Thursday, September 2, 2010


Today the windows arrived, and half of them are installed. I went with a local Maine company that makes a high grade vinyl window. The company is Paradigm and their windows have good energy ratings and all their windows are made to order. Here they are coming off the truck and stacked in the west wing:

If you have looked closely, you, like the driver, might have noticed the different colored windows and wondered if this was a mistake of some kind. He said in his years of working for the company he'd never seen some of these colors, his experience being limited to white and beige and once in a while black. It's not a mistake, I told him, it's a design feature.

The fact is that back when I first had the vision for this little house, I had the brainstorm of using different colored windows as a cool, graphical design feature on an otherwise simply shaped little building. Here's what one of my early sketches looked like:

In this drawing there are many more windows that I finally ended up with, thanks to Josh being my energy coach and the fact that good windows are a major expense in building a house. So, the more you include, ahem, the higher the costs. Common sense eventually prevailed and I removed 5 casements and the two transom windows over the french doors from this version.

But what you can see here is the effect of the colored grid of nine windows which form the living room wall. They are dramatic and already wonderful from the inside - they are ever so much more interesting than a large plate glass window would have been. These will be awning windows, with 5 of the 9 being operable - two at the top outside corners, one in the middle of the middle row, and two at the bottom outside corners.
The upper ones are quite high off the ground and I'll be able to open them in the spring and leave them open all summer into October here in Maine.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A House in a Day?

It's 7:30 am on a beautiful summer morning in Brunswick, Maine. It's also August 27th, my son-in-law, John Kosinski's, 33rd birthday . . . and by a happy coincidence, it's not my house's birthday as well. A good portent.

Cups of coffee are being savored and there's a tingle of excitement in the air. Today is the day. Before the huge crane is even backing down the driveway, the crew is in place, and suddenly they are starting with the lower, smaller end of the building and raising the first panel.

It's time to build a house. After all the weeks and months of planning and working in SketchUp, my flat 2-dimensional vision is going to take shape. It's an amazing experience.

To the right, Josh's dad, Tom Wojcik, (center) supervises, as Ross Cram (left), and Curt Reynolds (right) set up the first panel. This is the code required egress window in my bedroom. As you can just make out, the window opening has been framed out with 2x4's to support the window opening.

Ross and Brian position the second panel.

From here on in it's all about being level and square. More panels followed in rapid succession, each one having OSB wood splines and expanding foam in the joints. I feel warmer all ready.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Panels Arrive

The SIPS (structural insulated panels) for the house were delivered to the backyard this morning, Thursday, the 26th of August. They came down in several loads on a flatbed trailer from the Upright Frameworks shop up in Wilton and Josh ably manoeuvered the fork lift around the small yard to stack them in the correct order. Tomorrow when the crane comes to hoist them into position, the idea is that, they'll be lined up correctly.

SIPS are fabricated in large 8' x 24' sheets by several different manufacturers in the United States. SIPS are available in different thickness and R-values. We're using 6.5" panels for the walls and 10.5" panels for the roof. Some manufacturers have more stringent testing procedures than others.

My grandson, Caz and I watched them from the back steps. I'm imagining my house being put together tomorrow. I'm pretty sure Caz is imaging that he's driving the forklift.

SIPS are created by laminating a foam core to two pieces of OSB (oriented strand board), which is basically recycled wood scraps as far as I can tell. It's important that the lamination be done correctly and carefully with the right glues, times, and pounds of pressure . . or (apparently) delamination is a potential cause for concern. Josh chose our supplier because they're certified by an outside testing laboratory.

To build a house, builders, such as Upright Frameworks, buy the SIPS and pre-cut them according to plan - so they arrive on the site, ready to put together with window and door openings cut, roofs and walls all configured.

This means that a SIPS building can be constructed on site in very short order. Mine went up in one day.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Settling on a Place

In January of 2010, my daughter, Sarah Singer and her husband, John Kosinski moved to Brunswick, Maine from Los Angeles. They'd had a baby a year earlier and were eager to move to a place with a better quality of life for raising a family.

Over the years, they'd visited me in Maine many times and dreamed of moving here. Since their marriage in 2007, Sarah and John and I had many long talks about living in closer proximity and deepening our extended family and generational connections. My grandson, Casimir Kosinski, aka "Caz", who is perhaps the world's most adorable eighteen month old toddler, calls me Gammy and we have a pretty tight relationship, one which is being seriously fostered by my proximity. Having a place of my own right next door could only improve this.

I'd been living in Sorrento for many years and was ready for a change. So, when a great job for John opened up in Augusta, they decided on fairly short notice to take the plunge and head eastward. I proposed Brunswick as a location for them - what with its proximity to Boston, Portland, and area colleges, I thought it would offer them the resources and sense of community they'd need in making the switch from life in Los Angeles.

They found a place for rent on Craigslist which they bought from the owner 6 months later. It is perfect situation for them - a 20's bungalow in a great residential neighborhood, walking distance to town and the local elementary school, with a big enough yard for a garden, some chickens . . . and after a quick check of the zoning ordinance here, I ascertained that there would be room for a cottage for me, aka "The Gammy Coop" in the wooded back section of their property.

I immediately began looking at small house designs and plans, thinking I would tuck something small and unobtrusive in the woods. There is an entire movement of small houe building going on right now. Some, like FabCab, are prefab kits as are many of the highend architect buildings being promoted in Dwell Magazine, others are more in the DIY vein, such as the places you see on the TinyHouse blog. There are also myriad sites offering plans for small buildings. One example is Town and Country Plans, where where were a couple I liked at first, such as the ineptly named, Skagway :

This floorplan was a testament to the fact that one could actually fit in all mod cons and have a livable space in about 500 square feet:

I started to think how I could personalize a plan like this and began doodling with Google's SketchUp, dreaming about what sort of space I would want for myself. This comes easily and naturally to me. I'm a SketchUp power user, I love houses and floor plans, and I have years of remodelling and renovation experience as well as a studio degree in architecture from Smith College. My dream was beginning to take shape. Here are what a few of my preliminary drawings looked like:

Happily a couple of weeks later, during the building inspection, which was being done by the noted energy auditor, Dewitt Kimball, I inquired about who could help me put up a SIPS structure. SIPS are structural insulated panels in which two sides of plywood are laminated onto a foam core. It's a great technology and one that attracted me because these buildings go up fast, as in 1-2 days for a house of my dreams, and equally important, they're incredibly energy efficient and airtight.

Kimball immediately said "Call Josh Wojcik, of Upright Frameworks in Wilton." The next day I sent an email off to Josh asking if he had interest and availablity for a project such as mine. Not only did he have time, but we hit it off immediately and I was delighted to learn that this is a direction Josh wants to pursue: building small, energy efficient houses in Maine. Not only that, he and his staff love working with SketchUp. We agreed initially that he would at the least put up the shell of my building for me and that we'd use this project as a model for others to learn about living simply with a small footprint.