From Ghastly to Green – A foreclosure purchase story…
Well hello and welcome to our very first blog post! My name is Shannon Tate,
a sustainable design and green building enthusiast and newby here at Beyond Green Construction. (That’s me over there on the left.) Here at BGC we are passionate about doing our part to make the world a better place and healing this planet!…we feel the best way to do this is through education. We think the best form of education that we could share would be to give you all the nitty gritty, good, bad, ugly details of our present Deep energy Retrofit projects. It’s not easy work for us or the homeowners, but it is incredibly rewarding and life changing in the end. Our approach is to be 100% transparent with you. No holding back, no sugar coating. Our blog will be presenting the real deal. It’s especially exciting for us because we are starting our blog love with a really HUGE project that we just began work on in Deerfield. So here we go. Happy reading.
Meet the Marrapese family…Jennifer, Bill, their two little girls and sweet pup. Jennifer is the Executive Director of NESEA, the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association and Bill is a nurse in Brattleboro, VT. (This photo was taken outside their current rental in Deerfield, where they anxiously await the completion of their new home.)
Jennifer and Bill, who moved here a year ago with their family, recently purchased a 1977 ranch in foreclosure just a few blocks from their rental property in Deerfield. The house is a fixer upper…to put it lightly.
“Sean and the inspector were with us and everyone suspected that there was going to be major work to be done”, says Bill.
“That being said…we knew it was in rough shape but it’s turned out to be in worse shape then we thought” says Jennifer.
The homes most substantial problem stems from the fact that it’s built on a high water table and “it seems that the slab was never insulated against the water coming up from underneath. The slab was acting like a straw to suck the water up into the foundation and the walls”, says Bill.
As the reader you may be asking yourself, “why the heck didn’t they find all this out before they bought the place?” The answer is, when purchasing a property in foreclosure, there are many things you can’t do during a home inspection. You can’t lift up carpets, you can’t do anything that is invasive, where you’re peeling anything open or examining something from within…you can only look at the surface and take it as your eyes perceive it. So it wasn’t until after the purchase went through that the damage could truly be assessed. Carpets ripped up, beams exposed, and mold in clear view, everywhere. Mold was found in the insulation, roofing, walls, carpet, tack strips, everywhere. “I think the homeowners believed at the time of purchase that they could do a lot of the demo work themselves, but once they started removing carpet, they realized how dangerous that would be,” says Jeffords.
A secondary problem of the home is that it has a sunroom addition on the back which was done extremely poorly. Bill calling it a “Ham and egg job….or I’ll give you a pizza, you give me an addition.” That explains it pretty perfectly. After the purchase went through, the BGC team came in and realized that adding to the already lengthy list of problems, the floor in the addition was about to cave in as well.
Even with all of its problems, this home does have its charms. The homeowners had their hearts set on this neighborhood and this particular street when their search began. They were serendipitously invited to a barbecue on an earlier visit, which happened to be on the very street they purchased on. “We met a lot of people on the street who we ended up clicking with” says Jennifer. “It’s a dead end street, it’s sunny so immediately we both looked at each other and said this is the street we want to live on. So when the house came up in foreclosure, we thought it was the perfect opportunity, especially since we knew we wanted to do energy work and we didn’t want to pay extra for a house that we were going to have to rip up anyway.” There were also many other plus’s on Jennifer and Bill’s list. “We have some land, it’s perfectly suited for solar and we paid probably $45K less than if we had purchased it from an owner, ” Bill says of the house. Jennifer adds “and there’s farmland behind the property and it’s protected” “It’s still a little bit of a scary investment”, she admits.
The couple says that although they wouldn’t call themselves “sustainability experts”, that for a very long time, sustainability has been a part of their daily practice and a part of their values. “We’re really excited to take this project as an opportunity to explore and live into that”, says Jennifer.
Even with all of the lists of “green building experts” at her disposal through NESEA, Jennifer says that they really “didn’t do a lot of interviews for the job” and that she chose the BGC team “largely on reputation within the community” and that Jeffords was very familiar with how to go about finding monetary incentives through the energy companies, theirs being Western Mass Electric…which the couple will be receiving $19K in incentive money from. (If you’re interested in looking into incentives for your green project, go to www.masssave.com to learn more.)
The couple closed on the house in April with hopes to acquire a building permit quickly and start work with the BGC team. But, like many projects, things didn’t move along as quickly as hoped. The couple, along with the BGC team lost 6 weeks of time after the building inspector thought they needed to bring the project plans to the conservation committee for additional approval. He came to this conclusion because the home has an intermittent stream on the property and they needed to be sure wasn’t a part of the wetlands. They eventually were given a negative determination and could move forward without any additional approvals, but that was 6 weeks lost. The Marrapese’s found this difficult as they were already paying the mortgage and had to add on two additional months in their rental…not to mention that Jeffords had his team ready to go. It was a set back, but they put that time to good use, making sure all their plans were in place and were sure of exactly how they would proceed with the project.
