Tag Archives: Insulation

Radiant Basement Floor


Posted on May 30, 2015 by

Earth sheltered homes normally get very scaled down heating systems (some even skip them entirely).  Where I live, a heating system is required for occupancy, so rather than get an expensive furnace that I would hardly use, I decided to go with an inexpensive “on demand mini boiler” hot water radiant system.  I got quotes for install that were as high as $60,000, but figured I could do it for a small fraction of that, so I decided to pull my own mechanical permit and do this myself.  I read a couple books and planned it out.  Then I bought the manifolds and supplies from PexUniverse.com (less than 400$ for the basement).

We got it all installed and inspected (our first mechanical inspection) and then had Dysert Concrete handle the actual pour of the floor.



Installing the radiant floor was easy, but some of the recordings didn’t work out, so the final video is shorter than usual.  You can read the story below for the details that wouldn’t fit in the narration.

The Video:

The Story:

I started with working out the layout on the computer.  Building code requires that no circuit be longer than 300 ft, and most experts recommend that you balance the lengths of the radiant tubes, so you definitely want to plan it out ahead of time.

I tried a number of different plans that ran the tubes thru the hall to the various rooms, but it was just too inefficient and cumbersome to get things “zoned” well that way.  In the end, I decided to drill some 5/8ths inch holes thru the base of the mechanical room wall to simplify the layout.  With the right tools (DeWalt hammer drill and a long 5/8ths inch bit), that was pretty easy.

We had leveled out the pea stone after the “underground inspection”, but David helped me do some final leveling of the peastone and then Zack helped get the 6 mil plastic down.  This plastic is important for keeping water vapor from the ground out of your concrete floor and is required by building code.  It also helps keep the radon out, etc.

Six MIL?

A mil is not a millimeter.  Six MIL is six thousands of an inch or roughly 0.152mm.  Before most English speaking countries switched from the imperial measurement system to metric, they would have called it a “thou”, based on the Germanic route word for “thousandth”, but for some reason, America decided to go “romantic” language based with this one and called it a “MIL” instead (based on the word for “thousandth” in languages like French or Italian).  This is a similar etymology to how the rest of the world got the word “milli” for the Metric system, hence the similarity.

HuskyWe don’t use “MIL” much in the USA, except for quantifying thin film thickness.

Since it is difficult to imagine things in thousands of an inch;

  • 1 MIL = grocery store bag
  • 2 MILS = Garbage Bag
  • 3 MILS = Husky Contractor Bag
  • 17 MILS = Pond Liner
  • 35 MILS = Credit Card


JigSaw Puzzle

David tossed us some sheets of insulation and we got started on the jigsaw puzzle.  My rooms are unusually shaped and since they didn’t actually stock those shapes at Home Depot, we cheated by cutting pieces.  We started with measuring, but usually ended up trimming each piece iteratively until it fit.  We taped all the pieces together and shoved trimmings into any gaps along the wall.  Not too hard, but certainly more time consuming than a square room might have been.  This probably wasted about 15$ worth of insulation, so not too bad.

Radiant tube

I marked the radiant tube layout directly o n the insulation based on that balanced plan I had carefully worked out on my computer.  I used piece of scrap wood marked with the right size increments and a can of upside down surveyors paint.  In addition to basic tic marks to follow, I also painted in the end loops so the whole plan would be pretty easy to follow.

Radiant_Layout_DrilledStapling the Pex tubes down was easy and fun, Sherri and I took care of most of it, but the boys were very eager to try it themselves.  I imagine it would have been quite a lot more difficult (and much less fun) without that commercial grade tool we used.  The tool cost quite a bit (~200$) but is very well built and I will use it a lot… I also plan to sell it and recoup most of the money at the end of the project anyway.



Connecting the pex to the manifold was straightforward and easy.  There are some simple little brass connector bits and you just tighten a nut to hold it all together.


Pex Stapler saved us a lot of timeI got the Manifold, Pex pipe, the Pex stapler, staples and the pressure tester from “PexUniverse.com”.  I had looked at lots of other sites (including sites that put it all together for you, such as Radiantcompany.com), but this one had the best prices and the best hardware.  There are also easy to find “coupon codes”.

John (my brother-in-law) and Zack helped me finish off the third loop.

My sister Bonnie was in town and mostly helped me with the ICFs (another post/video), but she made it into this video by helping me to fill the tubes with water so they wouldn’t float in the concrete. I had been trying to pour it from the bucket into the funnel, but she had the idea to siphon it from the bucket, which was much easier and didn’t get us as wet.

Then we pressurized the system (according to building code) so we would know if anyone punctured the pipe before the concrete set.


Concrete day arrived and the guys started with putting down some six by six wire reinforcement.  This was left over from the garage floor and will help prevent cracks from growing.  It also helps protect the pipe and keep it all down under the concrete.

The concrete was pumped in from overhead (renting the pump truck cost ¼ of the job, but was well worth it in terms of making things go easier), and spread level.  They came back an hour later and hand troweled it smooth.



In all, I paid less than 1$/sft for the insulation, radiant tube, manifold and supplies, then 3$ for the concrete work plus an extra ~500$ for the pump truck and ~1100$ worth of concrete…  So, not bad.


I hope to get the “quad deck” in soon so we can put another concrete floor over this basement.


GoPro vs Wingscapes timelapse camera


Posted on March 16, 2015 by

Here is the video…

And so the text would be searchable…

I got my Wingscapes Timelapse Cam years ago when I first bought the property… Originally, it was that so I could trace the shadows moving across my lot (important for passive solar positioning), but I ended up enjoying recording the construction process with it also.  Lately, I have wanted a better camera.  Eventually, my whining paid off and my wife got me a GoPro Hero3 for my birthday.  “White” just means that it is at the low end of the GoPro video range, but it still has the timelapse feature that I wanted.

