Recently in Construction Category


A long article on the trials and tribulations of prefab building is yet to come. Only thing I can say with definitive clarity is steer far clear of the factory Penn Lyon Homes. (update 3.21.11: just learned Pennlyon was purchased) Our contact there, Ben Burns lied to us, misled us, missed every deadline that was set, was one of the most unprofessional business people I've dealt with.  On top of that, we are now 10 months from setting the house and they still haven't paid the set crew. They owe us countless thousands of dollars for errors, ommissions and ridiculous mistakes (some of them not even to code).

But all that aside, Hidden Valley Construction, our on-site builders, did a fantastic job and made up for and fixed all of Penn Lyon's shortcomings.

The basic timeline from setting the house to sleeping in it was just over three months. 

It is quite possible that the next time we visit, we'll be staying the night.  That will be a momentous occasion, I'll try not to jinx it (it's two weeks away).

Week 9 saw the deck closer to completion. 
The upstairs bathroom is 98% complete.
The kitchen is pretty close. 
The downstairs bath is started. 
The floor is mostly in! Looks great, we were not 100% sure about the look of the Cork Floor we bought, it has a much larger grain than we expected. But, it settles into the space nicely and the panel seams disappear well.

We still haven't nailed down an under-bench light solution, so currently it is run to junction boxes.

We'll post a more complete update soon, but the bathroom tile is going in and the porches are being framed up.

Fun stuff.

It's been an incredibly busy January, so it's been two weeks since we last visited the site.  In the mean time;
The septic has finally been finished. 
The radiant heat is still radiating gloriously.
The cork floor has been delivered (not installed).
The ikea kitchen has been delivered (not installed).
The first floor bathroom was just leveled and the floor tiled.
The basement has been sheet rocked.
The back-up heat system (a long story) has been installed and ventilation run around the basement perimeter (see photos below).

And at long last, the siding has been completed.  It looks great.  The vertical tongue-in-groove rough cedar planks were all stained in the basement and dried before going up on the house.

Take a look at the slideshow below.  The window returns are finished, they look fantastic.  We're really happy we kept fighting for that (yes there was some resistance).


This weekend we went over interior and exterior stain with Andy and Alissa. It's going to be the Cordovan semi-solid.


You can see the deck pier moldings poking out of the snow.  Those haven't been poured yet. It's been a bit cold. Hopefully in the next week.  All the utilities are finally hooked up, but despite the septic field having been prepped 4 months ago, it still isn't complete.  So the water isn't hooked up yet.  Hopefully the septic goes in this week as well. 

fireplace.jpgAndy and the crew tackled some interior work for the first week.  Framing out the walls in the basement, and tackling the light scoop interior. The only heat source currently in the house is the wood burning stove.

The pipes you see in the opening beside the foundation are our Geothermal temperature regulating system. It's sort of a homemade system that Walt recommended. The system consists of an intake and outflow pipes in the basement (second picture below). These openings feed a series of buried pvc pipes which condition the air by regulating it to the ground temperature, a very stable 50 - 60 degrees year-round. We'll post an update when we've had a chance to use it.



Episode 2
Straylight Short Film Series
TRT 6:44

Music: Mogwai "Ratts of the Capital" from the album Happy Songs for Happy People.
On Friday 4 December 2009, the Villa Straylight was delivered.  Not without a few hiccups (I'll elaborate later) but now a house exists.

Here's a raw time lapse video of the house being set, I'm choosing my favorite audio track, the rock mashup, I also made a Dub version and a Classical version for your enjoyment.

This time-lapse was shot on a Canon EOS Digital Rebel, using an intervalometer shooting one frame every 5 seconds. We started shooting at 8:30a - 4:45pm. The original material is 1936 x 1288. This was crunched to 726 x 483, using h264 codec out of FCP.

The house was on three trailers. 1 @ 14' x 36', 1 @ 12' x 36' and one with the light scoop and parapet walls to be finished on site. You can see the crane stack the trailers as each one is finshed.


