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Building Resilience (2): Design and Demolition Strategy

A large white pine dictates excavation, which dictates the foundation, which dictates the framing, which defines the living space.
April 20, 2023


Last time on Building Resilience, we explained why this story begins in the middle. Coronavirus.

As part of regular show production, I had traveled in early March to Minneapolis to shoot another segment of construction.

By then, we were finished with the framing and exterior insulation and were installing windows. Specifically, we were installing the Skycove.

This is an 870 pound glass box window, that is really a steel frame that has to be bolted to the side of a house.

It was five hours that went by in about thirty minutes, it was a pretty intense moment.

It was the first of its kind installation for the first of its kind product maybe the coolest window seat ever.

Yeah. It was really really fascinating and fun. Definitely a challenge to remember.

With the Kkycove safely bolted to the house and the corona outbreak in the rearview mirror, we’re going to back waaay up to where we started and how we got here.

Planning, design, and demolition.

The house is about a 100-year old Spanish Colonial that Michael and Andrea had been contemplating a remodel on.

The project overall scope involves taking the house from 1700 square feet to 3500 square feet. It’s going to go from three bedrooms to six bedrooms, and from one bathroom to four.

We’re going to be bringing in new plumbing fixtures, new finishes, we’re going to add indoor/outdoor spaces.

We’ve got a cool SkyCove, that’s like a glass box window that’s going to out, like a treehouse, it’s going to be really cool.

Overall the house is going to be a lot more livable, a lot more durable, a lot more efficient, ultimately, it’s going to be a pretty darned resilient house.

The plan involves removing a large addition to the back and some mini roofettes, but salvaging the little bump-out that houses the interior stairway.

Some of the issues we’re going to be addressing on this house are the windows, which were replaced by the sound insulation program.

There are a lot of airplanes that fly over the house, and they were replaced with really poor plowed-sash type retrofit windows.

They’re all sagging and dropping, they don’t work right.

We also have a problem with the back of the house, which was never intended to be finished off the way that it was…

...and it was never designed to be an enclosed finished space. It's got the wrong size footing, it doesn’t go down deep enough, and as a result this section here that we’re looking at, is slowly sinking into the ground.

Let’s dig into what’s gonna happen through, inside the house and go over the plan.

This kitchen was recently remodeled, we’re going to keep it. This window, however, is going to disappear, and will extend into a library/art room off of the kitchen.

Sometimes on these old houses we encounter new stuff that we’ve not seen before.

It doesn’t happen often, but this is an example of one that I can’t make heads or tails of what the original thought process was.

The primary home stops right here, originally. They put this strange bump-out for the staircase, then it jogs back for the bathroom, and jogs out for the bedroom.

It’s not supported below the way that we would think. So this element really floats out into space.

Part of the project is going to be to remove -- not the staircase, or the flow, because we want to keep that intact— but rather how the structure integrates with itself. Because right now, it’s super-whack.

We have these old-school radiator lines that run throughout the house I am a huge fan of boilers and radiators in general. I really like heating systems that are different from cooling systems. The house is currently set with minisplits for all of the cooling needs and the boiler for all of the heating.

But they’re low and they stick down, so we’re going to get rid of them. We’re going to switch these out for PEX pipe that we’ll be able to bring up into the floor joists to get them out of the way.

This back wall here is the back of the original house. You can see the plumbing stack that sits right next to it, there’s going to be a new bathroom that’s put into this place, and this wall will be the access to the addition where there’s another bedroom and a workshop. Because I’ve got to have a place for my tools.

Let’s take a step back and look at the concept we named this show after: Resilience. What is the bird’s eye view of Resilient design and construction?

The Resilient Design Institute defines Resilience this way:

“Resilience is the capacity to adapt to changing conditions and to maintain or regain functionality and vitality in the face of stress or disturbance. It is the capacity to bounce back after a disturbance or interruption.

Resilient Design Institute

They list ten Principles of resilient design, and we will point those out throughout the show as we come across them.

We’ve always been in the green building space, at least since it existed in the early 2,000s. The focus on energy is exciting, it's fun, and it's interesting. But so often we forget that houses are ultimately about spaces for people.

So, how can we take this house—and yes, we’re going to make it more efficient, we’re going to put ijn better windows, all that good stuff. We’re going to wrap it in insulation, but we could just tear it down and buil;d something new. We could use really cheap materials and we could lose a lot of the flavor that this house has, or we could work with what we’ve got.

And that’s a really big part of our drive to retain, really, most of the original structure and find a way through the addition and through the other changes that we’re going to do, to give the house a brand new look, a brand new life, while still retaining most of its original characteristics.

Let’s sum up what we’re doing before getting into how we’re going to do it.

Alright, so what are we doing on this project?

We’re tearing stucco off the original houseWe’re going to put up Huber’s ZIP R-12, which is an insulated sheathing. Two inches of insulation and ½-inch OSB with an integrated weather resistive barrier over that.We’re going to be adding a rainscreen system from Benjamin Obdyke—

[Comedy routine]

We’re going to be adding a rainscreen system from Benjamin Obdyke so that it stays dry and breathes well.Then we’re going to be putting some ¾-inch AZEK cellular PVC panels with PaintPro technology over all that to give it a really contemporary look. As well as probably the most resilient wall system and cladding system that I can think of.We’re going to be replacing all of the windows in the house with triple pane windows from Marvin. Again, looking for ultimate resiliency with a fiberglass frame that’s not going to rot out on us. And the triple glazing for sound, insulation, and condensation resistance.

The main design constraint is a huge white pine tree

This house is a spanish colonial which is unusual for this part of the world, and it's unusual for the time period. It has a flat roof and its been working for a long time. So we’re going to maintain that flat roof detail, but we’re going to give the house a contemporary aesthetic.

The addition on the back will also have a flat roof, but we’re going to insulate the heck out of it.

But we’re going to leave the existing one alone. Why? Because it is full of vermiculite, which is full of asbestos. It’s a great insulator, as long as you don’t disturb it.

So we’re going to not disturb it.

Every site has its unique constraints, and this one has a 240-year old white pine. It’s a beautiful tree, it's a highlight of the property. In the evenings you can sit out here and listen to the wind blow through the branches and it's quite something.

It has a root structure that we want to keep intact because a tree of this size, when it drops a branch, it's like it drops an entire tree.

So everything that went into the design of this house began with this constraint: where do the tree roots go, and how far can we build?

We feel pretty comfortable coming right up here to the edge of this retaining wall, and we’re going to come a ways into this planter bed. Judging from what’s happening up in the tree canopy, we think we’re pretty good in terms of no major roots being in this area.

In order to demolish this in a way that’s manageable for an urban site, we’re going to start be ripping off the deck and this two-story addition, but we’re going to leave the rest of the stucco on the house for the time being.

After we’ve framed up this section and we’re getting ready to sheathe it, we’ll start pulling off the stucco around the rest of the house so that we can sheathe all the way around the structure.

This will allow us to sheathe continuously from old to new so that hopefully at the end of the day, there’s no transition that’s visible, it’s a seamless connection between new space and old space.

And that seamless connection begins next time when Michael walks us through the warm and dry basement foundation—

...and then across the entirety of the floor we have three-inches of foam insulation for R-15

—that he and Steve, Sol, and Stephen will frame the new addition atop of.

Stay tuned, and stay resilient.

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