Ron Dahlke is scheduling two inspections for Wednesday with the City of Austin — HVAC rough-in and framing.
Steven today ordered the exhaust hood for the kitchen from Harway. Ron needs the hood onsite to properly mount it over the cooktop and configure the busiest wall in the kitchen — exhaust, wiring, plumbing, electrical.
Above … Ron Dahlke from Ranserve, left, Steve from Capstone Electric, right, and Steven, not seen, because he is taking the photo, convene for day 2 of the electrical rough-in walk through the house upstairs, in bath 3.
See the “can” — a rectangular metal box – mounted at the rafters over Steve’s head.
Wikipedia defines a “can” as a “recessed light or downlight (also pot light in Canadian English, sometimes can light (for canister light) in American English) is a light fixture that is installed into a hollow opening in a ceiling. When installed it appears to have light shining from a hole in the ceiling, concentrating the light in a downward direction as a broad floodlight or narrow spotlight. There are two parts to recessed lights, the trim and housing. The trim is the visible portion of the light. It is the insert that is seen when looking up into the fixture, and also includes the thin lining around the edge of the light. The housing is the fixture itself that is installed inside the ceiling and contains the lamp holder.”
The “can” over Steve’s head is in the wrong location. Instead … see the “can” over Ron’s head at left, and the box for an HVAC vent above where Steve is pointing? All three fixtures should instead align in that one bay between the two adjacent rafters. To make this happen, the HVAC vent needs to shift closer to the can over Ron’s head. Then, on the other side of the vent, opposite the first “can,” Steve has to remount the “can” that is currently located over his head. This second can must be located outside the tub shower that will be installed at the back wall. Why? It’s actually a can that combines both a fan and light. We need two lights to illuminate the bathroom. We need the fan to exhaust humid air from the bathroom when someone is taking a bath or shower.
Why this alignment? The bathroom vanity will be installed on the wall at Steve’s left elbow. There will be two sinks. The HVAC vent should be aligned with the center of the vanity, and the LEDs that are to be installed in the “cans” should be aligned with center of the two sinks in the vanity.
Meticulous detail. Careful planning. Explanations of logic. Compromises with electrical codes. Step by step, we work this all out over 20 minutes.
But we’re not done.
See the white tube running across the ceiling and down the wall. That’s PEX — defined by Wikipedia as “an acronym for crosslinked polyethylene. It is a flexible, durable, proven piping product that has been used in plumbing systems for more than 20 years. PEX tubing won’t pit, scale or corrode and, because of its flexibility, it also offers potential freeze-damage protection.”
The PEX line currently runs over two silver HVAC ducts and the exhaust fan duct in the ceiling, potentially restricting airflow. It will be relocated under the HVAC ducts. The fan duct will shift when Steve the electrician shifts the combo fan/light can.
Also, Ron is going to audit the installation of the HVAC ducts. Steven sees kinks, compressions that will reduce airflow, and too many ducts crammed into too small a space.
From bath 3, we shifted to the laundry/utility room next door, then the master bath. More than an hour later, we made it downstairs.
It’s not just a can light. It’s also an exhaust fan. With a humidity sensor that automates operation. Take a shower, it turns on the fan and blows the hot, humid air out of the house. When the humidity level drops, the sensor turns off the fan. Human interaction is not required. Which is important, because Jadin is a teen — and teens take long, hot showers.
See the silver exhaust duct? It takes a tight 90 degree turn out of the can, which constricts airflow. Then the duct rises up to clear a rafter, continues up over a run of pipes that vent the plumbing stack, to provide air behind water — the venting that is needed for water an waste to drain down pipes and out of the house.
So far, so good. But … where the duct crosses over the plumbing stack, it dips, and then it rises to the vent stack in the roof, which is where the wet air would vent out of the house. Except … because the duct dips, water is going to collect in the dip, plug the vent. No air is going to escape the house. And the duct will just collect more and more water over time.
