Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Case for Manual Labor

I like getting books for Christmas. This year I forgot my book at home and ended up wandering around in circles or reading the Times on the computer. It wasn't until the 27th that I finally opened something to read. My brother-in-law, Brian, gave me a copy of a little book of philosophy I hadn't heard of called Shop Class as Soulcraft. The author, a PhD in philosophy who owns a motorcycle repair shop, makes the case for the value of working with your hands. Engaging your mind in the creation of something. When I graduated from college twenty years ago, the joke was that I was fit to split firewood and tend sheep. My roommates found this amusing. Graduates of Holy Cross do not become shepherds. Since 1990 I have been a cook, reporter, English tutor, package store clerk, carpenter and laborer, teacher of EFL, substitute teacher, artisan baker, sail maker and carpenter again. The one omission from this list, a print estimator for my father's printing company, was my only real attempt to join the white collar workforce, and it failed. Square peg, round hole. I have spent about thirteen of the last twenty years acquiring various trade skills. Now the joke is that I have an advanced degree in Home Economics. I cut and split my own firewood. I am poised to tend a flock of sheep. Had I known myself a little better twenty years ago perhaps it wouldn't have taken me so long to get here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Holiday Test

When you're committed to heating with wood, there's only one issue to address: What do you do when you're not there to light the fire? Initially we had a very conventional solution. A wall mounted direct-vent propane heater could easily keep our house from freezing even in the coldest mid-winter weather. Then it occurred to me that running heat through the slab wasn't all that expensive. If we weren't there to light the fire, then we wouldn't be there to use hot water either, and the domestic hot water system could double as a source for in-floor heating. When we leave for the holidays tomorrow afternoon, the solar hot water system will heat our house or at least keep it from freezing. (I doubt it would freeze anyway, but I'm not willing to put my suspicions to the test.) I'll set the thermostat to 60F and close the door. Neighbors will check on it and Ox, the cat, who more or less takes care of himself.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Shortest Days

With Winter Solstice right around the corner, the sun hangs low on the horizon and disappears to the west shortly before 4 in the afternoon. Yesterday was a good day (sunny, cold and short) to check the performance of a well insulated passive solar house. During the day, obviously, there's no need for supplemental heat from the woodstove. At noon in mid-December sunlight penetrates deeply into the house, lighting up the back wall of the first floor. The temperature inside is just below 70F. A couple days ago I made an adjustment to a setting on the solar hot water system allowing more solar heat to be pumped through the slab, and yesterday was the first day to give it a try. Around mid-day I turned up the thermostat and pumped heat through the floor for a couple hours. Our domestic hot water usage is predominantly later in the day so a little loss of heat to the floor in the middle of the day leaves enough time for the tank to recover temperature before the sun goes down. At 10pm with the temperature outside approaching the single digits, inside it was still a pleasant 66F. I could have lighted a fire in the woodstove before retiring for the night, but I thought it would be a good night to see just how cold it would get inside without the benefit of extra heat. The heat for the night would come from what was stored in the concrete floor. A 4:30am it was a little on the chilly side at 54F so I started up the woodstove to give us a little boost before the sun starts working again. Not bad though. When your average house would have been burning something all day and night to keep from freezing, I used nothing but solar gain. It will take some time to tweak the system to achieve maximum efficiency, but we're off to a good start.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The East Side

The East side is finally done.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Here's an efficiency snapshot, an early example of how our house will heat this winter. Last Friday it was cloudy and in the 30's with snow predicted for the early afternoon. We hadn't really fired up the woodstove for any extended period of time so I started a fire in the morning and more or less kept it going all day. That night before we went to sleep I loaded it up with wood and shut it down for a long overnight burn. When I woke up at 6am the following morning to 5 inches of snow, the stove was just barely warm. The temperature inside, however, was a tropical 77F. We didn't need any more heat from the woodstove until I started a fire the following Monday afternoon.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Like Lambs To....

