An online journal documenting the planning and building process of our modern home from start to finish. It is intended to share our experiences throughout this project with all those interested in modern design.

Another Trip Back and Plan E?

Flew back to Chicago/Wisconsin in late July to celebrate Joe’s little brother, Jon, graduating from High School. This gave us an opportunity to visit the property again. We made arrangements with an electrician/solar power installer, a geothermal heating contractor, the electric utility provider, and last but not least, Jim!

Day #1 (Tuesday) - Electric/Solar: Met with Eric Pipkin from Pipkin Electric. Eric is a super-nice, down to earth guy that was very knowledgeable with solar installation. Discussed placement of the solar panels, including the possibility of mounting a panel on the ground. After walking the site, it seems like the best place is still on the garage roof provided a few trees are removed. We had some ideas on bringing the electricity from the overhead power lines that run along HWY 54, including trenching up the road, trenching up the valley, or maybe running overhead to the top of the hill and then trenching to the panel. Since Eric is an electrician, we asked his suggestions on the matter. He helped us understand that in Jackson County, the utility provider does the installation work, including any work up to the panel at your home. In California and Arizona, Joe and I are used to having to do that work with approved contractors first, then having the utility come in and inspect the work, and then hook up the electric from wherever their main line is located.

ay #2 (Wednesday) – Site work: Today, we (I should say Joe) worked on the site – primarily working on more tree trimming/weed removal. Joe did an awesome job trimming up the slope so some younger trees, including oaks, poplars, choke cherries, and pines, can now thrive! My sister, Karen, came out and hung out with us, too. We also hung a hammock between a few trees. The doggies had a great time running around and hanging out!

Day #3 (Thursday) – Geothermal: Met with Dan Green from Water Source Heating & Cooling, Inc. out of Eau Claire, WI. The day started off rough as it was rainy out. We made our usual stop for breakfast at McDonalds and headed out to the property. We drove up top while we waited for Dan to arrive. We decided to head back down the hill to wait for him as 10 am arrived, in the meantime it had started to rain. We met Dan at the bottom of the hill and jumped in his truck to head up the hill. Unfortunately, we got stuck at the low point right where the road goes past the pond. His truck was a bit heavier than ours and the rain had formed a greasy mess as it mixed with the clayey topsoil. About an hour later, we got towed out and officially started our visit.

After walking up to the top of the hill and going over the layout, Dan recommended going with a system of four (4) vertical wells, each about 150’ to 200' deep. Putting the wells in to the north and/or east of the proposed house location seemed like the best location, but locating the septic system would need to be worked out, first, then all the other utilities would be laid out around the septic location. Dan went over some of the projects their company had worked on in the area and made us feel comfortable that it was a good idea, especially considering the incentives offered by both the Federal Government and the local utility, Jackson Electric. Dan strongly recommended in-floor heating, which we had planned on from the beginning. On the cooling side of things, Dan recommended a traditional air conditioning system. This is something we are not sure of. We'd like to forego air conditioning and place windows in the right places that passive venting and the overall placement of the house/windows/shading will keep things cool enough. We learned that creating zones is a pretty easy thing to do and should help keep costs down, especially when we are only using a portion of the house.

Dan also echoed what Eric had told us about as far as the utility putting in the electric to a site. Dan called his contact at Jackson Electric and was able to get them to schedule a site visit with us on Friday, which was awesome!

Day #4 (Friday) – Electric & Architect: Met with Dan McKevitt with Jackson Electric Cooperative. Dan is an old family friend and it was neat to see him again after such a long time! Dan is a little older than I am. He was a great athlete and I remember going to basketball games with Dad to watch him play when I was in Junior High. We were so thankful that Dan rearranged his day to meet with us on such short notice. I had talked to him on Thursday to arrange the timing, but I don’t think he made the connection that I was Anne “Thompson” – Al and Laura’s daughter from Merrillan. When we met him at the office, it all made sense.

