Live/Work Update: Kitchen Installation

Well, the last few months have been a real grind at the Live/Work project. Mostly because I’ve elected to do most of the finish work myself, things have progressed very slowly. There are only so many things you can get done on nights and weekends. (Oh, and did I mention I’m not a professional cabinet builder, concrete contractor, or electrician?!?!)

The good news is that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel! It’s been almost a year, and the last few details are wrapping up – appliances are going in, cabinets are hung, and we’re looking forward to the final inspections. Yeah!

Here are a few (long overdue) photos from the last few months. Thanks for your patience – making time to keep up with Portland Built (while running Kinesis) has been nearly impossible. With the project wrapping up, we’re looking forward to putting more time into the Portland Built site. Enjoy the show!

Concrete Countertop Fresh out of the mold
Concrete Countertop Fresh out of the mold
Concrete Countertop for the penninsula
Concrete countertop for the peninsula
Staining the veneered die wall
Staining the veneered die wall
Moving the die wall into position
Moving the die wall into position
Drawer installation
Drawer installation
Penninsula corbel
Penninsula corbel
Light switch dimmer
Light switch dimmer
Counter depth refrigerator. Used appliances are great!
Counter depth refrigerator. Used appliances are great!

Big thanks to everyone who helped with this phase of the project- especially to John Wallace, who put up with my attempts at cabinetry.

Video: Cable Railing for Decks and the DIYer


The Live/Work Project deck has undergone several different railing designs – early iterations had oversized panels (metal) suspended from cables; later versions included metal posts and stainless cabling. Each system had its pros and cons, but most solutions were either cost-prohibitive or simply too much work for me to take on (I do have a day job). We looked at several “off the shelf” options, and quickly realized anything other than wood posts and pickets would be beyond our budget.

Fortunately, we found a solution that combines the economy/speed of wood posts, with the sleek design and easy maintenance of stainless steel cables. Check it out in the video – it’s an advanced DIY project, but if you have basic carpentry skills, it’s well within reach.

As always, a few thank-yous: Jeremy at Polara Studio for the great video work; Noe and Santos of Bronze construction for the deck framing; and our awesome general contractor, Rory Read, for his coordination of everything.

EcoVative 2010: Building it Green in Portland

This weekend the Portland Built Crew (a force of one) spent some time at the Portland Home Builder’s Association green conference, EcoVative.

The show was an interesting blend of educational seminars, presentations, and vendor exhibitions. Classes spanned a wide range of subjects, including:

  • Building Super Energy-Efficient Homes Without Breaking the Bank
  • Porous Pavement Options
  • The Energy Trust’s Energy Performance Score (EPS)
  • Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
  • High Performance Wall Systems

Overall, the curriculum was quite comprehensive. Attendees included veteran green builders, as well as those new to the industry. For builders looking to capitalize on the green building movement, this event presented an invaluable learning opportunity.

One of the great features of the show was the vendor exhibition hall. There were a number of manufacturers, as well as representatives from groups like Earth Advantage and Energy Trust. It was an excellent opportunity to talk one-on-one with industry experts.


In terms of prodducts, local supplier EcoHaus showed off some great paneling made from reclaimed glue-lam beams. This stuff was just gorgeous, and could be used for all sorts of architectural detailing. Anna from EcoHaus said that some customers were even using it for cabinet fronts.

Another interesting product comes from just down the road in Oregon City. EcoWarm is a hydronic radiant board system that takes the place of gypcrete or concrete as the substrate for PEX tubing. At the Live/Work project, we looked at a similar option from a company called “WarmBoard.” Ultimately, WarmBoard’s pricing was astronomically high and fell out of the running. EcoWarm is a similar product, but their pricing is unclear – the painfully bad website has some pricing info, but it’s frustrating for the homeowner. Hopefully, they’ll improve things as the company grows.

