No Cold Feet at Desert Rain

Twelve degrees F. here at my home outside of Bend today. I am currently renting an old farmhouse with inadequate insulation, low quality double paned windows, arctic air through the electrical outlets, and  ice-cold floors that quickly freeze the feet.  I rarely use the high-cost, high- energy consumption, electric wall heaters.  That leaves me with a pellet stove – warm enough if I’m in the same room, additional layers required in the rest of the house.  While I sit writing in my wool  sweater and booties, I’m thinking of Desert Rain – all the elements of energy efficient home design and building technology that make a home comfortable, no matter the outdoor air temperature.

The ADU received the final application of spray foam insulation a few days ago.

Attention to detail with spray foam insulation ensures an airtight seal.












At the project site yesterday, the Energy Conservation Insulation crew was back with more spray foam insulation.  The process started in July with spraying the ceiling area and around duct work and vent stacks. The initial coat of spray foam insulation in the walls was installed to about half the final thickness. Without the obstructions of wires and pipes, the spray foam can more easily penetrate the wall cavities, creating a better seal.  The electrical and plumbing system work has been in progress throughout the fall.  Mike Wagnon with All Phase Electric Service and Beau Parazoo with Parazoo Plumbing confirmed that both the electrical and plumbing systems passed inspection this past week.  With those approvals in place ECI is working on the final layer of spray foam insulation. Desert Rain will have R-values more than twice the code requirement. ECI also uses an infrared camera to find potential ‘air leaks’ and weak spots in the insulation.  The attention to detail is apparent as spray foam is visible at every location where there is a possible connection to outside air.  The insulation, combined with the whole house caulking that stops air infiltration, contributes to the temperate comfort.

So many wires! The electrical system passed inspection this last week.


Plumbing system in place and passed inspection.












While I covet the idea of good insulation and no cold air infiltration, I am absolutely envious of the infloor hydronic heating system.  The 4″ thick concrete slab is the thermal mass for both the infloor heating and any passive solar gain that permeates the structure.  That concrete retains and radiates the warmth.  The energy efficient heat pump has been working during my last few visits keeping the space warm even without an airtight front door and with construction underway. I can also appreciate the choice of the Loewen windows.  Loewen uses thicker glass than most other window manufacturers. The triple glazed windows consist of two full half-inch air spaces, argon gas, Low E2 technology, a special cladding design to keep exterior metal away from the interior of the window, and edge sealing.  The craftsmanship of the window frame is cabinet quality for a tight seal. The window installation process with pre-flashing details that prevent water and air infiltration is essential.  The results – gradual and uniform transition from outside to inside temperature and energy efficiency.

Outside in the winter cold, work continues on the garage soffits with reclaimed lumber.


Though inside Desert Rain is comfortable, work also continues outside in the bitter, winter weather.  The framers have installed windows and are continuing work on the garage.  They are using more of the reclaimed lumber for the soffits – the same material that is on the main house.  As each element of design is added the garage becomes visually connected to the other structures.  The project site is revealing the ‘compound’ idea that Barb and Tom had envisioned.  It will be a compound of energy efficient dwellings, offering ideal comfort to the people inside – no cold feet here.






Rain, Mud, Ice, Heat and Trash

Jim Fagan, builder, with Timberline Construction, fixing a leak in a temporary drain.

Heavy rain followed by dropping temperatures through the night, then warming sun for a few hours in the morning is a recipe for less than ideal conditions on a building site. When I arrived mid-day there were still remnants of ice in the shady spots and a good deal of mud everywhere else.

David Kaiser with Elite Plastering adding some more details to the plaster lathe.

The Elite Plastering crew was working on more lathe and wrap prep on the garage and some details on the main house. The ADU is completely wrapped and tented ready for plastering. David Kaiser, owner said they are waiting on the sheetrock. Pounding on the walls from the inside has the potential to crack the curing plaster on the outside. He prefers to do the plastering after other phases of construction are completed. He said they can plaster year round in any temperature by tenting the structure, adding heat and fans as needed to control the curing conditions.

A large load of dirt fill was piled by the garage. It was being used to complete the back-filling process around the cistern/ foundation. The pile was saturated with rain – heavy and muddy. Equipment was on the way to assist in moving the dirt so holes could be filled and compacted.