The plans are a pretty huge undertaking in and of themselves. After determining how extensive the moisture problems were and that the source was the foundation, BGC’s engineer, Chris Vreeland from Precision Decisions Inc. devised a plan to actually lift the house off of the foundation with a series of jacks that will be attached to the foundation wall and a piece of “4x”6 angle iron bolted into each and every wall stud. The house will be lifted 8 inches off the slab and then a moisture and thermal barrier will be created with high-density foam topped with 4 inches of concrete that has radiant floor tubing imbedded into it. This will stop the mold and moisture problems at their source, so that when they re-insulate the house and tighten it all up, the indoor air quality will be healthy for the family. Also included in the plans are the installation of a Solar Thermal System with electric back-up and a wood stove for an alternative heat source on the off chance that they would lose electricity because of a storm or power outage.
As you can imagine, this is not a cheap project. We have a budget to work with of $100 per square foot (brand new builds on average are $150 + per square foot) and with the home at nearly two thousand square-feet, we’re nearing $200K. That being said the couple says they’re just “makin’ it happen”, doing what they have to do with their own saved money, a line of credit, borrowing from family…they are determined to make it happen within their budget.
Their budget is being helped greatly with the resource of the Eco Building Bargains in Springfield, where they bought used solid oak kitchen cabinets and laminate countertops for only $1400. They plan on getting their bathroom fixtures from there as well and found a great deal on flooring through Hampton Carpet.
In the end the Marrapese’s will have a super energy efficient, healthy house for their family.
With the August 31st move in date quickly approaching the BGC team needs to work smart and fast. We’ll give you more of the details next week! Until then, have a good one
A Clean Slate
Well hello again! Thanks for stopping by to check out our progress. A few weeks ago we gave you a little intro to the Marrapese family and a beginning look at our latest retrofit project in Deerfield, MA. I’ve been dropping by the site every so often and things are moving really fast. It’s incredible how quickly things can turn around with an experienced, committed team and an approaching deadline. This week we’re going to dive in a bit further and give you some visuals on the progress, so you can see first hand what goes into such a delicate and complicated retrofit.
As I mentioned in our first post, in order to do this job right, we have to stop the moisture problem at its source. The source of trouble is coming from the constant moisture being funneled up into the house from the very high water table beneath. The home was never given a moisture barrier between the slab and the house itself. This got me to thinking, why was it that it was never given a proper moisture barrier? Was the original builder cutting corners?…or was it just regular practice not to in 1977? I probed Irene Winkelbauer, (that’s her over there on the left) a member of the BGC team and a certified LEED Green Associate & BPI Building Analyst and she said “Building practices change over time, so it’s probably not that unusual for a build that was done at that time. Building code is the minimum expected best practice, so if the moisture barrier wasn’t a part in the original build, it may not have been part of code in 1977.”
To give you a quick mental picture, between the years of 1964 and 2002, the highest recorded water level was just 1.42 ft below the soil…seems like living on a houseboat isn’t far off! With the more recent event of hurricane Irene, it may have been even higher since. The home has been sucking up this moisture like a straw for 35 years, so as you can imagine, it’s caused quite a bit of damage. To be frank, it’s all but destroyed the entire house.
Now, I’m going to press the rewind button for a minute and fill in a few important blanks in the story that lead us to getting started on the work.
As I mentioned briefly last week, the project had to be put on hold (for 6 weeks!) while the home went through what’s called a “Request for Determination” by the Deerfield Conservation Commission. This included submitting a detailed report of the proposed work, along with diagrams of the area and measurements of how close the property is to the wetland. “The strictness with which you will have to build is determined by how close your home is to a stream or water source,” says Winkelbauer. Luckily because the Marrapese home is a pre-existing structure which was already placed far enough away from the wetlands, the Conservation Commission allowed the BGC team to begin with their work as long as they took the appropriate precautions. This means keeping the nearby water source free of any run-off from the work site, which has been accomplished with a silt fence and about 100 feet of hay bales. The picture below gives you a visual map of the standards that have to be met in order to keep the wetlands protected. The stream on the left needed to be protected by at least 25 feet of undisturbed vegetation and then the home has to be 50 feet from the edge of that vegetation. After the determination was given by the Conservation Commission that we would not be disturbing any of the wetlands, it was a green light to get started on the work.
The determination was only just given on June 28th, so with a deadline of August 31st to finish the project the team is on an extremely tight schedule.
That just about brings us to the present time.
Being a green company, we are always looking to salvage as much materialas possible, but with this home there is unfortunately not much to save. After taking the house apart piece by piece, our team found that the mold not only extended through the walls, the insulation, the carpet, the tack strips, the floor boards, but even up to the roof! And the mold on the roof is indeed from the moisture problem beneath the home, not from rain or snow on top of the roof. See the picture to the left as Andy Jeffords first discovered the mold on the roof.
So what’s the plan of attack when a home is in such a state? Eliminate the problem, salvage what you can and make it right…it’s as simple as that. Well, simply written, I’d hardly categorize it as simple work. The team has been working in 90+ degree heat with very long days to get this done on schedule.
