A Grand Time

Over the July 4th weekend, I got to find some deep wild in Olympic National Park. I am not sure of how many major American cities have proximity to wilderness like this.

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There is little rock climbing to be had. That doesn’t matter. Bright skies, beautiful friends, and deep green glades were more than enough. The wildflowers were out in force, and the bugs were not. Bliss.

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Abigail stares at the Olympics every day from her office, so when my good friend Michael from work invited us out with his wife for a hike along “The Grand Loop”, it was easy to say yes. Not for the faint of foot, we earned the 45 miles and 12,500 vertical feet over 4 days. They don’t get much nicer than this.

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Straight Talk on House Design

Mast and Co Missoula, energy efficient building,Photo Courtesy Mast and Co. Builders. Damian and Chris are consummate, intelligent craftsmen and their work is the embodiment of style, performance, and integrity.

A few days ago, I was talking to a colleague and friend- she is working on a cabin design for her family. Knowing my background, she asked for some advice and questions to ask to get what she wanted. Energy efficiency and “not doing stupid shit” were top priorities. Our conversation boiled down to my top tips for the design of new custom homes. I was lucky to work with a handful of people in Missoula that taught me a lot*.

Off the top of my head, and not listed in order of priority or importance:

1)      Pick a budget and get your architect and contractor to agree. As the owner, do not let yourself push over that budget with last minute additions. Ultimately, the architect’s job is illustrate the dream you’ve described to them, the contractors job is to put a price on that dream. The rude awakening can derail the best of intentions.

2)      Optimize your window package. Most likely, you will only buy windows once in the time that you own the house. Some rules for getting the best window package for your dollar: no single windows larger than 25s.f., no SDLs (simulated divided lights), no double hung or single hung, and minimize the number of operable windows. Do this carefully and cut 30% of the cost out of your window package. In almost every climate zone, triple pane windows will increase the comfort of your home more than almost any other thing (see item #10).

3)      Site work is expensive. Single story footprints are generally more expensive than double story footprints for the same area of floorplan. Simple footprints are easier to construct and inherently energy efficient.

4)      I don’t like basements or crawlspaces, even though they are convenient for utilities. If you can afford it, build slab on grade or on stilts.

5)      Savvy HVAC salesmen (and everyone else) will ask you “how energy efficient” do you want to be? I used to be one of those folks, and I hated asking that question. It’s like picking a car: is this house like a Camry (25 MPG) or a Prius (50 MPG)? Getting a Prius is not all that hard, but doing much better probably is.

6)      Durability is a hard quality to estimate. Almost every component you pick for a home contributes to the overall durability (and related maintenance costs), and the durability aspect is frequently overlooked. Siding, interior trim, windows, doors, and flooring are all common materials that wear out faster than many owners appreciate.

7)      There is a fallacy that “radiant floor” heating systems are more efficient than forced air furnaces. A well designed high efficiency furnace + HRV system is the simplest, most efficient, lowest cost way to comfortably heat a house. Radiant systems can end up with cold spots, are slow to heat up (like when you come back from a weekend away) and you have no option for cooling or proper home ventilation (which is essential if you want good indoor air quality and good energy efficiency).

8)      Don’t put in a fireplace, wood stove, or even gas insert fireplace. Wood burning fireplaces release all kinda of toxic stuff in your house, actually suck warm air from your furnace out the chimney, and don’t really emit that much heat to a space. Gas insert fireplaces are somewhat better, and contractors tend to charge an arm and a leg for them.  Put in some nice landscaping around a cool outdoor fireplace. Costs half as much, is twice as safe, and gets people out of the house.

9)      Especial in maritime climates, use a liquid applied WRB and a rainscreen siding detail. Ask your general contractor questions about building science, and their experience with different types of construction (have they ever done a house with ICFs, strawbale, double stud walls?) The best ones have often tried a lot of stuff, and they can tell you what they learned. From the get-go, pick the architect and contractor that you are most willing to have hard conversations with because you will have them.

10)   Air sealing is as much about framing as it is about insulation. Poorly applied spray foam in a poorly framed house is more expensive, less efficient, and harder to fix than cellulose insulation in a properly framed house. Furthermore, air-sealing has the single biggest impact on comfort in your home, and has one of the biggest impacts on energy efficiency (especially if you are use more traditional, code minimum insulation package on the house). Insist on getting a blower door test for your home, whether or not your local code requires it.

11) Don’t be in a rush. Take the time to make a real plan that you are happy with. Especially for owners on their first custom home- it will take more discipline than is comfortable to work the plan.

