Sunday, March 30, 2014

Week 12 - Second floor framing and a look at the beaver activity

Don, the carpenter, made tremendous progress again this week, especially considering the rainy and windy conditions. It’s such an exciting time. The house looks totally different every day. At this point, most of the second floor framing is in place.

I got to climb up on the second floor and have a look around. It was thrilling to finally be able to see the surrounding landscape from the second floor. I’ve been so curious to check out the window placement on the second floor, to see for myself what scenic landscapes are perfectly framed by the windows, and, sadly, what landscapes are obscured by the walls.

View from the second floor master bedroom

In the shot above, you are looking through the three master bedroom windows. The scene is framed wonderfully, I think. I love the straight driveway, lined with a row of trees, heading diagonally across the frame, drawing the eye toward the mountain. It’s more of an Amherst suburban feel, with roads, houses, fields and a mountain in the background. It’s a little weird that bedroom is exposed to the road, however. Maybe this room will have to be an office. I’m jealous of my neighbors who live on the south side of the road.

I can see Russia from my HOUSE!

Looking north, out over the top of the stairs beyond the window in the stairwell, I was slack-jawed — the view of the natural landscape is absolutely spectacular and the wildlife viewing opportunities are going to be amazing. You can’t quite get a sense for the detail and the intricacy of the landscape without a better zoomed-in image, but it feels like you are a hundred feet up in the air and you can see forever. Beyond the excavator, one can see (not in this image) the northern most beaver dam. Off to the left are apple trees, wetland, a beaver lodge, beavers swimming in the water and a beaver dam.

I shouldn’t have built a passive house

If you read my last post, you know that I’ve struggled with the limitations imposed by Passivhaus on north windows. Climbing up onto the second floor, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I have made a huge mistake. I should have gone with 100% glass walls. The best views are going to be completely blocked once the SIPs are in place. This spot calls for a viewing tower, not a demonstration to the world of an affordable and charming zero energy house. I suddenly dreaded the day when the SIPs are put up and the expansive 360 degree views will be gone. If only Amherst was located in the southern hemisphere.

I’ve got a plan

While I was up there, I hatched a plan — a sort of compromise that will allow me to salvage my energy efficiency fanaticism while still being able to enjoy the vistas that I feel like I suddenly can’t live without: I’ll put up a second story deck. All I need is a window door, right at the top of the stairs, to the left. The deck will run along the left wall toward the back and wrap around the back side of the house. The super-insulated enclosure is preserved, and if you need to see two raptors fighting (this happened), you can go out on the deck. I can’t afford to modify the project right now, so it will have to be an add on at a later time. Hopefully, GO Logic will think it’s possible.

The magical wetlands in the winter

Now that the snow has melted, I tried to capture the wetlands in their lovely wintery state of dormancy. I wanted you to see up close what I’m talking about. It’s also neat to see the remarkable transformation the beavers have wrought over the past year and a half — an engineering marvel and an expansion of habitat for aquatic wildlife — but at the cost of what once was a wonderful portion of the town trail, a treasure to the community.

Definitely a beaver lodge

Check out this great peek at the beaver lodge! It’s the huge pile of sticks in the center of the shot. When I walked up to the lodge, the beaver popped right out and swam around for a bit. I can’t believe it took us so long to find the lodge — it’s in plain sight and you can literally walk right up to it. I bet the brush must have been pretty thick before it died down in the winter.

Beavers build their lodges with underwater openings as the only entry and exist points. You can see one of the entryways at the base of the tree. Another entrance is located on the other side of the lodge, upstream (the width of the lodge spans a narrow peninsula). The underwater entrance protects the beavers from intruders like bears and bobcats who apparently can’t figure out how to get in from underneath. Also, the underwater opening gives beavers access to the water when everything is frozen over and covered in snow.

Flooded wetland

Click on the panorama to see the large version. You are looking east toward the house (it’s up on the hill next to the excavator — you’ll have to zoom in). The beaver lodge is on the right, out of view. The old footbridge is on the left — again, zooming needed. The massive beaver dam is also on the left, although it is hard to distinguish from this angle. Notice how the brook snakes through the area, but don’t be fooled: the whole plain is flooded. You are seeing the top of the marsh grasses that have died and fallen over.

For comparison, the above image was taken a year and a half ago. Now, the water level comes right up to the bridge, at times nearly submerging it.

Another dam downstream

Beavers raise the water level in steps, by constructing multiple dams. Here’s another flooded area and dam, downstream from the previous image. Notice the huge pile of sticks and the dramatic decrease in the water level. The image is facing south — you can see Mount Norwottuck and the house in the distance. Neighbor Jesse tells me that this dam has been here for a long time. The dead trees are a sign of this, as well. The water level is still pretty high in front of the dam, so I think there is another active dam further downstream. The area is difficult to navigate so I haven’t been able to get in there and look around. I need a some sort of a miniature boat, like an Inuit kayak.