Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fire Barriers

I have usually been posted construction updates on the weekends, but was so excited today that I had to share ahead of time, especially since the evidence will be concealed by this weekend.  Loyal readers will recall that Aaronap Cellars will be operating out of a portion of the basement of our residential home.  One of the requirements of the Westford Building Department to approve the building permit was that we had to install a 2 hour fire barrier between the winery and the rest of the house.  Even though the fire danger from vats of wine is pretty darn miniscule (try igniting a pan of wine with an open flame), I wasn't going to try to appeal this requirement since a fire barrier could be constructed fairly easily with minimal cost increase.

After we heard of that requirement, we (meaning my Custom Contracting experts) trooped off to determine what a constitutes a 2 hour fire barrier.  We got a little luck since the portion of the basement where the winery will reside is bordered on 3 walls by concrete foundation and a single layer of Type X drywall over the studs will suffice for those walls.  The 4th wall is the separation between the winery and residential spaces and this is where the fun starts.  To build a 2 hr fire barrier along this wall requires a double layer of Type X drywall on each side of the framed wall studs with a layer of R15 fiberglass insulation.  Not that bad...just doubled the amount of drywall panels needed for that wall, but still not bad.

Discerning minds might spot a gap above--we've covered the walls, but not the ceiling.  Yep, a 2 hour fire barrier had to extend across the ceiling as well.  We can't exactly rip off the top floor of the house to lay down a double layer of drywall on top of the floor studs, so it has to be hung from the ceiling of the basement.  Layers again come to the rescue, but this time a 1-inch metal spacer is installed in between the 2 layers of drywall.

The drywall guys got started early this morning and by this evening have enclosed the winery space.  The pictures below show the dramatic change and also illustrate the ceiling fire barrier as we've got one layer installed along with the metal spacers.  Tomorrow will see the final ceiling layer installed and then they'll start plastering!

It actually looks like a winery room!


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Winery Construction Recap--Week 4. It's insulation time!

Another week of banging & sawing in the basement and we're several big steps closer to the finish line.  All of the framing has been completed, along with rough plumbing and electrical work.  There were a slew of building inspectors coming through to check on the work and we passed each inspection with flying colors!  Friday was the most dramatic day of change since this was the day for insulation.

 The perimeter concrete walls received a 2-inch coating of closed cell spray foam insulation by folks from The Green Cocoon out of Salisbury, MA, who did an excellent job of spray installation and clean up.  There's a reason why that insulation is colored light green.  My Iowa farm roots beat loud and proud when I learned that the spray foam insulation was made from soybeans!  Not only is the insulation made from sustainable materials, but it contains no VOCs, HFCs, or CFCs.  I will admit that it was still a smelly process while they were working (we abandoned ship for the local shopping mall), but a quick airing out of the house for about 30 minutes and the odor was gone.
The bottle wine storage closet received a layer of conventional R15 fiberglass insulation and moisture barrier.

The basement is finally starting to look like separate rooms with the walls insulated.  Quite the dramatic change from a forest of studs!  Next week will be even more dramatic as we start to hang sheet rock panels.  Beginning to feel like it's all down hill from here!


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Winery Construction-Week 3 Recap

Another week has passed, along with a lot more banging in the basement.  This week saw several major steps forward, although visually the progress isn't spectacularly visual.  We had a little bit of excitement on Thursday night when the new furnace burners stopped functioning.  A tiny gas return valve had failed so the burner unit shut down.  My HVAC expert says this is the first time in 8 years that he's seen that valve fail.  But it was quickly fixed and we're rolling ahead.

Week 3 Big Steps:
1) All framing complete and soffit work begun
2) Rough electrical work completed.
3) Rough plumbing work in progress
4) Passed our electrical inspection with flying colors!!!!!

The 2 photos below show the completely framed bottled wine storage room from the southeast exterior corner and a close up of the room.  Nothing fancy since this is just for storage of bottle case goods.  The walls will be insulated with the sealed floor serving as a passive heat sink to cool the room.

This is the view of the sink area from the northeast exterior corner (where all the tanks will sit).  If you squint hard enough, you can see the roughed plumbing for the 3-bay sink and handwash sink.

This outlet is thrilling to me because I'm finally getting a 220V outlet in the basement to power some of the larger equipment that I'm purchasing!  Not that impressive looking at a glance, but just had to share.  :)

Now that the winery room walls are framed, I'm going to stop showing progress on the residential side of the basement after this one last shot of the adjacent bathroom.  Plumbing is in full swing with the installation of the shower unit in progress.

Rough plumbing should be completed on Monday with the plumbing inspection set for Tuesday or Thursday.  Once that's done we can start spray insulation on the walls, which is tentatively set for next Thursday-ish.  Lots of work done, but still lots to go!


Monday, March 11, 2013

Buying Equipment--The Money Drain Really Begins!

