Cleave & Nina's Green Dream Home

Our Net-Positive Home in Long Beach, California

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    Mapping Our Minds

    I learned the technique for creating mind maps at work in the mid-1990s from a work colleague. Shortly after, I was able to take a one-day workshop that Tony Buzan (the person who coined the term mind map) taught in Los Angeles. Since then, I've created hundreds of mind maps for work and for my personal life.

    I couldn't embark on this project without creating a mind map. The project mind map is huge and we used it to communicate our requirements for our home to our architect and interior designer. Subsequently, I expanded the map to track our costs. It is a huge map and beyond anyone's interest except our own.

    We wanted to communicate our thinking behind the Green Dream Home so I created an abriged version of our project mind map and tailored it for communication (versus requirements and cost tracking). You can see and manipulate the map here:

    https://share.mindmanager.com/#publish/SGJoU3O_K11JWnDyrX9DMghQh-9BW1X5b8Ee4H6P

    The default view shows the core idea and 1st level branches of the map and allows you to open branches by clicking on the end of a branch. If you want to see all of the contents of the map at one time:

    1. Click on Menu on the lower left corner of the screen.
    2. Under View Mode, on the left side of the screen, click on Standard.

     

    To read the map, start at Inspirations on the upper right corner.

    The map focuses on what we did throughout the design and build process to-date to make our home as sustainable as possible. While we did focus on function over form, we wanted the house to look good as well. We believe that with the guidance of our architect and interior designer, we will achieve that goal.

    We hope this gives you further insight to what we are doing to achieve our vision.

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    Seeing the End of the Tunnel

    Having managed multi-million dollar projects during my aerospace career, I was not naive about schedule delays and cost over-runs. Nina and I knew that we were at the bleeding edge of home construction methods and we were willing to take the necessary risks to build our Green Dream Home. Our efforts to anticipate big risks went reasonably well but we didn't aniticipate how many small risks would come to fruition and interconnect to delay the project and drive up costs -- sort of like death by a thousand cuts. Fortunately, we aren't dead and we don't anticpate dying because the light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train.

    Today, we are entering the last big phase of construction as we are ready for exterior stucco and siding and finishing the interior drywall with metal corners, tape and mud. Plan to make a lot of progress this week.

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    And Now for Something Completely Different

    This has been a lot more than a journey. We expected that with our major decision to use a new wall system and construction method would include moderate learning curve for our sub contractors. Turns out it has been a significant learning curve for most of our sub contractors.

    Pre-emptively, let me say that while we've have a number of problems, none of the problems have been major. The greatest impact of the problems is time and money.

    The majority of the framing went well, but the things that didn't go well caused significant delays while we figured out how to solve the problems. Same for the installation of utilities -- small problems, significant delays -- mostly because the sub contractors had never worked on a steel-framed house. Stick-built houses currently dominate residential construction the way that gasoline-engined cars dominate auto sales.

    As of today, we are almost ready to start wrapping the house so that we can apply smooth stucco and siding. We still have to install windows and doors which should be done by the end of next week.

    Hope springs eternal.

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    Stop

    Our last post showed the footings with the wood forms recently removed. Before we could pour the slab within the footings we (the figurative, not literal, 'we') had a number of tasks to complete -- compact soil (within the footings), install underground drain pipes, install under-slab electrical conduit, install downdraft ventilation vent, install structural steel, install under-slab vapor barrier, and install slab rebar. While there were a few problems to solve -- we don't have problems boss, we only have solutions -- our biggest problem was...

    ...RAIN!

    After finishing the footings at the beginning of December 2016, we lost almost 6 weeks due to weather through the first week of February 2017. Back in October 2016, I semi-jokingly told our General Contractor that since we were supposed to get a lot of rain last year during an El Niño condition and didn't, that we would get a lot of rain this year.

    We defnitely need the rain in semi-arid Los Angeles which has be suffering from extreme drought conditions over the past few years, but our house construction schedule would look a lot better with less rain during this phase of the build.

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    Starting & Stopping & Starting

    Unfortunately, our blog entries kind of mimic the pace of progress on our green, dream home. After getting City of Long Beach approval of our Construction Documents as scheduled, we had a bit of a delay in getting started on lot preparation (mid August).

    For us, lot preparation was a fascinating and unknowingly, complex process. Our concrete subcontractor had to dig 4 feet under the footprint of our slab foundation. Our soils engineering company provided an engineer who watched the dig and monitored and measured the refilling and compaction of the dirt that will be under the foundation. At one point it looked like we were building an Olympic swimming pool and size-wise, it wasn't too far off from being one.

