Monday, August 24, 2009

Bicycle Dreams

To end our summer of fun in style, we spent some time checking out the Kids Bike Loop in Dupont (is that DOO-pont, Du-PONT, or Du-pont? I haven't adopted the local pronunciation yet) State Forest. For newbie mountain bikers -- it's a pretty cool spot. There are a couple trails that wind through the woods with plenty of natural hazards. Tree roots, hills, twists and turns, a few logs and branches to hop over. Some bike-loving volunteers have created more fun: ramps, jumps, logs to ride across, a teeter-totter, and some crazy angled boardwalk designed I believe by a dentist or ER doc in need of work. Dexter loves it. Bella says it is too hard. And I admit to more caution than necessary but blame the 15-year old New York City commuter hybrid bike I've pressed back into duty.

Inspired, the boys went out Sunday for a little trail clearing on our property. After a couple hours of work and play, they had a nice little trail underway. It makes use of the big pile of dirt in the backyard (ultimately destined as fill) then ducks into the woods. There's a good uphill section, some tight turns, a few ditches, good bumpy tree roots and a fun downhill. It took Dexter 6 or 7 tries to get around without stopping. I had to borrow his bike to try it out. By my 3rd try I got all but the little ditch. It doesn't look like anything until it swallows your rear tire...

Dex and I headed back to DuPont today to celebrate his final - and only "Bella-free"- day of summer. A little mother-son time courtesy of her first day of preschool. He thinks I need, NEED, a mountain bike. I'm officially hooked.

Doesn't it look like more fun than spinning class?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tarred but not Feathered

photos (clockwise from top) : front of house; interior view of the main room; the white pines, milled; back of house.
The framing is finally getting somewhere. They've been working for several weeks but with a small crew. This week there were more guys at work, and the progress was visible. The roof is completely framed and tar-papered. They starting framing in the walls Friday so this week we expect to really see the house footprint. It's been a long process, though by California standards I guess it still is pretty fast. We looked at preliminary drawings back in March.

The roofing will also start soon. We decided on the metal roof for a number of reasons:

1. Durability. From everything we've read, the metal roof should last practically forever. Technically it is a 40-year roof. But we could get 50 years or more. Given that we are already in our 40's -- we should be pretty well set.

2. Purity. We are investing in a system to capture rain water. A giant cistern will be installed below our front patio and rain water will flow from the roof into the cistern. It seems a little funny to be collecting rainwater. Our site hasn't been dry since we bought it. But North Carolina is coming off several years of drought and there is no good reason not to collect the rain water. Using a metal roof reduces dirt and contamination from shingles.

3. Efficiency. The coating on the metal roof will reflect rather than absorb heat. Though we will not go so far as a pure white roof we will come close to matching the environmental benefits. Some studies have suggested that a white or reflective roof can reduce air conditioning use by 20 - 30 percent. Our WNC summers are definitely cooler than SoCal, but we still get hot. Given that we're using radiant floor heating with solar hot water, heating the house a little more will use less energy and produce less waste than cooling it would.

4. Ability to recycle. When and if we do need to replace our roof the whole thing can be recycled. A shingle roof generally ends up as landfill.

5. Aesthetics. I don't see the need to trade "green" for attractive. I want a house that looks nice. Metal roofs offer a very clean look particularly (in my opinion) when you avoid the green, red and blue options you most often see on commercial buildings. We're using gray - we haven't agreed on the final shade.

On a different note, our pine trees were run through the mill, quite literally. They were returned in lovely boards ready for installation as beams and interior trim. I was initially hesitant to use the pine as I have a serious aversion to the log cabin look for anything other than a ski get-away. But we had to take down three lovely and very tall white pines to site the house, and it just made sense to use the wood. Luckily the boards milled very smooth with few knots and a nice color.

