rough-in complete!

sheetrock starts tomorrow!!!! never thought i’d be so glad to “move-on”….given the compact nature of this house – lack of basement and limited attic space – the last 4 weeks, or so, have not been a lot of fun.  LOTS of “reconciliation” (better word than compromise!) between various subs, carpenters, architect and owner.  but, we’ve made it through and look forward to the next phase, that pristine “white-out” phase known as sheetrock (one of my favorites). all the messy wires, pipes, blocking, etc. get covered up and, for the first time, the house will assume its spatial quality.

smarthome cabling homeruns

smarthome cabling spaghetti.  i know, hard to believe by looking at this mess, but all these wires will be connected to various devices, controllers, etc. and allow for the wireless control of most building systems via an iPhone or iPad mini – note the irony in the term “wireless”?!



a “cut and paste” post from my facebook page in the interest of some good, old-fashioned, shameless self-promotion….

TOH crewTHIS OLD HOUSE – Essex Series Premieres!!!! The first episode starting airing on 01.17.2013. Episode Three, “One-Level Living” to start airing on 01.31.2013!!!! TOH press release says “In Bucksport, Maine, Master Carpenter Norm Abram meets architect John Gordon to see the accessible house he designed for his quadriplegic daughter, Jessica.” Make sure you don’t miss our four minutes of fame by checking your local PBS listings to find out when an episode will air in your area. For you “locals”, Time Warner Cable listing for Bangor says our episode will air on MPBN-TV on February 2 at 3:30pm.

You can check your local listings by clicking the following link and entering your zip code:,,20058777,00.html

Full episodes are available online the Sunday after each episode’s original airdate at the following link:

Here’s some info about a special premiere night for MPBN members!
“MPBN is celebrating a special episode of This Old House shot in Bucksport, Maine and features local architect, John Gordon. The show will be aired on MPBN Television Saturday February 2 at 3:30 PM….MPBN is holding a special premiere night for its membership on Thursday, January 31st at 7 PM at the Alamo Theater in Bucksport. MPBN’s Charles Beck will be on hand to welcome attendees and introduce John Gordon. A meet and greet will be held immediately following the show for Gordon to relate his experiences filming the episode and answer any questions from attendees.” (Jessica may attend, pending the logistics of motherhood, small-business owner, wife, travel and two needy dogs!).

I have not seen the results of my “acting” efforts (trust me, I’m using the term VERY loosely, here). But, I remain confident in the words of the producer, director and crew, “Don’t worry about it, we’re gonna make you look like Robert DeNiro!” Man, you gotta like their confidence.

good news

mtl roof noyesyes, that is a roof!  not only does it look great, but it will keep the weather out of the house so we can continue with interior finish-out – disaster narrowly averted.  on friday, the city conducted their rough-in inspections – we passed all with flying colors.  now, we can leave rough-in/subcontractor hell behind and move onto the fun stuff, like interior finishes!  oh yeah, solar PV panels will be installed this week. so, by friday we will be making some electricity! train kept a-rollin’….


building shell blower door test

as previously discussed, a BIG performance component of this house is tightness.  most (all?) design and constructability decisions have been founded upon the principals of building shell tightness.  these include walls/roof (SIPs), windows, doors, foundation details, etc.  the basic idea is to build the house as tight as possible to keep that precious (costly!) heated air INSIDE.  of course, in so doing,  we must also be cognizant of occupant health.  if it’s too tight, then we can induce indoor air quality problems (moisture, pollutants, etc.).  the catch phrase is “build it tight, ventilate it right”.  what follows is some info on the “build it tight” part.  more to come on the “ventilate it right” part….

in addition to design and attention to detail during construction, we must test ourselves.  that’s where the blower door comes into play.  basically, a blower door is a door that blows air out of the house thereby creating a negative pressure inside (it can also blow air into the house, thus creating a positive pressure, used mostly as a diagnostic method).  WARNING: what follows will go some distance down the “building science” road, but NOT all the way down that road – three reasons.  1) i’m an architect, not a scientist!  2) the purpose of this blog is to present a wholistic presentation of the design and construction of 363HOUSE.  3) due to #’s 1 & 2, i’m trying to keep the information mostly accessible to the non-greengeeks amongst us!