The new heat pump – working well, the house warm and comfortable.

The biggest surprise of the day was walking up the ramp into Desert Rain. There was a temporary door in place. Opening the door, there was a rush of heat. The Daikin heat pump had been installed last week and put into operation. The electricians from All Phase Electric were continuing the electrical installation. Given the biting cold outside, they were in an ideal environment. The passive solar elements of Desert Rain design combined with spray foam insulation, a tightly sealed building envelope, and extremely energy efficient windows and doors show all indication of keeping the house warm and comfortable.

Wiring and electrical work continues. Mike Wagnon with All Phase Electrical Systems – happy to be working in the warm house.


The recycling trailer was on site and full. Anna Vacca, the recycler, had been on site last week to sort and load the materials. She comes on a random schedule as needed, more often in the earlier phases of the project when more material was generated. Most construction sites have a dumpster that stays on site through the entire building process. According to a study done by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the construction of a 2,000 square foot home can generate 8,000 pounds of waste. Most of that weight is wood, cardboard, and drywall and almost all of it typically ends up in a landfill. Desert Rain has taken a different approach. Streamlining the material coming into the site by good design and accurate planning is the beginning of reducing unnecessary waste. There is no dumpster on site at any time. Each sub-contractor is aware of the on-site management of separating the waste into piles. When the piles grow, Anna arrives and separates them further for the destined locations.

Anna Vacca, recycler, finishes up the load. The two black garbage bags on the left corner of the trailer are the only pieces in this load going to the landfill. Everything else in the trailer will be recycled.

Our local Deschutes County Recycling accepts wood, metal, and many other items for recycling, including paint and other ‘hazardous’ waste. The system at Desert Rain is working. Most of the building materials from the deconstruction of the original two houses were either, reclaimed to be used on site, donated to Habitat for Humanity, or recycled. Timberline Construction, Desert Rain builders, have always had a ‘green’ approach to waste on their building sites. Now they are raising the bar and incorporating the construction waste process at Desert Rain into their other building projects. With the on-site recycling in place during construction of Desert Rain, less than 500 pounds of material has ended up in the landfill. Compare that to the 8,000 pound estimate in the NAHB study – Desert Rain is making a statement – and it isn’t ‘trash talk’.

Progress in Pictures – November 2012

Progress continues to bring Desert Rain closer to completion. The fall months have seen a flurry of activity inside and out as work moves forward with electrical, plumbing, gutters, site changes, another cistern, floor polishing, prep work for upcoming plastering, and the construction of the garage.

In early September the site was graded, back-filling around the foundation walls, leveling holes and bumps.


The ‘mail trail’ was created for a walking path coming up from Shasta Place. Anna Vacca and her crew had the trail ready for the Green Drinks event on September 27.

The concrete floor was ‘diamond polished’ in a sequence of coarse to fine grits, removing pits and creating a beautiful, reflective surface.

Hydronic, infloor radiant heating system is under the cement slab floor and throughout the house.

The solar thermal system will provide all the hot water for domestic use and for the hydronic infloor heating system.

Plumbing pipes, vent stacks, and installation of plumbing fixtures continues into November.

LED lighting fixtures installed throughout the home.

Electrical installation continues.

Keith Krewson and crew pouring the 5,000 gallon graywater cistern.

Graywater cistern complete with lid. It is adjacent to the 35,000 gallon ‘domestic’ water cistern. The cistern is also the foundation for the garage. Framing started mid-November.

Cedar siding received a sealing coat to protect the wood and maintain color consistency.

Stainless steel interior gutters were soddered in place. The stainless gutter is the interior portion of a two part gutter system. The outside gutter is color, coated steel.

Jeff and Spencer with River Roofing installing the gutters.

Desert Rain in the news. Rachael Rees with the Bend Bulletin meets with Tom and Barb to gather information for her article featuring graywater and wastewater systems.

Scott and Jason framing the garage above the cistern.

The garage dramatically changes the profile of the site. Jason and Scott worked through some fierce winds to install the sheathing on the exterior walls and roof.

Desert Rain on November 21, 2012. The ADU wrapped and ready for plastering, the new garage profile peaking up to the right of the house, blue, cold, autumn sky.