On a final note, I’d like to mention one of Portland Built’s Partners, Medallion Industries. Medallion brought several eco-friendly products to the expo, including fiberglass windows from Andersen, triple glazed windows from Atrium, and Serious Window’s advanced fiberglass offerings. If you’re considering new construction, LEED, or Passive House standards, take a look at the Medallion Website.

Bring Google to Portland!

As many of you know, Google is planning to add a high-speed fiber network “trial” to one or more communities in the US. Here’s a bit from their website:

We plan to test ultra-high speed broadband networks in one or more trial locations across the country. Our networks will deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today, over 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections. We’ll offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people.

As a big proponent of high-speed (and hopefully inexpensive) access, I’d like to encourage our readers to go and VOTE to nominate Portland as the city of choice. It only takes a few minutes.

The deadline to vote is MARCH 26th, 5:00pm. Don’t delay!

Alberta Mercantile: A New Live/Work Development in NE Portland

There’s a great new Live/Work project underway in NE Portland. Dubbed the “Alberta Mercantile,” the project began as a simple concrete box that once housed the Arthur Cole Candy Company.


Developer Brad Fowler contacted Portland Built several weeks ago, and we’ve had a great dialogue about his project. Folwer’s firm, Fowler Andrews, has been acquiring properties on the inner east side for the last 6 years or so. Brad claims he isn’t, “plowing new ground on Alberta” (his words) but I’d say the finished product is well worth a look.


One of the things I like about this development is the scale and scope. It’s a modest-sized building for the area, and they’ve done a nice job of making the retail buildings at a scale that works for the budding entrepreneur.

Here’s an excerpt from the project website:

We began to develop Alberta Mercantile at the start of the recession with one strategy in mind:  create small, efficient spaces targeted to the local entrepreneur.   Most business are cash-strapped when they’re just getting started or expanding and often can’t divert working capital for tenant improvements.

Each of the three Alberta-fronted retail units within the existing structure are designed to be “turn-key” spaces that require no improvements on behalf of the tenant.  These units feature an ADA-compliant restroom with utility sink, separate 3-phase electrical panel, and distribution of all systems including HVAC.  These units are 900 square feet, with an additional 375 square feet of mezzanine space.  Each unit features 22’ ceiling heights with glazed storefront roll-up doors that open directly on to Alberta Street.

Fowler Andrews has done something even more interesting in that they are pairing the livable areas with a highly visible retail option. I could see someone renting the retail space along with one of the adjoining residential areas. It’s a nice convergence, and the rental option (as opposed to the traditional purchase arrangement) creates a lower-cost alternative. Here are some images from the “living” portion of the project (entrance on 14th)

Live Work Detail


Fowler’s got some great talent along on this project. The architecture firm Vallaster and Corl Architects has some impressive work in their portfolio (and this project is certaily a great addition!). Bremick construction, the general contractor, really put on a nice fit and finish. Some of you may know them from their work on restoring the Ladd Carriage House (here’s a link to a great time lapse video as they moved the WHOLE HOUSE across the city)

We’ve put together an image gallery, but if you have some time, take a spin over to NE Alberta and look at this great project. It’s the kind of revitalization that fosters much-needed economic development in Portland.

Live/Work Update: Gypcrete

The Live/Work project gets one step closer to finish work as the Gypcrete crew installs over the top of the second floor radiant tubing. Gypcrete is a lightweight concrete designed to provide a thermal mass for radiant systems;  it also has several other advantages such as noise insulation and fire prevention. Installation is really fast – a big truck outside mixes the slurry in a hopper while a couple of guys spread it around with a long hose and oversized trowel.