For a comparative test, I mounted the two cameras side by side and recorded some timelapse footage for an “odd job” that I did (see the video link above).

The “odd job” was building a giant wall out of bales of rigid insulation… Why? I wanted to put a tarp across the back of the Quonset hut to stop the wind from blowing thru.  This would allow me to use the garage as a workshop…  But it was like a wind tunnel in there and I couldn’t keep the tarp still long enough to bolt it on…  I had these bales of rigid insulation already stacked somewhere else on the property, and I decided to restack them at the back of the quonset hut to block the wind…  It worked very well, and I chuckled at the idea of having an R-value of ~240.  At some later point, I will put up ICFs to form a proper wall, but I imagine even that would have been difficult in the wind tunnel environment of that quonset hut…


Anyway, let’s compare…

Wingscapes Pros:

Much better battery life (days or weeks with 4AA batteries) and better time lapse options for longer duration’s (10 seconds to daily)…

This makes sense because that is what it was designed for.

Wingscapes Cons:

A tiny pinhole lens in a large heavy housing that can be a challenge to setup.  It also has manual focus (that I have messed up a few times) and a basic, but awkwardly placed, view finder with no way to really tell how the shots are coming out until you download them.

I really can’t understand why the wingscapes cam needs to be so bulky or why the birdwatchers who buy them don’t demand better optics.


GoPro Pros:

Much better optics, plus its lens is very wide angle, which will help with the interior shots later.  The GoPro is also much smaller and easier to move around.  The GOPro settings can actually be controlled from my phone and my phone screen actually works as the view finder (which I thought was really cool until I realized how quickly the wi-fi used up the battery).

The timelapse options are actually better on the low end of the range…  With a number of options between Half a second and 60 seconds…  It also has much better Video options. Even though mine is just the white edition, it gives HD up to 60FPS.

And this all makes sense because this camera is meant to be strapped to an adrenalin junkie and pushed off a cliff.  Its timelapse options are more intended for capturing a half hour of sunset than a day at the build site.

GoPro Cons:

The battery life is poor (for a timelapse).  It can do 3 hours of video at 60 FPS, so I expected that it could go for ages on timelapse at 0.2 FPS, but it didn’t make much more than 4 hours, (even without the wi-fi viewfinder turned on, which drains the power even faster)…  And when the battery dies, it is a special GOPro battery, so I can’t replace it with a spare.   Also, the color seems less vivid on the GoPro, but I have only tested it on grey days and with pretty grey subject matter

WingscapesVsGoPro_01In summary…  I don’t plan to get rid of either camera.  They each have their place and will help me catch good footage and we try to get this house built over the summer.

Odd jobs


Posted on November 1, 2014 by

When you are building a house, not all the days are big days…  There are lots of “odd job” days.  I don’t usually setup my camera, and when I do, the footage is not usually interesting enough for a post of its own, but I thought I show a collage of odd-job days to document the gist of it.

The Video:

A little more detail:

The hardest part about these odd jobs is just to find the time for the drive out to the property.  Now that the weather is cooler and I am pretty much out of vacation days, I usually wait for a warm enough day and head out to the property after work.  But the days are getting shorter, so after I drive an hour to get there, I only manage to put in a couple hours of work before the sun sets.  I bought some work lights to extend my time a bit before I need to pack up and head back.

As winter approaches, working around the weather is quite a challenge.  The concrete weather proofing, grouting and other tasks often have a minimum temperature for correct application.

I really wanted to get the Quonset hut up sooner, but there were delivery delays.  It was eventually delivered just before I had to take a 2 week business trip.  I had to protect the delivery from the weather while I was away, so I laid out some plastic to keep it dry.  I put the plastic down first and set the steel (all on one skid) on top of it and then folded the plastic over like a taco…  The plastic at the bottom keeps the moisture from coming up out of the ground, the plastic on top sheds the rain, and the open sides were to let any moisture that did get in, get out again.  I screwed wood strips on both sides of the plastic to keep in its place while I was away… It worked.

We were also in a rush to get rye grass growing before the weather got too cold for it.  Actually, fall is the best time to plant grass (the air is cool, but the earth is warm), but I would have liked to start it closer to Labor Day.  Sherri planted and raked in most of the seed, but I got in some rake time when I could.


FrostProtectedShallowfoundationThe garage ends also needed insulation against the footings.  The basic idea behind “Shallow Frost Protected Footings” is to thermally separate the soil under the footings from the cold air in winter so that ice “lenses” don’t form and push up the footings.  The normal solution is to put the base of the footings below the “frost line”, about 4 ft deep in my area.  Temperature change happens by conduction, so it doesn’t really matter how “deep” the footings are, the insulation creates a longer path for the conduction and keeps the footings warm.   This building code exception to normal building practice allowed me to save a lot of money because I didn’t need to dig the footings as deep and use all that extra digging, concrete and money.   Adding on this insulation is a small price to pay.   Although, technically, my sandy soil means I don’t really have to worry about frost heave, the insulation is still helpful in keeping the garage temperature more stable.


This last job in the video was just cleanup…  We (and the various crews who came to work on the site) had been stacking used wood and rebar on side of the building site.  Now we needed to backfill that area and it was time to get that stuff out of the way.  We also wanted to protect the better wood and put in under the Quonset hut.  Many hands make light work… So Sherri and the boys came out to help.  I really appreciate my crew.