The Heartwood Blog

Green remodeling and new windows and doors.

September 20th, 2011

For the whole house remodel we are working on we replaced all the existing 110 year old windows and doors.  Since we gutted the entire house it was easy to install the new windows and doors and insulate with spray foam insulation around the entire perimeter.

When installing replacement insert windows it is not as easy to insulate the window properly as in a full window replacement.  It does make for a better job and a noticeably more comfortable home when the replacement insert windows are insulated with spray foam insulation between the existing window jamb and the framing.

To do this we remove the old sashes and window weights, if any, drill a 1″ hole through the existing window jamb every 10″ and fill the cavity a little at a time until the foam expands out of the hole.  Once done we install the new insert, spray foam again between the new insert and the existing jamb and trim the insert out.

This method takes a little longer but it creates a really tight window and a less drafty house.

Green remodeling in Madison, WI

April 29th, 2011

Heartwood Construction, LLC is currently working on its second Green Built Remodeled home.  The most recent remodeling project is a whole house remodel which includes gutting the entire interior and adding living space in the 2nd floor by building four functional dormers in the existing roof.

For its green remodeling projects, Heartwood Construction uses Green Built Homes’ checklist found at

One green aspect of my job which I love is re-using building materials in our remodeling.  On this job we are re-using all of the 2 1/4″ maple flooring that the owners removed.  There is nothing more satisfying than re-claiming maple flooring and witnessing how incredibly beautiful it is when it is sanded and re-finished.

If you do re-use hardwood flooring, one tip that I wish someone would have told me is expect to spend a lot of time cleaning the decades of dirt, wax, finish, etc that bonds itself to the edges of the flooring.  The system we found that worked the best is using a combination of a small belt sander and a sharp chisel and paint scrapper.

More to come on other green remodeling practices and materials used on this remodeling job!

Learning Addition

May 14th, 2010

We were exhausted at the end of last falls NARI remodeled homes tour.  To be honest, we were relieved when the last visitors left late Sunday afternoon.  “Ah, clean up, pull signs and go home to relax for what was left of our weekend“, we said as we walked onto the back deck we had recently put on the kitchen addition.  Just then out from the kitchen and onto the deck walked Ken and Susan who had been talking with Sam our lead carpenter about an addition they wanted to get started on before winter froze everything solid.   “We talked with your carpenter and left our information so you can get in touch with us”, says Susan without breaking  her stride for the street.  Its as if she knew we had already closed up shop in our minds and she said just what needed to be said and left it to us to follow up in a fresh week.

That was a good start of a relationship between the personal of Heartwood Construction and Ken and Susan.  They wanted to add a family room/laundry room addition on the back of their very cozy 1927 Cape Cod.  The proposed 350 square foot addition would add that extra room that makes the difference between a cramped house and one where you can take a deep breath- inhale and exhale- without worrying about breaking a window.

There were some design challenges on the outset that needed to be overcome.  The first one was getting away from a shed roof addition that would have been the most cost effective and the most, the very most, ugly.  Another was adding an addition on the back of their house and at the same time not obstructing the natural light that came through the kitchen windows which were also on the back of the house.  Third was building a gable end addition that didn’t require remodeling the upstairs bedroom windows.

The designer, Mark Collin, came up with a clever idea that carried the steep pitched roof and zero overhang gable ends on the existing house onto the addition.  Then he offset the addition so it left the kitchen windows clear to allow sunlight in.  He designed the addition to clear the upstairs window by creating a roof with a 6/12 pitch for the first 6 feet and a 13/12 pitch for the rest of the roof up to the ridge.  The addition now fits nicely on the back of the house the top of its roof coming in just under the existing 2nd floor eave.

We had several building challenges along the way.  The biggest one was during excavation we hit the water table at footing depth and 2 feet of organic silt below that.  Ah Oh!  Everything stopped, we had soil samples run and brought in a structural engineer to re-design the footings and foundation walls to support the addition on existing soil.  We ended up having to undercut the silt to get down to sandy soil and replace it with 2 feet deep compacted ¾” clear stone.  This gave us a base to form and pour our 2 ½’ wide spread footings reinforced with rebar.  The foundation was also reinforced with two rows of continuous rebar top and bottom.  Then we had a foundation that we could confidently build on.

The hardest part of this discovery was going back to Ken and Susan and working out budget details with them.  What was slated to come in at around $80,000 now escalated to just over $100,000.  From discussions we had we knew they were already at the top of their budget and we thought the job would stop right there, we would fill in what we excavated and walk away extremely dissatisfied.  Ken and Susan showed tremendous trust and patience without which there is no way in the world this job would have been a success.  After a couple of meetings and new pricing Ken and Susan decided to commit to the newly designed foundation and budget and saddle up for the journey.