blower door.  basically, a fabric door with a big fan.  the little gray box near upper left corner is the manometer.

blower door – basically, a fabric door with a big fan. the little black box with keypad near upper left corner is the manometer.

the blower door is equipped with a computerized manometer to measure air pressure.  the industry standard is 50 Paschals (50Pa) – a Paschal is a unit of measure like inches of water column.  it’s been described to me as the equivalent of a 20mph wind blowing on all exterior surfaces (roof, walls, floor/foundation) of the building simultaneously.  the manometer reading is rendered in Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM).   the lower the number, the better.  that CFM number is factored to obtain so many Air Changes per Hour (ACH).  again, lower is better.  so, basically, the resultant calculation tells us how many complete air changes will occur in 60 minutes at 50Pa.  so, that’s interesting, huh?  if you’re still reading this, then you might be wondering, “well, how many (or, few) is good?”.  here’s a VERY brief primer….a reasonably, well-constructed home of “conventional/non-airtight” construction might be 15ACH@50 or more;  under the 2009 International Residential Code, ≤7ACH@50 is required; an EnergyStar 3 house, ≤4@ACH is required; PassivHaus, the uber-standard for TIGHT construction, ≤0.6ACH@50 is required!

our energy model (see “energy” posted WAY back on 13 june 2012!) is based upon 1.5ACH@50Pa.  we chose this target based upon previous experience and knowing that this project has many goals and a budget.  so, the thinking was let’s not over-reach on every goal.  nonetheless, we have been OBSESSIVELY attentive to tightness with every intention of smashing our energy model goal!

so, how’d we do????

on friday, the manometer told us we did pretty good - 355CFM.  this translates into 0.95ACH@50.

on friday, the manometer told us we did pretty good – 355CFM. this translates into 0.95ACH@50.

frankly, we did NOT smash our goal.  yes, we did better than 1.5 by a little more than a third.  and, this is only the building shell blower door test (we can work toward improvement before the final blower door test at completion).  so, i’m satisfied with our work, but not ecstatic – no chest-pounding!  of course, the shell blower door should be considered a diagnostic tool – a learning opportunity.  yeah, so, what did we learn????

well, our uber-tight entry doors aren’t so uber!  the good thing about the uber doors is the hinges are nearly infinitely adjustable and we think we can tighten up the door seals through hinge adjustments.  we also found a few small breaches in the SIPs shell incurred by some electrical wiring (MORE spray foam!).  and, we have a few very minor leaks at window installation clips. the uber windows are indeed uber – no air leaks there!

BTW, leaks are discovered through the use of a smoke pencil. it’s just what it’s called, a “pencil” that emits smoke.  if the smoke leaks out of the building, then that means air is going out, too!  pretty cool, VERY effective, LOW-tech device!

diane milliken of horizon maine (project green rater) conducting the blower door test. NICE BOOTS! :-)

diane milliken of horizon maine (project green rater) conducting the blower door test. LOVE the boots!

one final thought.  i’ve always found the best way to think of this whole air leakage thing is in terms of “how big of a hole does this ACH@50 number equal?”.  think of it like this….if we added up the area of ALL the holes in the building shell (shell area = 5667 square feet), then the total would equal a 6″ diameter hole.

we plan to re-test in the next week, or so, after the above listed remedies have been employed.  i will report any improvements worth noting.

now, if i can just GET THE ROOFER TO SHOW UP!!!!

ps: here are the calcs, for those number freaks amongst us….