You know the old maxim "It takes money, to make money"?  Well, it's certainly true for winemaking!  As you can probably guess from the preceding posts about the winery construction, finishing a basement (let alone custom outfitting a room as a winery) is not an inexpensive proposition.  I'm certainly capable of tackling small home improvement projects by myself, but I'm very glad to enlist the services of Custom Contracting Inc to handle the complexity of a basement finishing project.  As constructions hurtles towards completion, I'm also faced with the rapidly approaching need to upgrade my equipment to handle an ~5x increase in production volume....by myself.  Going from 100 gallons/year to 500 gallons/year doesn't sound like that big of an increase, but when you're doing all the work by hand and by yourself there are technical challenges in moving 1/2 or 1 ton lots of grapes through the fermentation and aging process.  Anything that can take a little of the muscle work and backstrain out of the process would be quite helpful.

I mentioned in the last post that I spent last week at the Eastern Winery Expo in Lancaster, PA.  One of my primary reasons for going this year was to wander around the trade expo and visit the equipment manufacturers/retailers.  Often times, they bring equipment with them as display items and since they are traveling, they usually bring the smaller scale equipment that they sell.  Perhaps not what the big boys are looking for, but right up my alley!  The chance to actually touch and poke a machine rather than looking at online or catalog photos is invaluable.  I went with the goal of making decisions on 3 key pieces of equipment to make my life easier:  1) destemmer with a must pump, 2) transfer pump, and 3) bladder press. 

I'd been looking at a destemmer from a source in CA, but was curious if I could find one closer to home to save on shipping.  I've been using a motorized crusher/destemmer that has served me well, but it's a basic home winemaker's unit that really crushes the grapes to smithereens and makes a rather good-sized mess.  Transferring the crushed must from the tubs that I usually set underneath the machine to the fermentation bins also requires a fair bit of back muscle work.  My goals for a new unit included gentler fruit handling, a must pump that will take care of transferring the must into the fermenter, and ease in cleaning.  Turns out that I found everything that I needed in a Zambelli Gamma 25 destemmer from M&M in Hartford, CT!  They don't just do grapes & juice, but also equipment!  An almost exact copy of the destemmer from CA for a comparable price but without the shipping costs.  The picture below was provided by Napa Fermentation Supply who also sell the Zambelli line of crushers & destemmers but more for the West Coast crowd.  The fun part will be getting it from M&M to Westford, and out of the truck once it's home, but I've got some ideas to accomplish that task.

The next big ticket item was a bladder press.  I've been using a 120L ratchet press that was manufactured in 1939 by a Chicago ironworks company.  That venerable piece of history used to inhabit a home winemaking shop in Boulder, CO but made it's way to Ann Arbor, MI after the shop closed when the owners retired.  I used it for 2 years in Ann Arbor and then lugged it to MA where it's served my purposes nobly with few complaints.  But I wanted to upgrade to a faster press with less likelihood of bacterial contamination.  Imagine my delight when I walked into the Expo Trade Show to find the first booth inside the entrance was Oesco Inc, suppliers of orchard and vineyard management products from right here in MA, and they had a 120L Lancman stainless steel bladder press on display!  You'll probably be wondering why I'm not looking for something larger than 120L.  Truth is that I'd love to get a bigger unit, but I'm a little constrained by what will fit through the residential-size door of the winery room.  The 120L bladder press should need only 2 pressings to process my 60 gal batches, so it should fit my needs for the next 4-5 years at least.  If I really need additional throughput, I can always get a second press and have 2 running side-by-side.  The nice folks from Oesco were quite happy to wheel and deal a little, especially if I would take it home with me from the show so they didn't have to lug it back to MA.  And that's exactly what I did--right through the teeth of Winter Storm Saturn!  The amusing part of the drive home was the double take looks from drivers as they passed me wondering what was this R2D2 looking thing in the back of the truck.  The picture of my new toy below is from the Oesco website.

So the final item was a transfer pump to move wine around.  I was really wanting a flexible impeller pump with a variable speed drive that would be large enough to handle some must gunk (not the just crushed berries, but fermentation sludge).  Oh..and could I find one that ran on 110V single phase power??  I'll duck so that the electrical engineers don't hit me all at once.  I've been poking around several suppliers but the only pumps I was finding that operated on 110V single phase were single speed.  In theory they would work, but 9 gpm output speeds meant that I'd have quite a stream of wine roaring from tank to barrel with very little control.  I was really quite pleased to find that The Vintner Vault has realized that I'm not the only guy with those technical requirements and manufacturers a Vigor Mini pump for us small guys in mind.  They aren't cheap, but offer everything that I was wanting, along with a remote control!  I chuckle that running the Mini at its rated full power speed of 25 gpm, I'd be able to transfer an entire barrel of wine in 2.4 minutes!  Won't need that kind of speed, but there's certainly room to grow with this pump.  I was told that they can't keep these things in stock and are awaiting a shipment of pump heads from Europe to arrive before they'll have any for sale.  Unfortunately, I couldn't bring one home with me, but my name is on the waiting list.

