Tools of the SIP trade

The contractor finished assembly of the structural components of the project. Air sealing and applying the weather and fire resistive cladding come next. I though it would be a good idea to review some of the tools I’ve learned to use to make construction easier, and many times essential to a structural insulated panel building.

Cordless Adhesive Dispenser
I applied at every joint, intersection, overlay, and boundery a bead of panel mastic to seal the structure. After distributing over 60 tubes of 29 oz size, the DEWALT DC546K performed admirably. The tool weighs around 8 pounds, but saves the fingers to dispense such a quantity of mastic.

Cordless Palm Nailer
Practically every wall required a plethora of nails to act as a shear wall, living in a seismically active location. I’ve pounded over 250 pound of nails without the use of a pneumatic nailer. Skilled nailing acts as a key component holding up this building, where each nail does not break the panel skin, so achieving the maximum holding power. The majority of nails have been 8D box nails, with a good share of 8D common, 16D common, and 10D common nails. Along the walls in each 2 x 4 contains two rows of 8D box nails at a 3 inch spacing, making fasteners seem to be 1-1/2” separation. Without 3 palm nailers, I would still be pounding nails. The Milwaukee Palm Nailer 2458-20 has had it’s problems, but the manufacturer stood behind their product 100% in prompt repairs or replacement no questions asked.

Parallel Bar Clamps
It is often seen that truck straps are a good tool to sandwich two panels together at the seam, but I’ve found much better control and flexibility using long bar clamps. I have a system based on 50 inch clamps and extenders, where I can get a 16 foot or longer clamp to ease a panel together safely and efficiently. Likewise, a clamp will hold a panel together before panel screws complete the job at the corners. Sears once sold a Craftsman Parallel Bar Clamp system based on the Bessey Vario K Body REVO series of clamps with movable upper and lower jaws.

Shoulder Injury Delays Project

Venerable Mac software developer Dantz, coined the phrase, “To go forward, you must back up,” referring to software that would automatically duplicate and restore computer data. My online documentation of my SIP house has been lousy, and only the very fortuneate who have visited the jobsite has seen the progress. Over the next couple of weeks I plan to revisit the past, and restore the missing posts over the years. Most of this project is found on private SMS micro blog feeds, to give me the timeline to restore the missing information.

On 22 June 2012, my two year LA building permit expired! Usually that means paying the City an additional fee. This time I have the City on my side, and they like the progress I’ve made, and want to see me finish the house, so far without additional cost. In anxiousness to continue to build, I drove myself a little too hard.

I am in the process of building the second floor of the addition, and had to move and prepare the wall panels. After repositioning 22 panels, I damaged my shoulder muscles.

Foolishly I thought I could work through the pain, and was able to groove out the foam, cut the posts that fit into the side of the panels, and prepare the bottom plate, until I could not lift my arm to my mouth. After one week of extreme pain, and two of sling rest, I’m getting a little more movement back in the hand and shoulder. I still cannot lift my arm over my head, but am mostly pain free and will try next week to start hammering and assembly of the wall components.

Shoulder pain is not to ignored, especially when you need your arms to build a house.

SIP Floor Installation Progress

After taking the informative SIP background class from Green Builder College, called “Builders Education with SIPs,” I learned very few projects include SIP floors. I decided months ago, if I was going to try building a SIP structure, it might as well include the entire structure from the ground up, so it would include SIP floors, SIP walls, and a SIP roof.

The floor panels at around 13′ x 4′ in dimension weigh in around 200 lbs each. I can easily slide them around the jobsite on my oversized sill plates or cart them around using a handy Telpro The Troll cart. Were it’s been particularly challenging is placing the panels around the seismic concerns of holdown hardware and shear walls bolts. These foundation anchors go down between 24″ and 40″ into the concrete foundation, and define the structural footprint. I’ve had to lift the panel over the bolts instead of moving them into place like the other panels.

Another problem I’ve had is the panels are designed for dimensional lumber for support, mostly 2 x 10, which actually measure 1-1/2″ x 9-1/4″ in size. A lot of locations require the use of engineered lumber like LVL, which my local vendors do not make! I’ve had to buy larger material and cut off the excess that takes a lot of time and effort. It has been like the old timber frame homes using hand shavers and block planes to reduce the 9-1/2″ engineered material to fit into the floor panel.