363HOUSE blower door shell


jessica and todd have decided to install a “smart home” system.  basically, this will allow for control of audio, some video, heating, window shades, security system and lighting via software controlled by computer, iPhone, etc.  the in-house controller will be an iPad mini. its a pretty cool, whiz bang feature that has a deeply practical application for jessica, given her limited mobility.

so, when the sun glare/heat is too much or night-time privacy is needed, pull out the iPhone and lower the shades; when someone is at the front door, pull out the iPhone and see who’s there!; wanna control what rooms are receiving the piped music, pull out the iPhone; driving home and want some outside lights on for your arrival, pull out….you get it.

should be cool.  now, we just gotta get all the wires run before sheetrock starts!


well, rough-in continues.  the project is in one of those phases where progress seems to creep along.  and, the holiday season has put a bit of a damper on things (and i’m not just talking about the rain and snow!).  we remain hopeful that our roofer will make an appearance very soon. otherwise, once rough-in is completed next week, the project will come to a standstill.  ah, the joys of building! 😉

photo gallery of construction highlights:


we are well into the roughing in phase.  plumber, electrician, fire sprinkler, solar and heating contractors have all been on-site.  the “smart home” sub will be on-site in january to do his work for control of lighting, audio, video and window shades.  oh yeah, gotta rough-in the HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilation) system, too.

given the compact nature of the design, no basement and essentially no attic, routing the multitude of pipes and wires is akin to building a submarine!  overall, its going well with minimal back-tracking.  nonetheless, it is a time-consuming process and has required a lot of time on-site by yours truly – all in hopes of starting sheetrock installation mid-january.  oh yeah, we STILL need the metal roof installed before that starts!  YIKES!!!!

unfortunately, no exciting visuals/photos of wires and pipes.  just this photo of the first floor electrical plan with my field notes compiled during a 90 minute walk-thru with craig the electrician (on-site nickname = “sparky”).  the result is the fourth iteration of the electrical plan. the march of two steps forward, one step back presses on!



here’s a photo update of siding installation with west wall almost complete.  it DOES look nice, huh?


LEED for Homes

click above on the page entitled “LEED for Homes”.  there, you will learn about LEED for Homes!  LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

BTW, it’s LEED, NOT “LEEDS” – Leeds is a city in England (it’s also a town in Maine!). AND, part of a title to a great live album (greatest ever live album????) – The Who, LIVE AT LEEDS. it includes an awesome Magic Bus!

fiber-cement siding

fiber-cement siding has been around for decades in europe.  it has been gaining more of a foothold in the U.S. the past decade, or so.  its advantages include durability, low-maintenance, appearance (it looks like traditional clapboard siding), and fire-resistance.  its reported disadvantages are mostly limited to cost – acquisition and installation.  i take issue with the cost issue.  one must ask “compared to what?”  if the standard is cheap-O vinyl siding, then yes.  when compared to good quality wood siding, my experience is the fiber-cement siding is cost-competitive.  like any building product, the detailer and installer must pay honor the limitations of the product – primarily, protection from moisture penetration/saturation (BEFORE, during and after installation).

i have used A LOT of FC siding in the past 6-7 years with minimal problems/issues.  its a natural fit to this project, mostly for the reasons stated above.  because its primary ingredient is cement, it does have some recycled content and is recyclable at the end of its useful life.  the product is guaranteed for 50 years with a 15 year warranty on the finish.  not that i put a lot of stock in manufacturer’s warranties (read the fine print), but i do think the warranty duration can communicate the manufacturer’s confidence in their product.  given FC siding has been in use for decades, i am comfortable with its claims of durability.

there are two primary FC siding manufacturers – JM Hardie and Certainteed.  we chose Certainteed because they have siding that imitates a stained wood appearance AND because my client wanted it! :-)  the picture below is a good representation of its beauty.  jessica just saw the wall yesterday and couldn’t be happier.  we HOPE installation will be completed before christmas break, pending weather and roofing subcontractor (we need the metal roof and trim installed to install the soffits!).

earlier posts on window details and rain screen provide more info on siding details.



This gallery contains 11 photos.

recent construction progress seems meteoric compared to recent past. exterior siding and trim underway. LOTS of prep work (rain screen, flashing, etc., etc.) but worth the effort.  the siding installation itself will go fairly quickly (at least the “wood” siding, … Continue reading