The pigs left today in an operation that went a little too smoothly. Their transportation, a large pickup pulling a small livestock trailer, backed up to the fence, let down it's tailgate, and within five minutes the three pigs walked up the ramp and in, the scent of slops luring them forward. The driver, Frank Herrick, raises pigs himself and has a little pig exhibition at the Blue Hill Fair. I didn't know this when I'd arranged the pick-up, and I was pleased to see that the guy doing the delivery was someone who appreciates pigs. He was thoroughly impressed by the pen I'd provided. Can't get any better than that, he thought. Without taking measurements I'd guessed that the largest pig weighed something over 200 pounds. His more educated guess put him closer to three hundred pounds, on the verge of too big, in his opinion. Anything bigger, he said, and they're just putting on fat. He knew from looking at them that they'd come from Feed and Seed. I was under the impression that the guy who supplies the Feed and Seed piglets raised them himself. Frank said they might have come from Canada. Although, he'd heard that there might have been trouble getting pigs from Canada this past spring and that my pigs may have come from the Buckeye State. Next year's pigs, if there are any, will come from Frank. He doesn't raise the pink variety. His are black with brown spots; I think he called them Tamworths.

Will there be pigs next year? That's an open question. After my first season of pig raising, I'm not sure. There's the question of eating what is clearly an intelligent animal. They're social, friendly and smart. More or less the same description one might have for the family dog. This is an issue for me but not the most compelling. There is the issue of cost: How much did I spend to produce a pound of pork. I know that the cost of the piglets themselves ($240 total) and the bill to feed them (something around $700) is a significant sum, but I'm not going to lose money on the deal; that's clear. I'll most likely end up with something less than 600 pounds of pork. If I sold it all at the reasonable price of $3.50/lb, that's $2100. There are processing fees I'm not considering here, but the total cost is not as significant as what I spent the money on. While it's true that my pigs owe some unknowable number of their pounds to eating whatever they could forage from the land, it's also true that they consumed roughly three quarters of a ton of commercial pig food. (Add to that hundreds of pounds of restaurant and home food waste and wild apples.) On the vast oak estates in Spain, home of the famous cured hams, a pig typically roams four acres of forage. That's a stunningly different way to raise a pig than what happens on your average American pig farm. We've got four acres of oak trees. I'm thinking that I could double the space I have now, and buy half the commercial food and see what happens. I'd rather have three smaller pigs with less outside input. My three (they never got names) are due to be slaughtered tomorrow morning. Hopefully, they'll never see it coming.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The First Third

I'm finished siding the south face of the house. One down two to go. I'm not really sure how I'm going to finish the siding directly above the porch on the west side. I may have to buy something that clamps to the seams so I have some way to stretch a board across the roof as a platform for a ladder. Working on the house two or three days a week makes for slow progress, but I seem to be settling into my new schedule. I told the insurance company today that it's reasonable to assume that I'd be done with the siding in six weeks.

I went running today for the first time in a year. (And what little running I did on Block Island while I was unemployed was the first running I'd done in years.) Just like riding a bike. Building a house must have a sufficient amount of cross-training what with climbing ladders and general lugging stuff around. On my short tour of the neighborhood I climbed a hill on a dirt road about a half mile away and got a nice view of the house in the distance. I'll try to get a picture from this vantage and post it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Too blue

Beginning the siding

Stairwell lights, off

More siding

Stairwell lights, on

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Slowing Down

Michelle and I sat down one evening and made a list of all our monthly expenses and compared the sum to our sole source of income at the moment. We were pleasantly surprised to find a small surplus. Then we added up all the debt we have accumulated over the last six or so weeks since our well of funds ran dry and we started using our line of credit. Though we have not reached the limit of our line of credit, a little short of a year from now we will come close. Ikea and HSBC both offered us credit cards with 0% for a year. Our total debt to those four accounts amounts to about $17,000, free money for a year, after which we will just add that debt to our line of credit. The implications of this almost come as a relief. We can't spend any more significant amounts of money on the house any time soon. There are countless little things I can do which don't cost much, and after the exterior is finished I'll concentrate on those. A limitation of options is, at this point, a relief. We have a warm, dry house with a wonderful kitchen and a more than adequate bathroom. It's time to slow down.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Cost of Free

Mark showed up yesterday to finish most of what's left of the plumbing. The sink in the bathroom was the only questionable installation. It's a lovely little sink taken out of my sister's renovation in Greenwich. Who knows when it's pipes last held water? Our plan was to put it under water pressure and see what happened. Old fixtures, according to Mark, ofter had leather or some sort of natural packing material that would swell when it got wet and form a water tight seal. So, much like a wooden boat introduced to water for the first time, it's got to leak for a while before it will work properly. If this fails, we'll have to disconnect the sink from the wall and rebuild some of the connections. After 12 hours under pressure, it's still leaking from a few places. Though the sink was free, we'll probably end up spending at least few hundred dollars to get it to work. There's not much in this house that's used. The two bathroom sinks will be our paltry contribution to the reduce-reuse-recycle ethic. (I'm forgetting the insulation; That's reused.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Irony of Well Placed Screws

