Tag Archives: layout

Lessons learned: 1st floor ventilation

We have a special friend. His name is Erv, and he brings us fresh air into the house year round. Other people have the same friend, but they call him ERV, or sometimes by his full name: Energy Recovery Ventilator.

The ERV is a well appreciated equipment. Because our house is almost completely airtight, we need mechanical ventilation to remove the stale air and bring in fresh air. The ERV does just that, assures good indoor air quality, and in the process keeps us comfortable with the enthalpy wheel. It acts as a heat exchanger and removes excess moisture.

I like to put it this way: Using the ERV is like keeping windows open during the winter to get fresh air in, with the exception that it doesn’t get cold. It works so efficiently that it helps us to delay our heating season by up to four weeks.

The fresh air is distributed across our 1st floor apartment through a system of ducts, supplies and returns. I was about to embark on the ductwork installation project for the 2nd floor. But before doing so, I wanted to review our 1st floor ventilation system: What worked, and more importantly, what could we have done better?

Stale rooms (with a lowercase s)

The 1st floor ventilation system has fresh air supplies in key rooms to assure fresh air distribution across the apartment. A series of undercut doors, ‘indoor pressure balancers’ and ‘between room vents’ help move air from room to room and to eventually to the returns in the two bathrooms.

We can easily flush stale air out of the apartment by cranking up the ERV. However, if we run the ERV on the low setting (low airflow), the library and living room remain somewhat stale for longer than any other rooms in the unit.

In other words, the fresh supply air is not mixing sufficiently with the room air. The velocity from the fresh air supply in the foyer is good, but too slow when moving on to the library and living room.

To avoid something similar on the 2nd floor, I plan on adding a fresh air supply to the library and living room.

Noise transmission

The first time we fired up our first floor ventilation system, it sounded like a roaring jet engine. That problem was quickly solved with two three-foot pieces of insulated flex duct connecting the ERV to the rigid ducts. I made sure we had a 90 degree bend in each flex duct, and our ventilation system fell completely silent – almost.

While the noise transmission from the ERV is under control, we still had some transmission from room to room. For example, the fresh air supply of the office and foyer are connected by a six foot duct. The noise transmission through this short duct is as such that two people – one in the office and the other in the foyer – could have a conversation with each other. The longer the duct between supplies, the more faint the noise transmission.

To minimize the room-to-room transmission on the 2nd floor, I plan on using a three foot piece of insulated flex duct with a 90 degree bend right after every supply to act as a sound muffler. This will also increase friction and reduce velocity, but I will try to make up for it through more generous duct sizing.

2nd floor ventilation layout

The plan below shows the 2nd floor ventilation layout with the improvements mentioned above:

  • Using flex duct at each supply as a sound muffler to reduce room-to-room sound transmission
  • Adding fresh air supplies to the library and living room to improve mixing with the room air and a more efficient flushing of the stale air, even at lower airflow rates.

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Adding a touch with tiles

If you read the recent posts about the kitchen backsplash installation, you may have noticed that we left a gap at the stove location. That gap was reserved for something different – a special kind of backsplash tile.

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During one of our many excursions hunting for salvaged materials, I came across a handful of beautifully painted Mexican style tiles. At the time I didn’t know where I could use them, but I bought them anyway, certain that there would be just the right place for them.

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The backsplash behind the stove has become that place. Another place that tells a story about frugality and the charm that some salvaged materials have to offer.

Why did I wait this long to do the installation? I needed to wait until the range hood was installed. The bottom edge of the hood was the starting point along which I lined up the tiles.

I often observed and admired artful ornaments, such as hand painted plate hung above the stove. In this case, Cathy and I decided that the whole backsplash behind the stove could become artful with these unique tiles.

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Setting up kitchen cabinets

Back last summer, we were lucky – very lucky. We found a set of used kitchen cabinets at the ReStore. The cabinets were of quality plywood construction and in excellent shape.

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I always had a cheat sheet on me with the desired kitchen layout and cabinet dimensions. Finding a set of used cabinets with the right dimensions can be tricky. Nevertheless, we were lucky that one summer day.

We are now along far enough in the kitchen to dust of the cabinets and bring them down from the second floor where they were stored. With the cheat sheet in hand, we began to install the base cabinets.

The kitchen layout was driven by the location of the range hood and stove. Because of the existing chimney in the kitchen and the location of the window, the range hood and stove location were more or less predetermined. What I mean by this is that the range hood should exhaust a safe distance from the window to prevent cross contamination. That put the range hood south of the existing chimney.