Also, here's a 150 still images, unedited, as a flickr slideshow.

The two halves of the house were delivered today, to be set on the foundation tomorrow.

Friday the 13th, of November 2009.

The foundation continues. This week saw the foundation sealed and plumbing and radiant heat coils added.

Pictured below are an addition to the Superior Walls. These are Simpson Tie Downs. These were required because of structural issues with the large amount of window to wall dimensions. Instead of the regular tiedowns (the taller metal straps) we had the 'Simpson' style tie-downs manufactured (smaller metal footer items) and per the State review and the engineer we added 29 of these around the perimiter of the foundation walls.

It has been an unnecessarily long and drawn out year of trying to get this house built.  We've waded through countless bids and considered every route from stick built to various levels of prefabrication.  The gory details can wait until it is finished, but at long last it is moving forward - with a functional plan and people in place to get the job done. 

The final recipe is:

1. Architectural Design by Rapson Architects based on the Case Study House # 4
2. Factory and Prefab coordination and consulting by Walter Bestwick.
3. Prefab Foundation by Superior Walls.
4. Prefab house construction built in the Penn Lyon factory in Selinsgrove, PA
5. Site prep and on-site finishing by Hidden Valley Construction. (who have been fantastic!)

It seems unwise to try to build a new house without thinking of ways to make it both more efficient and more carbon neutral (trendy but true). Which means among other things, we are going to look into the possibility of solar energy for the Villa Straylight. It turns out that in New York there is currently a program that will offset a large percentage of the cost of installing new a new solar system, around 40% according to their government website.These incentives last through 2009 so hopefully we will be able to take advantage of them. Since we will most likely want to do a grid-connected system, we will be able to put power into the grid instead of just taking it out.


After a little bit of research online to find out what kind of rocks are laying about all over our land, we discovered what we have is an abundance of Pennsylvania Bluestone. We are choosing to look at this as a good thing as we can use the stone to build our patio and a stone walkway inside the house. What we don't know is if this will be a problem in excavating the basement. There are a LOT of rocks. Hopefully there isn't a gigantic bolder right under our house site.

Random history note: The Starrucca Viaduct (below) is a bridge built in 1848 made of bluestone that carries the Erie railroad across the  Starrucca Creek in Pennsylvania. It's been in service for over 150 years. Built to last!


Along with putting in a septic system, we will also need to have a well on the property. This is another area in which we will need to do some research since we know next to nothing about wells. We found the a site called which is a consumer information site that should hopefully help get us up to speed. There is certified local contractor finder on the site which could be useful.
We think one way we can get the most out of our little house will be to have a full basement. We can store all the stuff that doesn't fit in our apartment in the city, outdoor furniture during the winter and possibly an even put in an extra bedroom. And what better way to go than a prefab foundation? We are investigating Superior Walls as an option for the foundation. Zach's mom used this type of foundation for her place in Colorado. She said it was fantastic. No guesses yet as to how much it will cost to dig a basement, or to buy the prefab foundation. We will update when we find out more. We are pretty sure that we will have to access the basement from the outside since there is no place for stairs inside the weeHouse. But we will be researching that possibility as well.

The lot on which we will be building is not on a sewer system so we will need to build a septic system. This is very common in rural areas where the houses are spread out and far away from the city center or in areas where the landscape is too extreme for conventional sewers. We are now in the process of educating ourselves on how septic sytems work. We are pretty sure we will have to do another perc test before we can get a permit to build on our land. The last one was done about two years ago, we think, and the test only lasts for two years. We still have a lot to learn about how it all this stuff goes down. The real estate agent also mentioned that according to the perc test, we will most likely have to build a "mound" type of septic system. Again we still have more research to do, experts to consult and tests to preform on the land before we will know for sure.

This site about how to build a septic system is exhaustive and very easy to understand: How to Build a Septic System