I think the next steps are framing all the interior walls, installing the roofing, and installing all exterior windows and doors. I confess to a bit of impatience. I hope September brings much progress.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Summer Synopsis

I've heard the complaints. Yes. I can see I have only posted once in August. Hey -- pick up the phone. Or send me an email. We moved but we didn't fall off the earth.

Summer is slipping away. It's been 10 weeks since we left California - which seems alternately a lifetime or perhaps just a summer vacation ago. Sunday night we returned from a quick beach trip and I admit coming back did not feel like coming home. I brushed it off to the rental house status but I suspect there is a little more. September, school, reconnecting with friends. Familiar and comfortable. But not this year.

We've had a wonderful summer. Don't mistake my blogging negligence for a lack of activity. Perhaps a quick photo montage will help. The photos above are from August - after my last post. We made up for the lack of house progress with our own improvement - a much desired tree swing. We've slid under waterfalls and swam in their chilly pools, hiked up Mt. Pisgah (at least 5 or 6 miles of it), and explored Hilton Head Island for our beach fix. Jellyfish stings aside, the warm Atlantic water proved hard to resist, even for a self-described beach sloth such as me. I didn't even mind the alligator in the hotel lagoon. He was small enough to be cute, and his bigger scarier brothers can take the place of the Pismo sharks as the tiny thrill of danger on our otherwise lulling beach trips. Somehow those sharks always timed their attacks with our arrival at the beach. In fitting tribute, during our visit a 10-foot alligator hit the local headlines when he left his swamp to sample the salt water.

Despite our explorations and our near-constant enjoyment of the simple physical beauty here, we miss our friends. We miss the easy Friday night barbeques - come as you are and bring something to share. We miss Sunday night suppers with Auntie Nicola. We miss our favorite Pismo Beach hotel with its great staff of friendly local kids, the smores by the pool, the multitude of seashells on the beach.

I know we'll make new friends and establish new traditions. But the end of summer is always a little poignant, and I'm feeling it tonight.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Progress - Finally

photos: the radiant heat tubing pre-concrete; laser leveling; ankle-deep in concrete.

I know I haven't posted lately - but the house building process has been a little dull. First our builder went on vacation for almost two weeks. Then he did a lot of necessary but non-photogenic stuff. Stuff like more gravel to level the floors, styrofoam insulation, plumbing pipes and electrical conduit, and the tubes for the radiant floor heating system. Finally - they poured the floor.

Like the walls, the floors are one of the "big" green elements of the house. On the passive solar side, they provide additional thermal mass. On the active solar side, a couple of solar panels will heat the water that will flow through the tubes. This, plus our efficient fireplace, will heat the house.

As a bonus, I think polished concrete is beautiful. And practically indestructible! Roller skates, dog claws, puppy pee (a side note, we all fell in love with 4-week old boxer puppies. No, I didn't give in. Our rental house has fussy wood floors and white carpet) -- whatever the kids and pets bring it can handle.

When we stopped by last night, there were lots of stacks of wood and other material around. Soon our white styrofoam house on the hill will evolve. We have a lot of decisions to make now. Metal roof vs. shingle, stain color for the meranti plywood panels that will cover much of the house, appliances for the kitchen - these are all on the list for decision by Monday or Tuesday.

The kids and I have continued exploring the area. If there is a wildlife center, forestry exhibit, or nature center within 50 miles that we've missed -- it's pretty well hidden. Both kids went to camp at the Arboretum - a fantastic 400+ acre facility with miles of trails, a bevy of young outdoor experts and enthusiasts, and beautiful gardens full of bugs, birds, snakes and lizards. Dexter can now identify most local snakes and lizards by name, and a handful of birds by sight and song. And we've all become fond of the jewelweed, or "touch-me-not" plant, a lovely wildflower with exploding seed pods and the magic ability to ease the itch of poison ivy. We've also explored many swimming options -- to answer all my California friends questions about why we aren't building a pool. Why build a pool when you can swim under a waterfall, slide on a water-powered rock formation, or tube down a river?

25 days till school. Can you believe it?