I also had no idea how tough some of these engineered woods are, and boring a hole for the anchor bolts took a high torque 1/2″ drill and 17″ long auger bit to get the job done. My 12V tools and standard 1/2″ drill got about 3″ down before binding and stopping. Good thing I have a 500 RPM drill that can handle those agressive augur bits.

I initially tried to attach all connection using common nails and a titanium head hammer, but after 100 nails, I am now using a palm nailer, and what a difference! no more hand fatigue. The titanium hammer is great for a lightweight tool to reduce elbow and forearm injury, but my hand was hurting after nailing. The palm nailer works great so far.

Joined myLowes program

There are many gaps in the storytelling of the dark green micro home addition. As history is revised, it’s also best to start fresh, and today is a good time to start. The foundation waterproofing system from Epro is finally in place, along with the removal of the last concrete form board. The first floor is secure with 4×10 sill plates, and the backfilling has begun. After a few hours of moving earth, I remembered a needed to research an acceptable thermal barrier for my mini-basement, or crawlspace.

Typically crawlspace construction is vented to the outside, separating the living space from the condition space above. I am trying the sealed crawlspace technology, which make the space more a basement, which then requires 1/2″ gypsum board or equivalent to protect the structure from fire. Usually a foundation wall might have an ignition barrier, but I need either gypsum or a portland cement barrier for protection. I considered for a few hours a EIFS but they are too labor intensive for an area that should not see much moisture or weather events. I decided on a stucco parge coating.

I looked up the inventory and pricing at the local home store, and going premixed or component (plastic cement and plaster sand) came out nearly the same price. I headed over to Lowe’s in Pacoima, but they could not find an entire pallet of 80 lbs Quikrete Scratch and Brown Base Coat, so I had to go the Burbank location. The order desk closed at 6:00 PM, and it was already 6:20 PM, so I headed over with my item numbers to customer service. The process took too long, as one of the perquisites of using a Lowe’s Commercial Account is considerable discount in home delivery, which they did not now about. I had to get a manager’s approval. Instead of the usual $79 fee, it drops to $20 an order. If one is a member of NAHB, that delivery price is zero! I did not get home until 7:40 PM, but I did have time to sign up for the Lowe’s affinity card, called myLowes, which will help track my purchases.

Green Building Concepts Redesign

Green Building Concepts supplies information exchange on a more resource and energy efficient lifestyle.

Reader Q & A
Question: I am entertaining some major renovations to my home and would like to work with a green architect and builder. How would I find a list of architects and builders that are knowledgeable and willing to build green?

Answer: Congratulations that you are willing to remodel using resource and energy efficient techniques. Green building is at a point where education is king, and you are on your way, by reading various resources on the web, to steer any contractor and architect to think green. In order to find a contractor willing to work with you there are three basic steps you can take:

  1. Energy and Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA)
    There may be a member of the EEBA in your area to personally guide you through the remodeling process. They have a “Master Builder” certification in resource and energy efficient construction.
  2. National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI)
    There may be a member of NARI in your area to personally guide you through the remodeling process. They have a “Certified Remodeler” designation and may be aware of green building.
  3. Using sites like and others can guide you in asking for building products and techniques for green construction. Ask your contractor to look over the various sites to learn what green building means.

Looking for something in particular? Try the Search page. Through the internet, Green Building Concepts knows no geographic boundary. If you need assistance in a building project specifying products and techniques from North America to Antarctica, from Africa to Asia to Australia, Green Building Concepts can help.

Green Building Concepts provides quick background guides to many housing systems and energy alternatives.

The Price is Right and the Project is Release Candidate

Today I delivered the completed construction drawings to my window, door, skylights, and sandwich panel contractors, and put down a substantial down payment for delivery of my new climate change house sometime in the future. If anyone wants to help me out, come on over to raise the roof, literally.

Probably the biggest question about remodeling is the cost, which is developing quickly. It certainly depends on the type and quality of construction. I ran this project though a professional bidding package, and got a number. I am doing most of the work, and all of the planning, so I can save resources to apply to more esoteric aspects of the addition. The estimated cost was $243,900 using SuperBuild Building Software and products Premier Building Systems structural sandwich panel package, Andersen Windows series 100 window package, Serious Windows 925 swinging patio door package and maybe $19,000 Vacupor vacuum insulated panel package.