So it was a very good trip to PA.  Spent quite a bit of money but met all 3 equipment decision goals.  Also chatted with grape growers, yeast providers, label printers, cork sellers, bottle sellers, etc, etc, etc.  Came home with about a ton of pamphlets from just about everybody at the show.  Lots of material to read in the future when I need to make more decisions.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Winery Construction-Week 2 Recap

The construction excitement continued during Week 2 even though it ended up being a short week.  Monday was a big day as the new 99.5% efficient furnace was installed.  It's definitely made an impact on heating the house since it notably turns on fewer times in a day and the house just feels warmer.  The only drawback is that it sounds a little like a jet engine when it starts up.  Tuesday morning also started with a bang as it was time to dig the egress windows.  I should have snapped some photos of the small backhoe that showed up and crawled across the yard, but that completely slipped my mind during the flurry of truck packing and answering final questions for the contractors so I could drive to Lancaster, PA to attend the Eastern Winery Expo.  My wife worked late all this week so I was left in the dark while I was in PA regarding each day's progression.  A little anticipation makes the end result all the more impressive.  The Expo was an excellent educational and fun experience, but more on that later.  As many of you will know, Winter Storm Saturn paid a visit to the mid-Atlantic area on Wednesday before heading out to sea and curling back towards New England.  Based on the weather forecasts, I expected that most of the storm would be gone by the time I hit the road on Friday morning.  Well....as you know, the forecasts were wrong.  Saturn arrived in MA a little late on Thursday and then hung around longer to dump far more snow that anyone expected.  I managed to drive safely home (with some harrowing parts in upstate NY and CT) to find a 3 ft pile of snow at the end of my driveway that was also covered in ~10 inches of heavy wet snow.  The contractors had wisely chosen to stay home on Friday so it was left to me to dig into the driveway.  The end of that story is that I am in desperate need of a larger snowblower...

But what of the construction that had happened in my absence???  Even with a short week, a lot of work was accomplished.  Both egress windows were dug and window wells installed.  The cut concrete has been removed and the openings framed.  Window installation awaits arrival of the windows (next week) so the openings are temporarily boarded up, which makes the basement a lot darker at the moment.  The bathroom has been completely framed and some rough plumbing has been started.  The new furnace just looks so cute!  The wall dividing the great room and the winery has also been partially framed.  The mechanical closet and bedroom closet still need to be framed, but that will be done after the windows are installed.

Inside the winery room, lots more framing has been done with every wall finished except for the storage room.  To give you an idea of what the space will look like, I took photos from each of the corners.  The first is looking from where the sink area towards the basement door.

This shot looks from the office corner towards what will be the bottle storage room.

This shot looks from the outside wall towards the sink area where some rough plumbing lines have been run.

Still lots of work to do, but the walls are beginning to take shape!  Electrical and plumbing will be the primary focus during Week 3.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Winery Construction Week 1 Recap

One week into the project and things are moving along.  Here's a brief recap with some pictures.

1) Bathroom framed except for wall beside furnace
2) Bedroom framed except for exterior wall that has to wait until the window has been enlarged to egress size.
3) Water heater replaced and moved to accommodate bedroom wall.
4) Some framing along winery walls
5) Ceilings prepped for sheet rock installation.
6) Speaking of ceilings, we finally got clarification on what needs to be installed for 2 hr fire barrier in the winery space.
7) Inside concrete cuts for egress window in bedroom and larger window in great room done.  Have to wait until next week to dig the window wells and make the exterior cuts.

It's hard to see the concrete cuts in the pictures, but that's the straight dark lines under the windows.  Made quite the racket and mess doing that!

Next week will be a big one.  Windows installed & furnace replaced.  All framing should be done and we'll get started on the electrical work.  The change in the pictures should be dramatic!


Friday, March 1, 2013

Winery Construction Day 2

One day and I'm already falling a little behind.  Lots of prep work going on in the basement that is hard to capture on camera so it looks like not that much is getting done.  But, the amount of banging, sawing, & drilling noises emanating from the basement would convince you otherwise.

One side wall of the winery space has been framed, along with the wall separating the winery & new bathroom, which is framed on 3 sides.  The fourth side will be framed after the furnace is replaced with a new unit.

 To accommodate the wall for the new bedroom, we had to move the water heater.  As happens in all construction projects, when the plumber examined the water heater he recommended that it be replaced.  It was >10 years old, did have some corrosion evident on the inlet/outlet pipes, and notably missing an anode rod so probably a good idea to do it now.  We also upgraded to a 50-gal tank so there will be hot water aplenty in the future!  Between that and the shower unit/shower door that we purchased, we've already blown the project budget by Day 2/3.  :)


p.s.  After a day to let the water heater get up to full temperature, I nearly scalded myself when I turned the shower on to the usual hot level.  That is one efficient & hot heater!  Quickly turned down the heat level on that baby.