After tackling the mold and stripping the house down to its remaining usable parts, it was onto the sun room addition. Remember I told you in the previous post about the floor caving in? The mold and rot were so bad the team had to take it all down and start from scratch. After accessing the ground beneath the sun room, the team “decided on a more robust technique that we’re very confident about” said Sean Jeffords, principal ofBGC, which involved bringing in 130 tons (yes TONS) of sand to fill up the previous crawl space which will be consistent with the sand filled slab on grade that the rest of home has. (Read in the coming weeks, how we came to that conclusion) But of course, no project is without its curve balls. On this day, that curve ball came in the form of a truck in quicksand. Say what? Here’s what I mean.
The truck which made 5 deliveries of 26 tons (260,000 lbs) of sand drove onto the property and quickly sunk into what they call “sugar sand,” or sand that was not properly compacted during the original build. It’s apparently just like “sinking into quicksand,” says Jeffords.
After towing the truck back out of the quicksand, it was back to work. Two members of the BGC team, Gary Hutchins and Chris Russel worked on spreading and compacting the sand in the sun room, which will actually be the kitchen when the project is complete.
That’s about it for this week. Next time, see just how we lift an entire house off the ground! Until then, stay happy, healthy & be green.
Hey there! So, in last post I gave you a little taste of what was to come this week. We’ve lifted the whole house off the ground! Pretty serious undertaking, eh? Keep reading for the scoop.
As we’ve described in the last two posts, this house has a serious moisture problem that needs to be taken care of before the air sealing and insulation work is completed by the team. We want to make sure that all the air inside the house will be healthy air, not the moldy air that’s been in it for the last 35 years. So the next step in healing this home is lifting it off its foundation so the team can give it the moisture barrier it has needed so desperately for all these years. And that my friend, is no simple task.
In order to come up with an effective, safe course of action the BGC team brought in consulting engineer, Chris Vreeland of Precision Decisions LLC. (That’s him over on the right) Chris has 20 years of experience as an engineer and has specialized in mechanical, electrical and structural engineering for the alternative energy market for the last 10 years. After careful assessment of the Marrapese home and consideration of budget, Vreeland designed a custom jacking system that would lift the entire house off of the slab.
Vreeland who worked as a millwright (mechanic in a paper mill) before becoming an engineer referenced his experience in lifting heavy cast iron machines that would weigh anywhere from 5-50 tons, when designing the jacking system for the Marrapese home.
“I had done a lot of rigging when I was at the mills, we had really heavy equipment, even though it wasn’t physically the size of a house, it was all made out of heavy cast iron so it would weigh, 5,10, 20, 50 tons, and this house weighs, 15-20 tons…so the sheer magnitude of the weight really wasn’t concerning to me in terms of being able to lift the house with mechanical jacks without using hydraulics, because I had done similar stuff before. The trickier part was the fact that it was physically so big and I’m used to lifting a large heavy chunk of steal, that has its own strength so you don’t have to worry too much about it bending and flexing. Jacking any house you’re always concerned with cracking the sheetrock or plaster,” says Vreeland.
Vreeland designed a custom jacking system to raise the house off of the foundation, using heavy thread Acme Rods. He drew up the system and had them welded together by fabricator Mike Poole. (That’s him below on the left)
(Poole, a former diver & underwater welder, who worked on notable projects such as “The Big Dig” in Boston, counts his lucky stars that he’s alive to tell the tale. With the statistics stating that most underwater welders will be critically injured or killed within 5 years, Poole was “happy to get out while the odds were still in his favor.” He went on to work in a few fabrication shops and later started his own business, which is where we find him today.)
Poole says he was “impressed with how BGC invited all the trades people in early on to have conversations and share opinions on how the job should go. Usually on construction jobs they just tell you what to do, rather than letting you say well have you thought of this?, he wanted my opinion of how I thought it would go. Normally I would have never even seen the job site. The way Sean works, bringing everyone in early, then taking everybody’s opinions and forming a consensus…it’s very different (in a good way) from every other construction company or organization I’ve ever dealt with.”
The image below is the design that Vreeland came up with. The base of the jacks would be placed on the cement footing beneath the slab foundation of the house.
Then the team cranked up each of the jacks by hand, slowly raising the house into the air until it reached 8 inches off the foundation.
When Vreeland revealed his plan to Jeffords, he was surprised at how quickly he was on board.
According to Vreeland, “Most residential contractors deal with wood not metal, so it was
unique that Sean took that approach and felt comfortable with it, it was really great. It was also our first job together, so it was a bit of a leap of faith for him. Usually contractors don’t like to try new things, so kudos to Sean for having the hutspa to try it.”
Here are some images of the team actually using the system that Vreeland designed. The lifting of the house went off without a hitch by the way, so hats off to Chris.
At the end of our interview, when I asked Chris if there was anything else he’d like to share with our readers he aptly replied “Yeah, don’t try this at home!” It’s good to end with a laugh, so I’ll leave it at that for this week.
Next week, check out how the team will install the moisture barrier and radiant tubing for the floors. Cool stuff! Till then, as always be happy, stay healthy & be green