Construction Update: Color and Light

Since last I wrote, the house has matured a little. I had reported on the installation of the solar panels. We’ve had them running through a billing cycle now.

Solar panels -- the early days

In good, sunny September, we generated about 1,000 kW of electricity. With the brand-new reversing meter installed by Portland General Electric, any wattage over our own use is credited back to our account at, we are surprised to learn, a handsome retail rate, including transmission and distribution charges. We had earlier been given to expect a credit at wholesale prices. That was a nice surprise. In the last late summer blast of high temperatures, we found the inside to be comfortably resting at about 75F, even with its plastic windows and doors still substituting for real ones. The cold weather hasn’t come our way yet, so the performance of the house in the chill remains to be tested.

The next big, visible change was the application of the “render” coat, over the “parge” coat, over the construction blocks. See the post Construction Update: Captive Electrons about the earlier layer of waterproofing. The coat they call “render” is the final layer under color.

East wall with Render coat applied

It’s too bad, in a way, to have to cover this up. It made me think we had a house on a far-away Greek island. Ricardo, one of the construction crew, whose arm must be tired of applying this stuff to the walls, liked it white, too. “It looks good,” he said. “Leave it.” Of course, in this land of red soil, it would be white for about a month. The first splatter of mud would transform it into… a muddy house.


West wall with color

We thought something like the color of the native soil would be appropriate.

The choosing of colors is not a simple thing. Just when you think you’ve dealt with it, someone reminds you there are window frames and door frames and fascia boards to think of. And then you go back to the color chips, wondering how you’ll come up with something that will go with the rest of it, which you chose 6 months ago and which might not, or might, be a bit of a surprise when you actually see it on the wall. We don’t want it to look tentative… We don’t want it to look ordinary… We want it to be a statement, both to the site and to the sun, which are, together, the whole point of the design. But, you know, a house could come out looking like a cartoon, too.


Back to the color chips. It is astonishing how much difference there is in a color depending, on whether you see it in the light of the ceiling lamp or the light of the sun. Between rainstorms this weekend we’ve been running outside with pieces of colored and numbered paper, holding them to the walls, shaking our heads, negotiating, making lists of numbers, and then going about it all again. Of course, paint can be changed if you make a terrible mistake, but it’s expensive, and some of it is hard to reach. Better to get it right the first time. Results will be reported.

Meanwhile, inside, things that will never be seen again are winding through the walls

Pipes and wires

and overhead

Pipes and pipes

in mysterious ways,

More pipes and pipes

leading to very technical ends.

And more pipes

Enough of that.

Meanwhile, as they say, back on the farm, the hardy cyclamen are in bloom.

Cyclamen hederifolia

It pleases me to see them. They are about the last remnant of  garden that has survived construction of the house. These are from seed I started over 20 years ago, when I lived in Portland. They propagate themselves happily once they’re established, and before we left town I dug a good bucketful from their place under the maple tree. They settled in quite well in their new location beneath the Linden tree here. They are sturdy little things, liking the dry ground where tree roots suck the moisture from the soil. Though I dug some up again before construction started, and set them into pots, the building process has been much longer than we anticipated, and it’s been asking a lot to expect them to make it in holding pots. I wasn’t sure they would survive the passage of construction crews over their native site. So, I smiled the day I saw them show up this fall.

The grapes were coming along nicely

Wine grapes turning color

until, as so often seems to happen, the wild birds paused in their southward passage, took a look, and stopped for luncheon. We did get a few for a glass of juice. Once the house is finished, it’s on my list to provide some protection for the grapes. I recall visiting a vineyard a number of years ago and taking note of the intermittent blast of air cannons. Those explosions were intended to keep birds off the harvest. I don’t think we’re going to install cannons, but a bit of bird netting might be to the point.

The blackberries remaining on the vine are hard and sour. Although they look like they might, they will never ripen. Wasps will have them, or deer, but not we.

Last of the blackberries

And fairies have been dancing in the woods again. It’s a sure sign of autumn:

Fairy ring

Time is passing.

Here’s hoping we’ll be living in that house soon.

Published in: on October 17, 2009 at 6:57 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. This comment, written by Richard, probably clarifies some of the piping pictures I posted. Thank you, R. for leading me through it again.


    In the series of photos of the uncovered walls and ceilings, one can see ordinary plumbing (the second floor bath is on the right), the central vac pipes (the very regular ones), electrical wiring, tubes which lead to sensors buried in the floor and the walls and the radiant back-up heat controls, and the mass of pipe which return fluid from the six zones of radiant floor heat which we hope to use only to temper the floor but which may be used to buy off a future lender when they don’t believe a house can function without conventional heat. That forest of pipes in the attic will be attached to a pump, electric valves and the solar heated water tank. The General Contractor couldn’t get anyone else to install that system so we did it ourselves.

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