After meeti
ng at the office, we made a plan to meet Dan at the site in about an hour, so we stopped at McDonalds and then headed out to the site. Not wanting to get the car stuck, we walked up the hill to check out conditions. We thought Dan might be on the way, so we started walking back down and met him halfway up the hill. We had a great time talking with Dan. We explored all the possible ways to bring in electricity. Dan indicated we could possibly use the electric pole and use an overhead line, provided the span is not more than 300’. He went over the costs, timing, process, and rebates offered by Jackson Electric. Dan planned to come back and inspect the site again in fall after the leaves fall off the trees to assess the options of trenching up the valley and overhead power. We sent a map of the three options to Dan for him to use in his assessment/cost estimate.

As we were finishing up with Dan, Jim arrived. It was perfect timing! Jim had some plans, his camera, and a cool picnic! We walked up to the picnic table and spent some time catching up, then started to talk with Jim about the design. It is funny that Joe and I were really happy with the design the way it was, and didn’t really anticipate any changes before we had the meeting. Then we met;-)

Jim had a few questions for us that he came up with after thinking about the design over the last few months. First question was the deck. After talking for a short while, we decided to eliminate the deck to the south and keep the one to the east. Another question was the arrival. The last time Joe and I were there, we took some PVC pipes and laid out the corners of the garage and the house. If you look closely you can see the PVC, as well as the pink string we used to mark the first floor/lower level elevation.

This helped to “see” the arrival as we walked up the access road. After walking all around the entry area, we all agreed to flip the garage 90 degrees so that the garage doors face west instead of south. Also, we decided to send the access road in through the trees just before you get to the top of the hill instead of dropping in elevation and around the clump of trees. Doing this maintains the east-west axis of the house and really accentuates the view as you arrive. It also places the garage further away from the trees to the south of the house, making the solar opportunity better – we may be able to get away with cutting fewer trees. This was a big change that really made so much sense. Right when we were standing there, we all were like – Yeah – that is perfect and how it should be! At that moment, the sun broke through the clouds and we all experienced a “Jesus” moment.

After sitting back at the picnic table, Jim sketched up the changes and we ended up simplifying the design a bit as far as the lines in the house. The garage mass is now reflected in the dining room mass with a backbone of the kitchen/entry walkway connecting the two. The garage shift also created an outdoor area with three sides that creates a cool, sheltered area for the doggies. Can’t wait to see the new plans, dare I say Plan E for Ennesser? This time we really feel like this is it…we are so excited!

Mom stopped by as we were finishing up with Jim. It had been dry for awhile, so Joe went down to drive her up the hill. Unfortunately, the truck that got stuck yesterday created ruts and the road hadn't dried out enough and the allroad got stuck by the pond, too. I rained really hard Friday night and made things worse...what are the chances of that!?!

Day #5 (Saturday) – Travel day: Got up early and Dad, Joe, and I went out to the property to get the allroad unstuck. Joe put the snow chains on and Dad hooked up a chain and we pulled it out. When we inspected the area, it looks like the level of the water was almost over the top of the road. We will need to consider how to design the area by the pond to ensure the road never gets washed out. We can put in a culvert to drain the pond and build up the road, make sure the road is compacted well, and add some rock/grouted rip rap. We can always attach a standpipe with a drain at the top to keep the water level at a constant elevation in the case of high water, too.

Decided to start driving the long road back to California Saturday afternoon.
On the way out of town, walked up the hill again for one last look, even though it was hot and humid. We will sure miss it! Next steps are to plan the summer of 2011. Hopefully we can determine the septic location/design, get the road graded to drain with a nice base laid down, get the electric up to the site, and drain the pond by placing a culvert under the road.

It was great meeting the local contractors. It is so refreshing to meet good people that you really feel know their trade and can be trusted. A completely different feeling than you get in California. We are really looking forward to a great experience!

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