, which is somewhat separated from the public space. The idea here is to let people visit without my being there, allowing them the run of the house without me having to make my bed or pick up the towels. Not the most cost-effective design decision, but peace of mind is a wonderful thing.

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Color

by Don Chartier from Rancho Deluxe  (build blog) — Jan 04, 2012 02:38 AM
Editorial Rating: 1 2 3 4 5
Average Rating: 1 2 3 4 5 ( 0 votes)

There's many a ton of concrete in this beast (in polite company around town it's called "the concrete house"; I don't want to know what other, more judgmental labels have been attached to it). That's a lot of gray.

So we're going to break up the gray concrete walls with siding, gray siding. Darker than the concrete--pretty much a charcoal gray.

I'm toying with more of a barn red, which has caused long conversations with my architect. He's not 100% against it, mind you, but also isn't sure it makes sense. During the discussion, he pulled out a photo of a Steven Holl (one of the reigning starchitects) building that's all red (bright red). He terms this choice "intentional", which on reflection hurts a little--so my choice is random?

So, time for more input: charcoal gray or barn red. Remember, this siding lasts for 40 years.

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Higher. No, *Higher*.

by Don Chartier from Rancho Deluxe  (build blog) — Jan 04, 2012 02:38 AM
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Average Rating: 1 2 3 4 5 ( 0 votes)

It's gettin' up there. Above is the view from the Southeast. The grey box to the right is the basement for the guest wing. The wood forms in the foreground are for the master bedroom's basement and the taller forms to the left are for the high wall sections on the South and North sides that will support the shed roof. Here's the opposite angle, from the Northeast. Again, most of this is basement wall. The grade will come right up to the top of the wall on the right, which will support the curtain wall facing West.

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OK, that's high enough.

by Don Chartier from Rancho Deluxe  (build blog) — Jan 04, 2012 02:37 AM
Editorial Rating: 1 2 3 4 5
Average Rating: 1 2 3 4 5 ( 0 votes)

We've finally topped out the concrete, with the flatwork remaining. The above view (Lucky included for scale) is from the West, with the top of the nearest wall being ground level and the base of the curtain wall. The large wall parallel to it defines the East edge of the public space. From the Northeast, the ground level on the left is the kitchen, and the study will be above that, with a door to the terrace over the guest wing and some windows. From the East, the box in the foreground is the garage, featuring pre-cast concrete planks (the slabs with the holes in them). We're using these to better support the "green terrace" that will go on top of it. This terrace has a few things going for it: a softer, more natural view from the master bedroom, a cooler garage, and less forceful water runoff in rainstorms. And, if I get my act together to install a graywater system, free irrigation water.

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Thanks for your input. We're going in a different direction.

by Don Chartier from Rancho Deluxe  (build blog) — Jan 04, 2012 02:35 AM
Editorial Rating: 1 2 3 4 5
Average Rating: 1 2 3 4 5 ( 0 votes)

As for that poll on what color of fiber cement we should use for the siding (Barn Red or Charcoal Gray), um, never mind. The reds we looked weren't going to work well with concrete, and the combination of charcoal gray, concrete, glass and window frames couldn't come together, no matter what we tried. Plus, the charcoal gray that looked halfway decent was getting real dark, and we were in danger of this place being called "The Black House." I'm not particularly concerned about resale, but this is nuts. Maybe next time, expensive Swiss imported siding... So, we're moving to the more conventional, safer one-step-short-of-cliché cedar, but not the cedar shakes you're familiar with. This will be what some people call "channel siding", where the boards are long and thin, and not beveled, but are ship-lapped and offset so that there's a narrow (half inch?) channel in between boards. Probably horizontal. To keep this from becoming rustic (shudder), we'll use select, no-knot cedar and galvanized aluminum trim elements to make sure it's really clean. Everybody, including Barry the Builder (Bob wasn't available), seems to be happier and somewhat relieved. I'll budget for periodic maintenance.

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Going Vertical

by Don Chartier from Rancho Deluxe  (build blog) — Jan 04, 2012 02:34 AM
Editorial Rating: 1 2 3 4 5
Average Rating: 1 2 3 4 5 ( 0 votes)

I got to witness the first big concrete pour on Thursday--very impressive. There must have been 9 or 10 concrete trucks showing up every 20 minutes or so, for over 3 hours of pouring. It was hot and it was humid, and the crew worked their butts off. It was also somewhat humbling to find out it took a solid week to set up the forms to accomodate the T-Mass insulation, the wire reinforcing mesh, etc. Concrete guys probably like corners less than any other building trade, because it's a beast to get every form perfectly square with all the zigs and zags the walls make. Sorry guys! The construction economies I had expected ("I'll just pour the T-mass walls and I won't have to insulate, paint or install vapor barriers" would seem to have disappeared. Aesthetically, t-mass was still the right way to go, and I still expect to save money heating and cooling the place due to the tightness and the thermal mass effect of the concrete. Above is a panoramic photo taken 2 days after the pour, comprised of 5-6 regular shots, so don't be thrown by the bowed walls that are artifacts of the stitching-together process. There were some glitches with the aggregate hanging up and creating some voids, which is an issue with the above-ground parts and particularly those on the inside, so we'll have to come up with a touch-up approach that looks authentic and not "appliqué" – my architect's personal bête noir.

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