The Marvin Windows service guy, John, came to check out the slider yesterday and after fifteen minutes knew that my analysis had been correct: The two fixed panels have the wrong glass. He'd brought along a little square sample of double pane insulated LowE 179, and we took turns holding it up for each other and standing back for a good look. This exercise together with my own observations about heat and light passing through the panels was enough to convince him that two of the three panels were wrong. If it were the operating panel that needed to be replaced, the fix would be easy and quick; it can be removed and replaced in minutes. The fixed panels, however, are more of a challenge. A few months ago when the same guy came and helped me with the original problem of putting the whole thing square in its frame, he removed the screws that fix the panels to the frame. The screws fastening the right panel to the frame had been put in at an angle so they'd be easier to cut with a sawsall if the panel ever needed to be removed. John had decided to put the screws in straight for a better purchase. Odds, he thought, were against replacement. Little did he know how soon this decision would come back to haunt him. Since new panels ordered now would be ready in the middle of January, we both decided that the slider should spend the winter as is and plan on replacement in mid-April. None of this interferes with trimming or siding so I can get right to it. The barn boards arrived yesterday, and I'm ready to start putting them up.

The solar guys came and fixed their two leaks. Some of the sealant around both penetrations had cured, shrunk a little, and pulled away leaving a gap. The third leak I fixed myself with a tube of silicone as I leaned over the edge of the roof as far as I could from the very top of the extension ladder. Not as dangerous as it sounds but another situation in which I wished I were just a little taller.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

And Then There Were Three

I now have only three five gallon buckets in my employ inside the house. Mark finished plumbing the sink yesterday and then left. It's a busy time of year for plumbers around here; they've got a long list of summer residences in need of winterizing. He said he'd try to be back on Friday. We looked at the leaky plumbing vent and discussed strategy; I think I can fix it without too much trouble and eliminate another bucket. I ordered 2000' of white pine boards for the exterior. They should be here today. It will be a pleasant change to start working outside again after concentrating on the interior for so long.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


I woke at around 2am last night to the sound of wind driven downpours battering the house. Through the noise I managed to hear sound of a single drop of water, a single muffled splat amid the countless splats beating against the exterior. The drop I heard differentiated itself from the masses by not being outside the house but in. As I listened closely, I heard the drop with some regularity. Once every thirty seconds perhaps. It was falling right at the foot of Hazel's bed and originating from the globular light fixture in the center of the ceiling. I knew, more or less, where it was coming from. I got up and pulled down the attic stairs. There happens to be a plumbing vent right above our bedroom, and the rubber boot around the pipe was letting in water. Five gallon bucket to the rescue once again. Now I was awake and I couldn't help checking out the other penetrations in the roof. There's one more plumbing vent and two penetrations for the solar hot water system. Two out of the three were leaking. Two more five gallon buckets to the rescue. Now I was even more awake. The wind and rain was driving hard against the south side of the house and what better time to check the windows than this. The slider was really leaking and the windows to each side were a little damp in the corners of the sills. I made some notes about the location of the leaks and somehow managed to sleep again. As I studied the south side of the house in the morning, I discovered the source of the leaks. Two plus inches of wind driven rain had not just penetrated around the window and slider openings, the entire face of the sheathing beneath the house wrap was damp. Perhaps it's not as water repellent as it used to be. Perhaps the stuff reached a saturation point. Water was not getting by my flashing; it was getting behind it. In a way this was good news. Moisture was traveling down the face of the sheathing and if it weren't for the windows would have kept on going. Today was a perfect day for drying the whole thing out, and tomorrow will be another warm sunny day. Putting the siding on will solve the problem and that's the next job. The leaking holes in the roof are someone else's problem to solve. They'll hear about it tomorrow.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Yes, the kitchen sink is in. I washed the dishes in it this afternoon. There is an asterisk, however. Mark brought along a standard drain set-up for a two basin sink; the sink is not standard. Someone was supposed to bring him what he needed but didn't by the end of the day. So, there's a five gallon bucket (What would I do without my collection of five gallon buckets?) under the drain pipe connected to each basin. It's a ten gallon sink at the moment, more than enough water to wash a backlog of dirty dishes. The stone counter is sweet. Perfect fit. The toilet in the downstairs bathroom is also up and running. Nice but not nearly as critical as the sink. And a washing machine is ready for its first load.