    By the end of August we had a level and compacted lot.

    And then we waited.

    We waited for our subcontractors and services providers to come to a consensus on how to deal with the retaining walls on the east and north sides of our lot.

    As you can see from the photo above, our lot sits below the lot to the east (right side of photo) and the lot to the north (top-left of photo). Note that the lot to the east is our current house. The design of the retaining walls was more complicated than anyone expected because of the lot situation and the location of the house on the lot.

    Eight weeks later, we were ready to dig the footings for the retaining walls and the footings for the slab foundation.

    Looking more like a subterrainean maze, the trenches for the footings gave us a better view of how the house will sit on the lot and the relative sizes of the 1st floor rooms. The forms for the footings and rebar were next.

    In our estimation, there was enough rebar in the forms to build a small bridge or to keep the foundation intact after a 6.5 magnitude earthquake. The next problem lurked in the above photo. The wooden "plate" with the two bolts sticking out vertically are where we attached structural steel, box-section columns. Unfortunately, when the subcontractor responsible for erecting the mnmMOD walls inspected the forms, he determined that the configuration of the plates where the steel columns attach would interfere with installation of the walls.

    Back to the drawing board and 2 weeks later we reworked the forms. Here is the before and after:

    And we were able to pour concrete into the foundation footing forms and strip the forms.

    Next stop: Stop.

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    We have a lot of photos ...

    ... and we will post a lot more!

    One advantage of living next door to where we're building our new house is that it's easy to take photos when there's some visible progress (more on that in a future blog post) and we've been collecting these photos in a Google Photos photo album. We've linked that album to this website. You can access it by clicking on 'Photos' on the menu bar (top-right of any page) and you can see our mostly unedited stream of photos and a couple of videos.

    No captions on the photos as of now so you'll have to use your imagination on what they show. Some of you will know what the photo depicts because you are involved in our project and some of you know because you're in the industry.

    For now, please enjoy them and let us know if you have any questions.

    P.S.: Thanks to Joshua at mnmMOD for suggesting that we do this.

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    22 Years of Stuff

    As we prepare to move into our smaller green, dream home, we need to divest ourselves of 22 years of stuff that we accumulated as a family of four. Craigslist has been a great resource for getting things that we no longer need into the hands of those who can use them. We have been surprised how quickly people responded to our ads.

    There are definitely some emotions -- happy and sad -- sorting through items. We also reflect on why we needed so many things for us and our children. At the time, everything seemed like a good idea. In retrospect, some items seem overly frivolous. Our goal for the rest of our lives is to be more conscientious about things we acquire.

    We still have a plenty of things to sell or give away but we made a solid start and reuse is a good thing.

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    Approved!

    A bit of a late announcement, but as of June 28, 2016, the City of Long Beach approved our construction documents. Jeannette Architects did a great job of working with the city and mnmMOD to get all of the details complete so that we could attain the approvals.

    Unfortunately, things have been a bit slow in getting started but we expect work to start within two weeks. Our General Contractor, Scott Yanofsky, has all of the permits so we are ready to roll once we get some details worked out on retaining walls for the new lot.

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    Construction Documents Are Done!

    We achieved a major milestone in our home construction process -- Jeannette Architects submitted Construction Documents to the City of Long Beach this past Friday. Generally the process of getting city approval of the Construction Documents and permits takes about two months. We hope we get approvals sooner.

    Either way, we plan to be able to start pouring the foundation during the first week of July which should allow us to move in before Christmas.

    Time will fly!

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    Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

    What a year! The first quarter of 2016 was full of excitement for us, some of which we would have been happy to avoid. Fortunately there were no tragedies. Intermixed with all of the excitement was the need for us to make decisions -- a lot of decisions.

    Countertop materials and colors, tiles, fixtures, appliances, paint, lighting, windows, and doors were just some of the decisions that we made. We had to balance performance, aesthetics, and price. Since we don't have unlimited funds to build our new home, price is often the deciding factor.

    Because we are using mnmMOD for the structure, we had to make certain decisions in advance compared to a standard stick build house. We didn't mind because once we start construction we don't want progress to stall awaiting a decision from us. Also, Jeannette Architects prefer that we define as much as possible up front so that we don't encounter design "surprises" after we start construction.

    Finally, a key aspect of our decision process is to involve our General Contractor, Scott Yanofsky, and our Interior Designer, Allison Smith, in as many of our decisions as is appropriate. This involvement slowed the decision process a bit but we hope it will make the construction process proceed smoother and more quickly than if we hadn't.

    We will see.


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