This is wrong.
Ron says he will audit all the HVAC ducting for errors.
Above … Ranserve today erected a temporary fence around the house. It’s a signal that framing is nearly complete and a new construction phase begins, focused on systems inside the house.
The electrical team from Capstone Electric is first to arrive, pulling spools of cable through the second floor, tracing the electrical plan to rough-in outlets and switches. Steve from Capstone, Ron from Ranserve, and Steven walked each room upstairs, talking through which switch in what location turns which light on or off, whether outlets should be 42 inches above the floor at the countertop planned for the utility room, how high on the wall the TV will be mounted in the loft with a corresponding outlet, where to put how many outlets at the vanity in the master bath, which ceiling cans are actually integrated units that include LED lighting and ventilation for the bathrooms — item by item, detail by detail, getting it right with the walls open …
Separately, Jacquela and Steven met with Dale Markel at Landers Premier Flooring to explore options for wood flooring. Can we save the existing oak? Probably not …
Also separately, Steven approved a quote from Kyle Bacon at Elite Heating & Air Conditioning for what will be come a change order to the HVAC system — adding dampers and thermostats to the master bedroom and office, putting these two rooms into their own heating/cooling zones. This will help to make the master bedroom more comfortable and controllable at night, and help to deal with the heat generated by the computers and other equipment in Steven’s office.
And, Ben Feldt, structural engineer, reports he walked the framing late last week. He will complete the documents “saying you passed” for the pending inspection by City of Austin.
The HVAC team from Elite Heating & Air Conditioning is installing the ducts that will push heated and cooled air across the house.
Ron and Steve walked Emerald Hill, adjusting vents too close to ceiling fans or ceiling lights and, more important, spotting tight kinks in the flexible ducts that will restrict airflow.
There are several — two or more 90-degree turns back to back that twist duct from chase to ceiling bay, or two runs of duct compressed into chases that are undersized. And one duct run between the kitchen and mudroom appears to be crammed into the tight space under the lower roof, possibly extending outside the insulation envelope of the house while compressed between lumber runs.
It takes an hour talking through and testing various alternatives at several locations to resolve upon an easy solution — reframe the vertical chases to make them wider. For example, in the master bath on the second floor, there are two ducts that travel from the attic down to the kitchen, one to supply air to the mudroom and mudroom bath, and one to supply air to the kitchen. They squeeze against each other, compressed, kinked around tight turns and holes carved into the bathroom subfloor. Steven volunteers another 12 or so inches out of the master bath wall that will be used for storage, towel bars and benches. The benches just won’t be as wide, that’s all — no big deal. That allows Ron to relocate one of the two duct runs into a second ceiling bay above the kitchen, decompressing the two ducts, solving airflow issues in two rooms on the first floor.
There’s a nearly identical issue across the house at the loft, where the copper pipes between the air handler in the attic and the compressor outside are going to be crammed into a 12×12 vertical chase shared with a flexible duct. The easy solution, again, is for Steven to volunteer to give up 12 inches or so for Ron to reframe a larger chase.
Downstairs, Ron and Steve ponder a different issue with Daneel from Elite Heating & Air Conditioning. The vertical chase in the laundry/utility room on the second floor delivers a flexible duct into the ceiling of the library/dining room on the first floor, directly over the planned location for the table, smack in the middle between two ceiling lights — and eight feet distant from a better location closer to the front windows. At the same time, adjacent to the library, per the plans, there are only two vents — one at each end — planned for the large “great room” created by combining the kitchen and family room. Daneel and Steve step upstairs to talk about adding another chase by taking space from bedroom 4, to potentially run a third air vent down to the great room. Daneel suggests a better solution — enlarge the vertical chase in the laundry room to enable Elite to run two ducts side by side from the attic down to the library. Then, in the bay between two ceiling joists in the library ceiling, turn the ducts in opposite directions — one toward the front windows, away from the dining table, and one toward the family room, where it can terminate in a new, third vent just about dead center of that room and nearly equidistant between the vents at each end of the great room.
