Thursday, August 21, 2008

Jackhammers in my Basement

It's been a whirlwind around here. I kept meaning to blog our major news but couldn't find the time to do it right, and so I didn't start.

The news is, as soon as we got home from our vacation, we refinanced our mortgage, taking out enough to pay off a couple of credit cards, replace our heating system and redo our kitchen! It's very exciting. I'm actually more excited about the heating system than the kitchen at the moment, maybe because it's more concrete, a less-drawn-out process, and once we approved the bid, no more decision-making was required on our parts.

We are putting in a geothermal system. It's very cool. It's a heat pump, and the heat source is the earth. We will have four 150-foot wells dug between the side of the house and the ponds, and water will circulate in a loop down the wells and up again to the heat exchanger in our basement, which will then heat (or cool) the air in our ductwork. The really neat thing is that it works both ways. In cold weather, we pull heat from the earth to heat our home. In hot weather, we put it back into the earth again. We have been living with window air conditioners since moving into this house; now we'll have central air!

We are hoping it's as earth friendly as we have been told it will be. The water usage is nil once the system is charged; it's a closed loop system, so it just circulates, like in a radiator system. A superdeheater pulls waste heat off the system and preheats the water going into our water heater for house hot water, saving energy there. There is an electric backup for when it gets too cold for the heat pump (and that will happen; it gets below 20 below zero F. frequently in our winters). The pumps and fans are all electric. The way we're looking at this is, while we will still need quite a bit of electricity just to keep everything (water and air) moving, we will not be burning oil or propane on site, and the electric company uses whatever it can to produce power, which in future will hopefully get cleaner; it won't require us to retrofit to meet new technology needs, as the power company will have that responsibility.

We ran through a 300-gallon tank of heating oil every 3-4 weeks during the worst of last winter. Heating oil and gasoline are running at roughly the same per-gallon cost, so our total fuel oil bill for the season was about $3000. We were buying from Sires Oil Company here in New Albin, and Joel Sires was having a tough time getting hold of #1 heating oil (which is kerosene) at any price. Joel was actually carrying a lot of the town's fuel bills through the winter, to the point where he had to borrow money to buy the fuel, when he could find it, that is. It was so stressful that he sold his company this spring rather than face another winter like that. Very scary. So I'm not sure how long it will take before the savings on fuel will pay for this new system. Quite awhile, to be sure, but if fuel stays as expensive as it is now, not as long as one might think; plus we believe that as alternate energy source awareness grows, this system will add value to our house.

We're going with a ClimateMaster geothermal system, by the way.

Our contractor is Matt Troendle of Tri-State Heating and Air in Lansing. We kept stringing him along on this project for a couple of years now, and when we finally called and told him we were really, truly ready to do it, he would have been quite justified in stringing us along for awhile in return, but he got us right on the schedule, and this week, all week, he and his assistant Aaron Mitchell have been working hard on tearing out the old oil furnace, putting in the new one, making some new cold-air returns so that the upstairs also gets cooled in summertime, plumbing into our hot water heater, and plumbing across the basement floor to the back yard where the wells will be. The well digger is supposed to come out sometime this weekend to plan out the digging and then hopefully actually dig the wells soon thereafter.

The jackhammers I mentioned above are being used to dig out trenches in the concrete basement floor for the plumbing lines to the wells. They get very cold in the wintertime, and they sweat in the summertime, so you really can't have them exposed to the house air, so the floor is the place for them. Plus, by the time they leave the house, they need to be way underground so they don't freeze when we need them the most. So there's a lot of dust, a lot of chunks of broken-up concrete, and a scared dog and two scared cats in the house. But the guys are being as neat as is humanly possible. They're both very respectful of old houses. I know it's much easier to do new construction than to retrofit, and I'm just glad they were willing to take on the job.

Okay! So that's the first half of the project. The second is the kitchen. We need to wait on Frog and Wonder of New Albin Construction to come to a gap in their schedule, because they will be doing the demolition work, insulating and drywalling, and putting in the new subfloors. Personally I'm thrilled that both projects aren't going on simultaneously. It's longer this way, of course, but much less disruptive. When Kitchen Time starts, we'll move the essentials out to the back porch. My gas stove is pretty self contained; all it will need is a 5-gallon propane bottle, and it will be good to go. We'll put the fridge in the dining room, probably. It'll be like camping.

Guess what colors the new kitchen will be? If you didn't guess red and white, you don't read this blog very often. :o) What I'm going for is pretending that this is the first major remodel in this house's history since it was built in 1913, that I'm now in the 1940s and I want a new kitchen. (Except with a dishwasher. And a stainless steel fridge. And lots of electrical outlets. And insulation. And double-paned windows.) So it will be white, with Jadeite green wall paint and red accents wherever I can stick them.

John Pitts will be making the cabinetry from local hardwoods. He makes everything out of hardwood no matter how you want it finished. I want my cabinets painted a warm white, which seems positively sinful considering they are going to be maple! But he doesn't cut corners. The plans he drew are beautiful. I've seen his work and he is a master.

I want a ceramic tile countertop; not only is tile a low cost alternative, I happen to adore it. I want white tile with red bullnose trim all around. And don't tell me I don't want to scrub the grout. Scrubbing grout is just one of those things that you have to do sometimes. It's not my favorite job, but well-sealed tile grout doesn't get real bad, and bleach works wonders on it anyway.

The ceiling is going to be beaded board painted red, unless I can find somebody who is pulling down a tin shed anytime between now and then; I'd love to have a tin ceiling, but only if it looks used/recycled, I don't want a new-looking tin ceiling. (I'm weird that way.) We'll be able to use the butcher-block I bought at a grocery store auction years ago; it will be on work tables to either side of the stove. John Pitts designs every kitchen individually, and when he saw mine, he said I needed lots of open shelves to show off my stuff, and I knew then he was the guy for us!

I picked out lighting at Rejuvenation. Haven't ordered it yet. We're thinking of two schoolhouse lights (left) in the middle of the room and two of the smaller pendants (right) over the sink.

For the floor, we're going to buy hardwood from Konkel Hardwoods here in New Albin (Barry wants hickory planks). No way could we afford this if we didn't have our very own local mill practically next door! I'm concerned about ruining the floor while getting everything else in. It kind of has to go in pretty early in the game, and then what do we do? Leave it unfinished, covered with paper? Or plastic? (Slippery.) Plastic, then paper?

It's interesting doing my transcription work with all this going on. It's impossible when there is too much noise. So I end up working evenings, when I'd rather be sleeping or helping Barry with all the things he has to do after work every day to keep things rolling on the projects.


Shallowsister said...

Yahoo! How exciting!! It'll all be done by the 31st when I see you, right??

Connie said...

Wow! That's both exciting and ambitious! I look forward to seeing your pictures.

Catherine said...

You are going to love your heating and cooling system! That is a good move. We used bead board on the kitchen, bathroom and living room walls. Also on the ceilings. You`ll love it. Makes a place very comfy.