Gypcrete Installation

There are a number of ways to finish the floor on top of Gypcrete. In the main living area, we’ll be using oversized tile. In the bedroom, it’s a floating bamboo floor. Because of the radiant system, you’re slightly limited in your finish options, but a little planning can get around most issues. (For those of you interested in going this route, the #1 limitation is with radiant heat and solid hardwood – be sure to check that the manufacturer will warrant installation of hardwoods over a radiant system)

The choice of tile for the main living space was a last-moment bit of inspiration. We were initially looking to put in a floating bamboo floor, but decided against it for a few reasons. First, wood takes a beating. As I’ve experienced with my own house, hardwood doesn’t perform well with dogs, kids, and Portland’s long, wet winters. Dirt and grime take their toll, and it’s tough to keep the floor looking great, especially if you don’t have a house designed to mitigate dirt entering the living space (covered porches are a great idea here).

The second benefit of tile is that it’s a great surface for radiant heat. It holds the heat, releasing it slowly over the day. It’s just a pleasant sensation walking on warm tile. And, as an added bonus, you don’t have any of the expansion/contraction issues that can cause problems with hardwood installed over radiant.

Finished Gypcrete Pour

Take a look over at the gallery to see more images from the install, as well as some great shots from the last few months.

Video: Designing a Better Wall for a Wet Climate

It’s a big day at Portland Built as we officially launch our new video documentary project! The goal is to help visitors better understand the technology, products, and businesses behind the site.

For our first effort we went to the Live/Work project to discuss wall assembly design, thermal bridging, and insulation.

A big thanks to Jeremy Dunham at Polara Studios for his help in producing our first segment. Share your thoughts in the comments area below.

UPDATE: For those of you with an iphone, or if you just prefer the YouTube experience, here’s another version of the video. We’ve had to cut out some sections in order to meet YouTube’s 10-minute maximum length. (click on the image to watch in HD)

Insulation: A Tight Fit Equals Big Savings

Insulation is probably the best place to spend money when it comes to getting a return on investment. It’s cheap, installs quickly, and can make a real difference in the bottom-line costs of operating a home.

We recently hired Noe Gaxiola of Vale Insulation Group (503.799.4436) to insulate the interior of the Live/Work project. Noe came highly recommended by my friend, Jennifer, who worked in the industry for many years.

Like many of the trades on the project, Noe went above and beyond the call on our project. He sealed every single nook and cranny of the building with an expanding foal sealant. This will help keep the heat in and – more importantly – keep cold air OUT. “Air infiltration” is widely recognized as one of the biggest causes of heat loss, and Noe went to extreme lengths to ensure an air-tight building envelope. Here’s a close-up of some his work around an exterior window (the foam gets trimmed once it dries):

Foam Insulation Close Up

What really impressed me about Noe’s work was that he provided a lot of value for a very reasonable price.

While it may appear that insulation is just about stuffing stud bays, there’s actually quite a bit of art/skill to installing the bats properly. In fact, many studies have shown that a major loss of heat is attributed to poorly installed insulation. High R-value insulation does little good if the insulation is crammed and crushed around electrical, plumbing and other obstacles. A good installer like Noe pays careful attention and FITS the insulation in every void.

Big thanks to Noe and his small-but-mighty crew at Vale!

Second Floor Insulation

Post Script: There are a LOT of options for insulating a home (blown in cellulose, reccyled cotton, closed and open cell foam, etc). We even considered foam at one point. It’s superior for preventing air infiltration, and would have been the best choice for our vaulted ceiling. Unfortunately, the cost differential between fiberglass and other technologies was a budget buster.

Live/Work Video Update: Siding!

With the roof finished, our crew moved on to the task of siding the project. Our initial plans called for a rain screen, but (for many reasons) we decided to forgo this measure. Instead, we opted for several layers of weather resistance including Tyvek and XPS (pink foam).

Working outward from the plywood siding, the wall is composed of:

  • A Layer of Tyvek ship-lapped over the lower layers of pink foam board
  • 1″ layer of pink board to mitigate thermal bridging (click the link for more details)
  • 1/4″ Hardi-board (cement-fiber board)

My contractor, Rory Read, has an excellent article discussing the pros and cons of this wall system. He also details the thinking behind each decision point – it’s an excellent read.

Here’s a time lapse video of the Tyvek installation, followed by a video of the siding on the building’s north face.