Friday, January 29, 2010

Changes during process

We've gotten a few questions about some of the changes we made to our plans throughout the construction process. For example, we mentioned our love of slate floors but didn't use them in the house at all. We apologize if some of our older posts are inconsistent with the current reality of the house; I can see how it could be confusing! Let me try to set the record straight and explain our decisions.

Slate floors
We were initially very excited about either stone or concrete floors because we thought they would provide great thermal mass for our radiant heat system. Slate can also be sourced locally from southern Vermont. When I began calling around for prices, I found that 12x12 slate tiles were affordable. However, we really liked the modern look and feel of rectangular tiles (more like 12x18 or 12x24). Those were VERY expensive and way out of our price range. So we abandoned the idea. We also toyed with a lightweight concrete finish for the first floor but it became too complicated to pour concrete on suspended floors and bolster the subfloor with the additional structural supports required. So after a lot of thought and deliberation, we returned to wood floors. We've always loved the warmth of wood but were concerned about their durability since we co-habit with two large labs. Yet they fit our budget and we liked that we could support a local green business, Planet Hardwood, which guaranteed that the particular floors we chose had been sustainably harvested from a regional forest. So the look, price, and environmental impact were all attractive. The dogs have made their mark on them but it's nothing we can't live with. Overall, we've very happy. We should also say that we originally purchased a nice birch option (from the same mill) and then decided we liked the maple better. Planet Hardwood was wonderful about letting us change our mind!

Radiant heat system
Our original plan was to install an open-direct radiant heat system from Radiantec powered by a high-efficiency water heater rather than a boiler. This set-up seemed practical and more affordable than traditional radiant systems. I actually published a pretty snarky (dare I say cocky?!) post about how plumbers weren't aware of the benefits of such systems and how they often poo-pooed them without really understanding them. I spoke a bit too soon. The more phone calls we made, the more we realized that plumbers didn't just dislike or misunderstand such systems...they categorically refused to install them. We literally contacted every plumber suggested to us by friends and family (more than 7 in all) and NO ONE was willing to work with us. And we did not feel we had the expertise or the time to do the work ourselves. So we began to re-think our decision. Another factor was that we ended our working relationship with our building consultant, Al Rossetto, to work exclusively with Bill Litchfield. Al had been a major proponent of the open-direct system and without him in the picture, we lost some of our confidence in the approach. The plumber we liked best (Mike Lavoie) was someone who had worked with Bill extensively and we ultimately decided that it was more important to hire a plumber we trusted than to continue our advocacy of the open-direct system. Mike had installed many traditional radiant heat systems (with a high-efficiency, 98%, Well-McLain boiler) and we purchased a similar set-up. We are very happy with Mike's work and our radiant floors. We might have saved money with an open-direct system but would still have struggled to find someone willing to do the installation.

Corrugated metal ceiling
Our post about possibly lining our interior ceilings with corrugated metal garnered a lot of attention. We still like the idea a lot but when we changed house plans, we lost the large, two-story great room. It was this room (and the large expanse of drywall it would require) that worried me aesthetically and was the reason I went in search of alternative ceiling materials. But our new plans did not include soaring open space like the original plans. All of our ceilings are painted the same white as the walls and I think it lends coherence to the feel of the house. But thanks for all of your reactions and feedback to the idea! I'm still playing around with possibly using corrugated metal as wainscotting...perhaps in our entry way.

Our builder
We initially worked with a green building consultant, Al Rossetto, and acted as our own general contractors. But in the spring/summer of 2009, we made the difficult decision to cease working with Al and to hire local builder Bill Litchfield of Speciality Design to oversee the construction of our house. Bill essentially stepped into the GC role at that point, agreeing to coordinate and supervise the building process as well as to communicate with our subs. (We had interviewed and chosen all of our subs ourselves prior to that point.) It was a major decision for us but since Ryan and I were both so incredibly busy at work and could not afford the time to be on site ourselves, it made sense to hand the reins over to Bill. We should say, though, that we learned a great deal from Al and many of his ideas are reflected in our final design.

ADDED 1/31/10
Staircase design
Thanks to Bob for pointing out this big change I forgot to mention. We initially purchased a rockin' industrial-style stair design from an incredibly talented Vermont architect, Bob Swinburne. His aesthetic is so similar to ours and we loved the balance of natural wood and metal in his stairs (see here). However, when we changed house plans, we went from a straight stair to a stair with a sharp turn and a landing so the original design no longer worked. We considered asking him to design another set of stairs to match our new plans but two things held us, time. We changed plans at literally the last minute (about a month before breaking ground) and had so many other issues to attend to (new SIP layout, new window order, etc.) that the stairs sort of took a back seat. And two, we decided we needed a closed stair because we found out we were pregnant and that this house would soon be home to not only two uncoordinated labs but a little baby. So the stairs of our dreams with the open risers did not seem as practical as a traditional closed design. I still lament our decision in a way...we talk frequently about how much we love Bob's stairs and I find myself returning to pictures of them on our blog from time to time, just to dream. We might add a more industrial looking handrail to our stairs in the future and/or cover the risers with metal (like this house). We do adore our newel post, though...a gorgeous walnut piece our builder pulled from a 150+ year old farmhouse in Cambridge, Vermont. Pretty cool.

Whew. I hope that clears up some of the confusion and responds to some of your questions! Please let me know if you have any more!

And P.S. Thanks for all the great suggestions on our front door color...keep 'em coming! We're going to do some experimenting with Photoshop soon so I'll post pictures when they're ready!