Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Time for a cold shower

I never thought I'd be so relieved to complete this shower tile installation, but I am, and I never want to see another tile again... at least until I start the upstairs shower, maybe next year! I still have a little trim and ceiling work to do, but at least I have enough tile done to take a shower once I complete the grout and sealer.

The floor tile is a slate material which I really admire, but it was a real pain to install because the slate thickness was so irregular. I guess that explains why you done see natural slate mosaic tile in your typical suburban tract home... anybody installing it for a living would soon go broke, insane, or both.

Next up, my brainy wife points out that it would be a good idea to actually heat the water coming to the shower, it being winter time and all. I do have a hot water heater, but all those pesky little details like water, drain, and electrical lines going to it are absent, and seem to be keeping it from heating the water just yet...

Monday, November 19, 2007


The wet year in the hill country enabled some unusual displays by Mother Nature. This grass in our backyard has really taken over this year, and is called Schizachyrium scoparium (Michx.) Nash Little bluestem Poaceae (Grass Family). I know this only due to an excellent search tool on the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center website: http://www.wildflower.org/ It's actually only reddish colored in the fall, so I guess being called a bluestem is not as bizarre as it sounds. Since the birds have been ignoring all of our bird feeders for the last couple of months, I assume it's because they're getting all the grains they can possibly eat from the bumper crop of plants like this one. Eat hearty, feathered friends, winter is not far away.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

All Decked Out

That first step out the back door of our Wimberley house had been a doozy for quite a while. Although it is not completely finished, I made enough progress on this new deck over the weekend to make that first step much more agreeable. (See my last posting for what it looked like before I did this work) It's also far enough along to easily envision friends & family sipping lemonade (yep, the hard stuff) while sitting on some outdoor furniture, safely out of the hot Texas sun.

So come on out to help us initiate it properly. BYOL, and bring enough for me too.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Work Crew

Fall is here, and what a great time it is to be starting outdoor projects. Like this first floor deck we are starting in this photo, which will be 22 feet wide and will cantilever 6 feet out past those columns on the left.

My in-laws Ernie and Mary Ann are shown here helping me out with the first ledger board which we are anchoring into the concrete foundation. Ernie is helping with the alignment issues, and Mary Ann is making sure we don't do anything especially stupid. I delayed starting this project until the geothermal heat pump well lines had been properly covered with several feet of dirt, which you can see underneath us. Shoveling a bunch of dirt underneath a deck that was already complete just didn't seem like a lot of fun.

If all goes well over the next few weekends you'll see a new blog posting of the completed deck. Well, at least the basic framing and surface decking. Luxuries like steps down to the ground may have to wait awhile, after some more input from my team of experts.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Green Investment

One nice benefit of sustainable buildings is their lower operating cost. The evidence is now in for our Wimberley home's summer energy performance, and it is nice to see the investment in energy saving features paying back. Although our rural electric company has a $22 per month basic charge for using ZERO electricity, our bills were still very low even including that silly fee:

June- $37.17
July- $38.21
August- $47.65
September- $37.68

Much of the credit goes to our geothermal heat pump system, the world's most efficient heating & cooling unit, which is manufactured by Water Furnace. It has an SEER of 30, about twice that of any conventional unit. It pipes water through a series of underground wells, using the soil's steady and moderate temperature to make the heat exchange more efficient. A major side benefit it quiet operation, since there in NO exterior condensing unit at all. Maybe I'll come up with an appropriate nickname for it, something like "Penny" or maybe "Stealth".

Most of the home's other miserly features are either common practice or just plain common sense, like no west-facing glass, large roof overhangs over south-facing glass, low-e vinyl windows, and radiant barriers for the roof and some walls. One unusual feature is skin-vented exterior East and West walls (the ones the summer sun hits). These have an air space which vents the walls much like a well vented roof vents an attic.

Hopefully the winter heating bills will be low too. If they are, you can bet I'll be posting them to the blog too, hoping to further persuade legions of other homeowners to make a green investment of their own.