To maximize the amount of counter work space, we came up with the idea of a corner sink. It would give us enough work space on either side of the sink. The logical location of the dishwasher was next to the corner sink, backing up against the utility wall. That left us with the refrigerator at the end – or beginning – of the L-shaped layout.

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Because Cathy and I are pretty tall, we decided it would be nice if we could raise the countertop height just a little bit. Not too much, just a notch.

To get us there, Drew and I installed a set of 2 by 4’s flat across the cabinets. They helped us to tie the individual cabinets together, provide a sound structure for the countertop, and raise the countertop height by 1 1/2 inches.

We placed pieces of 3/4 inch plywood on top of the cabinets, to support the countertop. The counter will extend one inch beyond the plywood, so that once installed the plywood edge will be hidden.

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1st floor bathroom layout

Compared to today’s standards, our 1st floor bathroom is, let’s say, rather compact. It originally measured 6’ 8” by 5’ 10”.

We were keen to keep, if not improve, its functionality, and maybe even arrange the layout in a way that would create the illusion of it being more spacious than it really is.

Early on in the project, we scrapped the original sewer stack and later on replaced it with a new one in a slightly different location. Moving the replacement stack a few feet further to the west allowed us to switch the vanity and toilet around.

This was a welcome improvement as one no longer trips over the toilet while entering the bathroom.

We also were able to add about seven square feet to the bathroom space.

The north wall faced built-in shelves on the dining room side. By removing the shelf space we added 16 inches to the bathroom.

What to do with the good old bathtub?

Why should we install a new bathtub if, in the end, we ‘ll just use it to take showers? Can you remember that last time you actually have taken a bath in a bathtub? I cannot. But then, I am also a tall guy and taking a shower just seems more convenient.

Cathy and I sat on this issue for a while and eventually decided to scrap the tub in favor of a barrier free, walk-in shower.

The factor that made us lean towards scrapping the tub had to do with plumbing foresight. We positioned the shower drain such that it could be converted to a bathtub drain, should we change our minds down the road.

I have to touch on one of my favorite topics – moisture management. Seriously, while deconstructing the interior of our house, we got to see first-hand the damage improper moisture management can cause.

You can read up on our research into moisture management and basic management principles in these two posts:

The bathroom, in building science terms classified as a wet room, should have a floor drain. Yes, we already have the shower drain, but because of its location, it won’t be able to serve all of the bathroom area. Plus, the shower drain may one day be converted to a tub drain.

Adding a second floor drain was relatively easy while rebuilding the entire plumbing system. To see how we made the two floor drains work, go to the post Slippery Slopes.

Another must is to have the bathroom floor waterproofed and tiled. The same principle applies to the walls around the walk in shower. Basically, anything that gets exposed to water or water spray needs the waterproofing and tiles.

We planned on continuing the tile treatment around the bottom half of all the other bathroom walls. But at this point, its really more about aesthetics.

A recent post covered the subject of the bathroom cabinet, which we would like to add to the northwest corner.

We also will need some kind of shower enclosure. One idea was to install on a shower wall, somewhat similar to what we have in the garden unit bathroom.

But this solution would make the bathroom feel really small again – too small for our liking!

If, instead of the rigid shower wall, we would go with a shower curtain, we could borrow from the shower space whenever the shower is not in use.

This simple trick would significantly increase the perceived spaciousness of the bathroom and the ease at which one can move around.

So much for the layout and design ideas. Now it’s implementation time!

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Electrical layout – built-in flexibility

The programming of each room and space drives the electrical layout.

How will we use the room? What big furniture items will go where? What electrical devices are needed and where are they needed?

Although answering these questions was a little more complex than I expected, the decision making process was relatively straightforward – except for two of the bedrooms.

It seemed obvious how each bedroom should be arranged, and we installed outlets, reading lights, and light switches accordingly.

That said, I could not ignore that there were alternative arrangements, which one may prefer in the future. Actually, it just comes down to how many options there are to place the bed.

Should we decide to move the bed around, it would be nice if everything else could move with it. Mainly reading lights and conveniently placed outlets at each side of the bed, one on a kill switch, the other not.

At one point it dawned on me that this could be arranged by installing a couple of additional electrical boxes and a few more feet of conduit.

With this built-in flexibility, we have our reading lights, light switches and outlets handy, no matter whether we decide the put the bed one way or the other.

The electrical boxes for the set of “in case we need them” reading lights can be covered with a plate, but will be available and ready to use if we need to move the bed around.

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