You may have noticed the rather substantial gaps in our postings here, and it's high time we let everyone know what's happened during that hiatus. We've been building a net-zero energy house on an amazing piece of land in the Berkshires of Massachusetts!
Talk about making a thousand decisions...everything from the width of the floorboards to placement of each electrical outlet. Some of those decisions were super fun to make, while others were more tedious. But, one thread that remains the very best part of this endeavor is the revolving cast of unforgettable characters who are helping us realize our dream.
L-R: Jay Healy of Hall Tavern Farm with Mark Ledwell of Wright Builders, Inc., Paul Hicks, and Jeff Cushing
Setting the scene
Western Massachusetts is pretty sparsely populated, and many people in the town where we've landed have long family histories in the area. Our property was once part of a larger farm belonging to our neighbor, and it includes some old logging roads that we'll be using for hiking trails. But before we repurposed them, we needed to use them to harvest logs for our flooring. That's how we met two members of the Hicks family.
The Hicks family has been logging in the area for a couple of generations. When they're not logging, they're farming, raising oxen, or growing a corn maze that attracts hundreds of visitors in the fall, especially at the peak of fall foliage season, and when they "haunt" the maze around Halloween. We were lucky that they were available to hike around our land and find some beautifully straight and thick trees to use for our floors. I think in some cases they were even more excited about their finds than we were, like when they found a rock maple that was completely unblemished, and an oak tree that didn't have its first branch for about 20 feet over our heads.
Ryan and Paul Hicks with the trees they harvested on our land
The wood needed to be cut and dried, so we turned to Jay Healy and Jared Bellows at the Hall Tavern Farm, which sits on a beautiful 500-acre property next to the Deerfield River in Charlemont, MA. They saw and dry lumber from their own trees as well as those of their neighbors, and also produce maple syrup, vegetables and firewood. Their operation works 80% on solar power and their drying kiln uses wood waste to heat its boiler. That philosophy fits in perfectly with our desire to build a net-zero energy home, so we were very happy to work with them.
Jay Healy of Hall Tavern Farm with (from left to right) Tom Campbell (our brother-in-law), Bruce, and Mark Ledwell of Wright Builders, Inc.
Harlan Bean runs Triple B Blasting out of Haydenville, MA, which is south of where we're building the house. We needed to break through a large rock ledge that ran through part of the area where we wanted to put the foundation, and the only way to do so was explosive! We discovered that a blasting operation is kind of like a Thanksgiving dinner.... It takes days to prepare and then it's all over in a flash. In this case, Harlan's crew spent two days drilling holes, protecting them from the rain, and then filling them up with explosives and blasting caps so that it all could go ka-boom in a few seconds.
Tricia channeling her inner combat engineer
To dispose of all that rock and debris, not to mention the brush and dirt that needed to be moved and sifted for later use as backfill, we relied on the earth-moving experts at another family-owned business called Karl's Excavating and Site Work, out of Hadley, MA. At one point, we had four large pieces of machinery on the property, which the workers from Karl's deftly maneuvered to build us a rough driveway, and dig, sift, and rearrange our sandy loam into a beautiful homesite. Their work is not yet complete and some of those huge machines sit idle at the site right now, awaiting the Spring thaw.
Karl's excavating machines
Ya gotta have water to survive, and that's where Cushing and Sons of the Keene, NH area come in! They drove in a giant drill on wheels and parked it next to the driveway, where they started a hole that went down 500 feet! The water flowed, but a bit slowly, so they had to frack the rock to create enough water pressure to service the house. We were assured that the fracking involved no chemicals other than H2O, and no animals were harmed in the making of this video.
Watch for the slurry. It's really just mica, but yuck.
The don't-call-it-cement people
Who knew there would be a huge learning curve associated with building a home? I discovered an entire new set of vocabulary these past few months, including the difference between "cement" and "concrete." People, people, please teach your children that the cool machine that spins as it goes down the road is a concrete--and never ever a cement--truck. The cement is the magic potion that glues everything together; and the concrete is the sloppy stuff that gets poured out of the truck so you can have a beautiful wall on which to build your house. We can thank the folks at Graves Concrete for the parts of our concrete foundation that were poured.
Now that's a lot of concrete!
The crane-in-our-driveway people
"Honey," Bruce said to me in a concerned voice. "There's a crane in our garage." Sure enough, the folks from Superior Walls in New York used a crane to deliver and install the prefabricated, insulated foundation walls for the remainder of our house. They dropped each piece into place using the crane, while the crew on the ground ensured proper placement. They prepared each segment with a proprietary adhesive and then bolted the pieces together. In one morning, the main part of the foundation for our house was installed and ready for action, without need to await curing or drying! And we are assured the house will be comfy and cozy as a result.
We hope you enjoyed meeting some of the folks helping us with our new home. Please stay tuned for building updates!!