Bathroom door, washer/dryer, SINK

New stacking washer/dryer

Mark, the counter and the sink

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Counter, Sink, Slider

Tomorrow promises to be a busy day. The plumber's coming (hopefully) to hook up the bathroom sink, toilet, dishwasher, and, quite possibly, the kitchen sink. The installation of the last item will depend on whether the counter's done, and I've been all but absolutely promised that it will be ready to pick up in the morning. A washing machine and dryer are also slated for delivery tomorrow. This is to replace the backordered/no-longer-available dryer that didn't come two weeks ago and a new washer to match. The appliance store, a place with a reputation for service, dropped the ball on every aspect of our order. The missing dryer, the fridge with the door that opens on the wrong side, a dishwasher with no instruction or installation manual (ok, that's a minor infraction), and a range with the wrong vent. All these issues have been fairly speedily and happily corrected but there seems to be a competence issue with the sales guy who took the order. Good with sales; short with details.

I've got another service call from Marvin windows set up a week from today to examine the slider. The woman I'm dealing with seems to be at a total loss as to how to address this problem. It appears that removing the whole unit and shipping it off to the glass manufacturer would be that only way to positively identify what's in the panels. I find it hard to believe that there's no way to track down where, when and by whom the slider was built. That there's no paperwork at all to give any clues as to what might have happened. That the only solution they can come up with is shipping the whole thing to Minnesota? That's just plain stupid. As a first step, however, the service guy is coming to take a look and he's bringing with him a sample of the glass that's suppose to be in the windows. We'll see if this helps. Standing directly in front of the glass there's no discernible difference; it's from twenty feet back that the difference is clear.

On a more positive note, with or without the aid of the right glass, it was 67 F in the house this morning from heat left over from yesterday's solar gain. That's with no supplemental heat for about two days. Nights in the low 30's.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Certificate of Occupancy

Months ago when I was on the phone with Amica, our insurance company, the woman asked me when I thought we'd get a certificate of occupancy. I explained to her that we don't have certificates of occupancy up here. (It follows that there's no building inspector; that should give any insurance company pause.) In more civilized parts of the Maine, you can't move into a house without a CO. I'd always thought that the purpose behind a CO was to protect the homeowner from the hazards of the the construction environment. Electrocution, fire, falling, hazardous materials. I've come to realize, however, that these protections are secondary; the primary purpose of a certificate of occupancy is to protect sanity. I wonder if there's a study out there that shows how many days it would take on average for the absence of a kitchen sink to effect a complete mental breakdown on the occupants. My guess is about 20 days for a COMPLETE breakdown with positive signs showing at the end of one week. It goes without saying that some occupants are more susceptible to degradation than others. But perhaps the worst part of living in a house as it's being finished is that progress, the one thing that serves as a prophylactic against insanity, becomes extremely labored just when you need it most.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Home Stretch

It's been a long haul, and all we really need now is an operable sink. While Michelle, Chloe and Hazel were off to Block Island, it was non-stop floor finishing and cabinet assembly. The floor looks great. The oil and wax combination gave it just the right finish. It has a sheen but not too shiny, and it's smooth and easy to clean. For the first coat of wax I experimented with a wooly buffer attached to a drill. It shined the floor so it there was a touch of glare to it. Too shiny. I put on the second coat of wax as evenly as possible and didn't rub it at all after it dried. Just right. There was a minor incident during the oiling process, however. I applied the first coat with a old cloth diaper and rubbed it in as I went. After about a half hour, the directions say to rub off any execess that hasn't soaked in. After this first coat there wasn't much to remove. Both the oil and wax are Bioshield products. The oil is a blend of linseed and tung oil and some other natural ingredients. No thinner, though. No petroleum products. Zero VOC. For the second coat I decided to brush it on because the first application covered a lot more square footage than Bioshield estimated. (The typical application, though, is wood, not concrete and it's hard to tell the porosity of a concrete surface.) I started brushing it on a little too heavy and, as a result, had to go back and wipe off a significant amount of oil that was sitting on the surface. The one rag I'd used to wipe down the first application was quickly saturated. So I got a whole pile of worn out t-shirts to get the rest of the oil off the floor before it got gummy and hard to remove. Some of you out there may see where this is going at this point and are shaking your head in disbelief that I could be so stupid. As I continued to wipe down the floor I started to accumulate a pile of rags on the first tread of the stairs. Yes, it was a pile of OIL SOAKED RAGS! Then, thinking nothing of it, I went back to assembling kitchen cabinets in my little workshop on the porch. Hours passed. Maybe five or six. By then the floor was pretty dry; I could walk on it with clean bare feet without leaving a print. I was on my way up the stairs and I put my hand down on the pile of OIL SOAKED RAGS(!) and was more than a little surprised at the heat of it. When I peeled away into the middle of the pile I was even more surprised to see that it was smoking. I immediately picked up the whole pile and brought it outside and spread the rags out on the wet ground. Some of the rags had brown blotches. It was pretty clear that combustion was narrowly averted. Wow, close one. I think it would be an abuse of hyperbole to say that I almost burned down my new house. I almost caught the stairs on fire; that's true. But it don't think it would have gotten very far. How could I have done this when I knew it was possible and the warning on the can is pretty clear? Hard to say. I'd never experienced this before and had no idea that the reaction could take place so quickly. Additionally, I assumed, possibly incorrectly, that a product without a volatile additive like mineral spirits was less likely to combust. All's well that ends well; I learned my lesson.