In the interim, Elite is responding to Steven’s request for better isolation of the HVAC system from the framing of the house, to reduce the possibility that vibrations from the system operating in the attic do not travel into the framing, to be conducted as noise.
How did Steven learn to ask about isolation and spot kinks in duct runs? Lessons learned when Carrier dispatched a regional rep to determine why the HVAC system at Sea Eagle View was a “carcass” that required total replacement. Which does not make Steven a licensed expert installer of HVAC equipment — for the record — just experienced.
“We had a good week.” Ron Dahlke
Above, Cris, at left, and Ron from Ranserve doublecheck all the door sizes, right or left hand swings. Ron’s temporary desk is a box made of HVAC duct board.
Ron Dahlke delivers this week’s summary:
- Passed inspection on sheathing
- Passed plumbing rough
- Continued on framing
- Installed Tyveck waterproof system
- Received and Installed windows
- Ordered pocket doors
- Started siding
- Started plumbing
- Set can lights
- Verified all interior doors sizes
- Started HVAC
- Met with Aaron on site for initial measurements for kitchen cabinets
- Met with mason on brick repair
- Met with shower pan contractor
- Met with roofer on roof repairs
- Roofer replaced turn back flashing
- Ordered and received head flashing for windows
- Pour cement back into holes in slab from plumbing drain excavation
- Continue on plumbing
- Continue researching fire-rated wall assembles in garage with Brett Grinkmeyer, architect
- Finish framing
- Finish siding
- Finish HVAC
- Start electrical
- Meet with Wendy for wood floors
- Meet with insulation company
- Order interior doors
- Order door pans
- It would be good to select a low voltage company next week.
Additional notes from Steven:
- With the siding going up, Ron and Mark tasked the Leons with picking out exterior paint colors.
- Steven and Ron met with candidate contractors for low-voltage, security, network, AV wiring; Steven is reviewing quotes.
- Steven met with Mark Rehberg from Ranserve to discuss addition of a potential third garage bay at back of existing two-bay garage — Jadin will way too soon be 16 and driving, and Steven needs a parking spot for his table saw and other power tools. Steven called Brett Grinkmeyer to request sketches. Brett will discuss parameters with Mark from Ranserve.
- Jacquela and Jadin visited the house every day this week. Progress is dramatic. This is the week when everyone fired on 12 cylinders.
Elite Heating & Air Conditioning delivered supplies and equipment yesterday, see photo above. More arrived today.
The framers laid out sheets of plywood to create a flat deck in the attic — the mounting platform for the air handler and furnace.
Third meeting of the busiest week yet for Steven with Ron Dahlke, who is cranking hard and fast on 12 cylinders. And it’s only Wednesday. Today’s agenda:
- Roofing. Ron met with and Steven approved quote from Potter’s Roofing Co. to install sheetmetal and waterproofing at several locations; to remove existing and install new vent flashing in the lower and upper roofs; to patch where mushroom vents and the skylight are removed — and other damaged areas; and to replace the chimney flashing with a new cricket that will move water away from the brick at the back of the chimney where it meets the roof; water flows directly against the brick and existing flashing when it rains. This is wrong. Some of these tasks are built into existing line-item budgets. Some of this work will require change orders. Why the change orders? Ron and the framers opened up the framing behind the chimney and discovered signs of water penetration traveling down the brick.
- Pocket doors. Ron finalized and Steven approved quote from BMC for interior pocket doors — built into the framing materials line-item in the budget.
- Exterior doors. Steven also approved second quote from BMC for exterior doors at the kitchen, back door and at at the mudroom into the garage — not including the front door and not including the back door to the garage. The front door is an entirely different task — and Ron is researching whether the back door to the garage must be fire rated.