12) I don’t like automotive garages directly attached to living space- too many nasty things associated with cars to have them directly connected to the house. 

13) Install a heat recovery ventilator. They will actually increase your home energy use, but they will also keep humidity reasonable, improve your air quality, and allow you to make other energy efficiency improvements as you go.

I’m sure many people will disagree or have additions. I hope to add links as citations to this piece as I am able. Feel free to post to comments, where I will feel free to moderate them.

*if you’re new here, I spent 3 years as a project manager for a residential specialty construction firm. You can read more of my pieces here (if the blog is still up)

Copyright Skander Spies, 2016

DP

“They found Alex. We should dawn patrol.”

Alex Lowe was a titan of climbing, and he was humble enough to insist that “the best climber in the world is the one having the most fun.” He has left a mark on literally every place I’ve ever climbed, and I’ve been lucky enough to learn a few things from people that knew and climbed with him. Any further association with me would be an ugly lie. Two amazing European climbers found his body with another partner last week after 16 years in Himalayan ice. Respect.

I’ve had a few recent adventures though with a new friend who also spent a lot of time in Bozeman- and in who I see the passion I imagine Mr. Lowe was talking about.

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Doing the work.

Devon and I headed to ski “The Fly” couloir on Lane Peak in Mt. Rainier National Park the first week of April.It didn’t freeze overnight, we watched an adjacent peak avalanche, and the next morning, called off our ski from half-way up due to funky snow and warm temps. I think we made the right call. A lightweight bivy, fun ski tour, and good conversation were more than a consolation prize.

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See you again soon.

This week, Devon mentioned getting one last ski tour before things (quickly) dry up. Mr. Lowe pioneered a style of “dawn patrolling” to meet his family and professional commitments while also satiating his thirst for adventure. Wake up obscenely early, combine a couple adventure sports, and be back at your desk at a reasonable hour. We picked a Thursday to ski and climb “The Tooth,” a short summit behind the Alpental Ski Resort.

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Some people will say that our style was less pure because we slept at the trailhead the night before. Whatever.

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Simul-climbing at first light.

What matters is that we got the goods and got to our desks by 10am.  The DP with Mr. DP was a real pleasure, and the first of what I hope will be many.

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Not bad for 715am on a Thursday morning.

 

 

Sunshine

Seattle is not as grey as some people might want you to believe. However- it is grey enough that when Drew and Lindzey invited me and Abigail to join them in Mexico, it was easy to think ahead and say “yes.”

Sayulita used to be “off the beaten path” but these days, it is distinctly a gringo heaven – vibrant, yet deliciously relaxed. Yoga, internet, and an easy surf break draws Americans and more than a few Mexicans. We had a choice of vacation rentals, most people spoke (enough) english, and the weather was perfect. Unlike our last “vacation”, Abigail was thrilled to get her workout swimming and surfing instead of lugging a pack through the rain.

Highlights included: sleeping in, eating, getting sand deep in between the toes, and a couple great surf sessions. We took a day long boat tour to the Marieta Islands, one of only two places to see Blue Footed Boobies, and swum ashore into a hidden beach:

Drew was one of my first ice climbing partners. We’ve enjoyed some wonderful adventures over the years. It is even more fun to realize that our friendship is equally adept at lounging on an beach with two amazing ladies as it is pushing our mental and physical limits. I suspect we’ll probably be back up to our usual shenanigans in no time, but this was more than a nice change of pace.

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Thank you for a great idea, and a great time.

 

The blog has been quieter than I would hope- I’ve missed writing. I’ve been crunching numbers instead- I have finally been approved to take my licensing exam this spring. It is the last step in becoming a Professional Engineer, and I even hit the books while I was on the beach. It’s a goal I’ve had my eye for most of the last 8 years, and studying up has helped me appreciate how much I have actually learned across the spectrum of my career.

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Pacific, Pacifico, partial vapor pressure?

There have been a few adventures in the background, but major plans are on hold until after April. Stay tuned.

 

 

To Share

A few days before Thanksgiving, I was walking to an appointment feeling stressed. Despite nearly doubling my salary from my last job to this one, I’ve still felt tight for money since I’ve been in Seattle. Walking past a group of homeless folks, I realized something interesting about my life:

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No matter where I have lived, how much I have made, or what I have done for work, I have always had enough to meet all of my really essential needs, and had enough to share with others.

My relationship to money has varied over time. Despite usually being better off than most of my friends, money has stressed me out for my entire adult life. Like many, I am quick to peg my self worth on my material worth. I awake easily in the night convinced that only a redoubled focus on thrift will afford me the means to address future uncertainty.