We knew from the start that bulk ground water control was key to this projects success and had a 24” deep by 30” wide sump crock installed with a battery backup sump pump.  We had perimeter drain tile on the interior and exterior of the footing and a grid of drain tile under the basement slab all draining into the sump crock.  Conventional wisdom says, and in the past, we have always put a foot of clear stone around the drain tile and figured that was good enough.  After arguing with the structural engineer and the soil scientist on this point they sited several facts that changed our mind on this building practice.  They insisted that a foot of torpedo sand around a sleeved drain tile is better because the torpedo sand acts a natural filter for the silt and will not allow the drain tiles’ silt sock to clog.  Where clear stone lets both water and silt through and tends to clog up the sock  preventing water from getting into the drain tile.  One thing that we learned is don’t let a crew that is used to using clear stone install the drain tile you are going to put torpedo sand around.  They leave big cracks in the drain tile connections and tears in the drain tile sock that will let lots of sand into the drain tile, into the sump crock and into the sump pump.  Fortunately, we discovered this before the slab was poured and before very much of the backfilling was done.  On the exterior drain tile connections we put 4” T connections and 4” to 3” reducers not just a 3” tile shoved into a 4” tile.  For extra insurance we put heavy duty plastic wire straps to hold the sock over all connections.  We ended up with a system that works very well and after almost two months of use has only a trace of sand in the bottom of the sump crock.

The rest of the job went pretty smoothly.  This was our first certified Green Built Home and it has a number of green features.  We caulked the sill plate to the foundation using a good quality caulk.  We framed the wall studs 2’ on center and didn’t use a top plate reducing the amount of lumber used on the job.  Most of the framing lumber and OSB we used came from Forest Stewardship Council certified mills.  We installed 1” Dow blue board on the exterior over the OSB and the insulation company did a really nice job of using advanced air sealing techniques.  After sealing up all the cracks and holes they filled the walls with a Blown in Blank System (BIBS) of fiberglass to achieve an R-23 in the walls and an R-50 blown in fiberglass in the ceiling.  They used a closed cell spray foam in the box sills.  We re-used three interior doors and one stain glass window from the existing house in the addition.  The deck has Trex decking with a Trex guard and hand rail, all made from reclaimed wood and plastic bags.  The maple floor was salvaged from a gym in Ohio, installed, sanded and finished to match the existing maple floors perfectly.  Probably everyone else knows to double the installation budget when installing reclaimed hardwood floors so you cover the time it takes to remove years of hardened gunk from the tongue and groove edges.

This addition was the most challenging of any project we have worked on.  At the same time, it has been the most rewarding.  We learned more on this job than any previous job and with the expert help from some very competent sub-contractors, we ended up with an awesome finished product.  Ken and Susan are very happy with the functionality and beauty of their new living space.

As Ken and Susan and whole crew stand in the recently poured driveway gazing at the completed addition, rolling over in conversation all we had to do to get this one done an echo reverberates across Lake Mendota like a full-throated yell from the edge of the Grand Canyon, each voice joins in the harmonious symphony of our final opus, “God, I’m glad this is over.”

Green Remodeling

March 15th, 2010

As I mentioned on my last blog our current project is a family room/laundry room addition built onto an historic 1927 Cape Cod.  This is our first Green Built Home certified remodeled addition.  Green Built Home is part of Wisconsin Environmental Initiative that certifies new and remodeled homes to be built adhering to high green standards.  For a complete Green Built Home checklist go to:

Our remodeled home will include the following “green” features:

* the majority of the wood used to build the addition comes from Forest Stewardship Council certified mills;

* the addition will have re-claimed maple flooring;

* r-28 insulation in walls, r-50 insulation in ceiling, closed cell spray foam insulation in the addition box sills and advanced air sealing techniques used;

* we are re-using a double stain glass window and three original doors from the existing house in the addition;

* we employed framing techniques to save lumber (two foot on center studs and single top plates);

* Trex decking and deck rails are being used (Trex products are made from 50% recycled plastic bags and 50% re-claimed wood products);

* we are re-using all of the vinyl siding that we took off the house to partially side the new addition and;

* an independent organization is performing a pre and post home performance evaluation to check how well we did our work.

These are the more practical ways Heartwood Construction, LLC is striving to be Madison’s premiere  “Green remodeler”.

Building near lakes

February 28th, 2010

The remodeling project we are currently working on is a family room/laundry room addition built on to the back of a 1927 Cape Cod house.  We are framing up the roof now but, there were many challenges getting started with this addition.  The property is located between two lakes and across the street from a pond. When we excavated for the full basement we hit the water table and about 18″ of black organic silty soil at the basement footing level.  We stopped the excavation and brought in a soil engineer who took soil samples and confirmed that we could build the one story addition if we removed and replaced the organic soil with compacted 3/4″ clear stone.  A structural engineer redesigned our footing, which was formed on top of the 3/4″ clear stone,  to be 30″ wide and 12″ deep with two rows of rebar.  The foundation wall was redesigned as well with two rows of continuous rebar in the top and bottom of the wall.  We raised the basement wall 8″ so we could keep the footing and drain tile around the footing out of the water table.

We installed drain tile on the exterior as well as the interior of the footing and connected it all to a 24″ deep x 30″ round sump basin.  So far the sump basin is dry.  Once we do the plumbing rough-in there will be a battery back up sump pump system installed to handle the spring thaw and the frequent heavy Wisconsin rains.

On my next blog I will tell you about the “green remodeling” features on this awesome addition.  For computer before and after renderings go to:

Heartwood Construction, LLC wins award

January 25th, 2010

On January 15th Heartwood Construction won the Madison Chapter National Association of the Remodeling Industry  2009-2010 Contractor of the Year award in the Whole House remodel category.  See photos at

Announcing the NEW Heartwood website!

January 15th, 2010

On December 22, 2009, we launched our brand new Heartwood Construction website.

Our new website features information on all of our services, our Green Practices, a brand new portfolio of our work, customer testimonials and many other exciting new features. We hope you take a moment to explore.