- Vanities, medicine cabinets, electrical. Steven delivered dimensional plans for the bathroom vanities, and the medicine cabinets that will be used in bath 2, the mudroom and master bath. This enables Ron and the framers to properly nail lumber into position for the medicine cabinets, which insert into the wall between studs. It also enables Ron, Sean the electrician, and Steven and Jacquela to properly position electrical outlets for the medicine cabinets, which feature built-in LED lighting, and for wall outlets adjacent to the vanities.
- HVAC. Ron advises that the HVAC rough-in begins Thursday/tomorrow, 23 July.
- Kitchen cabinets. Also 23 July, Aaron Pratt at Centex Custom Cabinets is scheduled to visit, to begin measuring for the kitchen cabinets.
- Pending. Ron continues to track pending submittals from subcontractors for refinishing the wood floors and laying new wood; how to get electrical power through the slab to the kitchen island; and the candidates for the potential front door.
- Discovery 1: Structure. Taking out the hearth to the left of and in front of the fireplace reveals the brick may be the only thing holding up the ceiling beams above the fireplace — and we may need to add structural support across the front of the fireplace under the ceiling beams. Ron is researching this with the structural engineer, Ben Feldt at Feldt Consulting Engineers.
- Discovery 2: Insulation. Ron advises that the sheathing between the brick and studs on the first floor may need additional sealing — every time that demo took out an old cable or fixture, that left a hole in the sheathing. One way to fix this may be to deploy the painters with silicon before we begin insulation. Another approach might be to use expanding foam insulation instead of blown-in insulation. The building plan already calls for foam in the attic, upper and lower roofs, with blown-in insulation in the walls. There’s a cost delta to switch out to foam — should we do this selectively, only where needed, stud bay penetration by stud bay penetration? Or, should we just foam everything? Ron offers to schedule a meeting with the insulation contractor. Steven notes his history with foam — the current house is the first built by John Hagy Homes that is insulated with foam, helping to qualify the house for 3 stars with the Austin Energy Green Building Program — 11 years ago, when foam insulation was new to market. And … the foam yields an airtight house that is much easier to heat and cool, and vastly more efficient.
Separately, Steven met with and walked the house with one of the candidate companies to install the structured wiring system — security, low-voltage cables for TV, sound and phone, and the computer network.
Installation of the system and ducts will begin Friday, 25 July.
Everyone assures Steven that 4 tons of Carrier heating and cooling equipment, one system, one zone for the first floor, one zone for upstairs, will heat and cool the house comfortably, efficiently, affordably — with 4 tons and no more required if we are to comply with the Austin Energy Green Building Program. Steven hyperventilated late last week, reviewing the specs for the umpteenth time, realizing he read the quote as two systems, two zones. It’s possible to go this route, but it adds significant maintenance — two systems, not one — and it would pull a lot more electrical power. Which is oversimplifying a lot of higher math — HVAC configuration requires physics and software. It would also disqualify the house from the Green Building program.
But … they strongly recommend that Steven approve the addition of an Aprilaire unit with humidity and temperature controls for proper fresh air ventilation and air exchanges. Cost is $400. Steven approves and notifies Kathleen at Ranserve via email.
Kyle, Ross and Ron mapped out the chases and ducts. They are adding a chase in the loft to move air into bath 2 below, and a second chase in the master closet to move air into Steven’s office and the pantry on the first floor. There will be no furr downs, no dropped ceilings, no claustrophobia. Steven will not be able to stand his 5-foot-9-self on the floor, reach up, touch the ceiling. And, bonus, Kyle does not need to run equipment in the two closets that used to house the old HVAC systems. The Leons just gained two closets for storage.
The other decisions are minor — shifting the position of an integrated light/vent unit in bath 2, which also requires the addition of another ceiling can — but each decision cascades down the tree; routing exhaust vents through the framing; fixing the location of the vent for the kitchen exhaust hood.