My observation though points to the fact that life, like a mountain lake, fills the container you put it in. When I made less, I lived differently, but life was no less full.

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I am extremely privileged in many ways. I am deeply thankful to have many friends who unquestioningly share their abundance with me. I am equally thankful for friends who show me how to live fully on far less than I have (and with whom I can share what I am able). There is much to be thankful for.

Fear less, do more, take responsibility for the choices you make along the way.

“All fear comes from trying to see the future.” (Wally Lamb)

Sage

I got out of the car, and the familiar smell of sage in the crisp Autumn night hit my nose. It’s the thing I remember most about climbing at one of my favorite places. As the rain settles into Seattle, it’s nice to have this last blast of sunlight and dry to brace against the winter.

Smith Rock, Oregon, central Oregon, climbing, Crooked River

No place like this place.

On Halloween weekend, Abigail and I tore out of work on Friday and made fast time to Smith Rock State Park. It’s been almost four years since my last trip to Smith. I’ve climbed a lot since then, and more experience makes me appreciate Smith even more. Even better, my good friend Pat (of many, many past Smith adventures), his girlfriend Caitlyn, my old roommate Paul and his girlfriend Genevieve joined us. It was a very good time in amazing weather.

belaying, dogs of climbing, Smith Rock

When it’s rainy in Seattle…

We warmed up on some regular favorites in the Shipwreck Gully, and Abigail got the full experience leading a properly run out, nubby Smith 5.9.

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Feeling the sharpness

Sunday was warm in the sun, but freezing in the wind. We headed to the Marsupials to avoid crowds and found some excellent lines in the sun. Easily, my climbing highlight was an on-site of Ryan’s Arete. After not really doing any challenging sport climbing all summer, this felt proud. As always, time with old friends was grounding and I’m excited to see Abigail discover this crazy sport for herself.

Koala Rock, Smith Rock, Central Oregon, Ryan's Arete

Ryan’s Arete, just after dispatching the first crux. Steep.

After a typically stellar dinner at the Terrebonne Depot, Pat and Caitlyn headed for Portland. Monday dawned crisp and clear – we climbed the ultra-classics at Morning Glory Wall and snuck in a run over Misery Ridge and around the Southern Tip before headed back to Seattle.

Smith delivers. It will not be another four years.

Weekending

(wrote this a few weeks ago and didn’t get to post it)

backcountry ski gear, trad climbing, climbing gear, shovel beacon probe,

The full kit. Going to Utah in 2015.

I was tired on Thursday night {two weeks ago}, but came home from a run and put dinner together. I didn’t want to do the dishes, but they were necessary before the next step. My brain hit autopilot- I dried the knives from dinner, and starting pulling food out of the cabinet. Packing is a special meditation on simplicity, adventure, and putting yourself in the position to have some silly fun outside.

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Packing food is the least fun and most effort. Montana backpacking with Dustin in 2012.

I spent the next hour, there, in the state when you are thinking, but not really thinking. Moving gear, food, clothing, remembering your headlamp, your toothbrush. Combing my brain for the thing I might forget.

From my bike tour in Colombia. I am thinking I have too much gear.

Headed to Colombia in 2011. I am thinking I have too much gear.

I still almost always forget something- the coffee filter in Squamish, my favorite spoon in Utah. I don’t even really mind, sometimes it’s more fun to do without. I realize that most of my co-workers don’t think about weekends the same way. I was out of town for 2 of 4 weekends in August, 3 of 4 weekends in September, and 3 of 4 weekends in October. I still don’t think I get out as much as a I would like. On Thursday nights though, packing, I’m already on the adventure.

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Organize by bins. Going to Las Vegas in 2014.

I’m in my happiest place, getting ready to go someplace. My ideal weekend doesn’t involve football, or recliners, or mowing the grass. It is about living out of my car, climbing, running, and skiing. Eating at dive bars and staring at campfires. Simpler, wilder, better.

dirtbag van, messy climbing gear

Having a van isn’t always a good thing. In the North Cascades with Andy in 2009

I don’t really care that I’m a driven 31 year old professional that aspires to live out of his car. That my passion for career and world-changing may never truly allow a full transition to vagabond also doesn’t matter. A tireless schedule of travel is about having more experiences with the things I already have. About good food, warm clothes, beautiful places. Friday nights are meant to be spent driving someplace cool with a partner and a car-full of gear. I hope I never loose track of that priority.