Jason and Amy Lee Tesauro and family perform a ceremonial ground breaking before the backhoes arrive (photo by Jay Paul).
"Idle Moments" is a sumptuous jazz album by guitarist Grant Green that’s been in steady rotation on my turntable for 20-plus years. In the recording studio, musicians figured the opening number would run maybe 7 minutes. After Green’s enchanting guitar, Duke Pearson’s deft piano, Joe Henderson’s honeyed sax solo and Bobby Hutcherson’s scorching turn on the vibes during that legendary session, however, the track ran past the 15-minute mark. It took twice as long, but man it was good. Read that sentence again and repeat; it might just become our mantra.
Between the ceaseless rain — Richmond just saw its rainiest May since 1889 — and a paperwork morass surrounding the construction loan, it’s been an idle time on our vacant lot at 3607 E. Broad St. You can’t dig in the mud, so the construction crew’s backhoe has been in sleep mode. Nevertheless, we broke ceremonial ground in advance of the heavy earth-movers that will excavate the footing and foundation upon which our house will sit. By the time they finish, a caravan of flatbed trucks will be on the scene to deliver the structural insulated panels (SIPs) that will form the structure (in lieu of conventional wood framing).
While we’re awaiting that first ton of spilt concrete to give our home its bones, we’ve been poring over the systems and machines that will compose our crib’s guts. We may not live in California where every gallon of water and kilowatt hour are precious, but we still want to be good citizens of RVA and stewards of the earth. That means thinking about efficiency and environmental impact.
“Energy efficiency is not just thermal efficiency,” says Laura Pitcher, our architect at Nested. “It’s about being smart in the building process. There’s an efficiency of putting the house together.” Our house is modular with custom but pre-fabricated panels, so it goes up more quickly “and without having to cut studs to fit,” adds Pitcher, “there’s less waste in the field.”
To offset some carbon footprint, we eschewed granite from Brazil or China and instead selected Richlite countertops manufactured locally from recycled materials. We’ve also narrowed our shopping to domestic ceramic tiles, American-made Energy-Star rated appliances, and WaterSense faucets and toilets. Ultimately, we see the whole project in terms of efficiency and in-fill. Building within the gap between two extant houses takes more planning, but it’s far more efficient than expanding into the suburbs. Our house will be smaller because of it, but shared space can be smart space where everyone still gets what they need.
Yet all that efficiency is moot without the right heating and cooling strategy. “In the traditional new construction house, people get hung up on the rating of the equipment, but duct work is the other half of that equation,” says Jeff Foster, president of Foster Plumbing and Heating. “Airflow is the unsung hero of the HVAC world.” According to Foster, when people overspend on the air movers but underspend on ducts, “it’s the $500 car with $3,000 worth of wheels.”
We learned that moisture is a bigger concern than temperature, and windows are more important than insulation and square footage regarding your HVAC load. Too big a system means a cold, clammy house; too small and it’ll be on full blast all the time. “Your HVAC should run low and slow like barbecue,” Foster says. Traditional systems were either on or off, but the latest technology, called inverter compressors, can run anywhere from 25 to 100 percent of capacity to deliver the power you need given the indoor/outdoor differential.
But look, the sun is shining again. And it’s about time. Grant Green and company are finishing their long and slow 32 bars, bringing “Idle Moments” to a close. Their next number on the album is “Jean De Fleur,” but the gang and I are moving onto a little ditty we hope to call “Spilt Concrete Suite in the key of F,” as in, let’s get this effing party started.