I'm now at the tail end of kitchen assembly. Putting together Ikea cabinets is, on the whole, an enjoyable process. Yes, the instructions, without a word of guidance, only little drawings, can be maddening, but once you get the basic process down it's not so bad. The cabinets went together precisely. Ikea's manufacturing process must have some exact standards; everything fit together just so, and if I found something not working out, it was always my error in interpreting the pictures. The cabinet bodies are run of the mill birch veneer, but the doors are solid birch and the drawer hardware and hinges are fabulous. We're now waiting on the stone counter top. After I assembled the row of cabinets on either side of the sink, I took precise measurements and handed them over to Freshwater Stone and Brick. Hopefully, we'll have the cut pieces this coming week. Without the counter we have no sink, and until you have no sink it's hard to appreciate how vital a link it is in the everyday chain of events that surround eating. It's too bad that we're handicapped by sinklessness because the range is up and working and it's really nice. The butcher block is in place to either side of the range and it works well with the cabinets that make the island. All that's needed to finish the island is to raise up the section for bar stool seating. The plumber's got a good day of finishing up and connecting things when we're ready. Kitchen sink, dishwasher, toilet and bathroom sink will all happen at the same time.

Skunk news: He's still around. While everyone else was away, I cleared most of the remaining food out of the barn. One night, however, I forgot to keep a light on and play the radio in an effort to discourage him from just coming in and hanging out. Under cover of darkness and with a little peace and quiet, the skunk was able to break into the mini-fridge and devour a package of riblets. Left the bones in a pile. Of course, I didn't catch him with a mouthful of beef so I could be unfairly pinning this crime on an innocent skunk. His history of resourcefulness, however, makes him the most likely suspect.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sunday, October 4, 2009

We're In

We've slept in the house for two nights now. It was certainly the invasion of the skunk that tipped the scales in favor of evacuating the barn. The night before last I laid down planks of 1x12 around the perimeter of the barn hoping to make it a little more difficult to get in from under. I also, on Michelle's recommendation, left the light on, played the radio, and sprinkled cayenne pepper around the outside. For one night there were no signs that the skunk had entered the barn, but last night he must have wanted it a little more badly and tunneled under my 12 inch deterrent. Perhaps the rain had diluted the effectiveness of the cayenne pepper. Or maybe he's more amenable to pop radio than NPR. (I had changed the station thinking that late night classical might be too tame.) Too many variables. I must admit, though, that sleeping in a quiet, warm house is nice however totally premature moving in may be. One thing going for us is spaciousness; we've got plenty of room to move around in as we finish. Joe's got a half day of sanding upstairs and he's done. After a thorough clean up, we'll move our sleeping quarters into one of the rooms upstairs, and I'll be able to get working on finishing the concrete floor, a process which will take three or four days. Once the floor is done, the kitchen cabinets can go in...I'm getting ahead of myself.

It looks like Michelle and the girls will be going to Block Island for a few days over Columbus Day weekend giving me some valuable responsibility-free time to get things set up. In a couple week's time we should have a functioning kitchen and bathroom.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Skunk(s) Again

Now I'm not so sure about my original two skunk hypothesis. There's only one skunk trying to get in the barn right now. Peeking in the screen door, scratching the cat door and generally pawing around. The events of last night are the reason I'm changing my mind on the issue. Michelle woke me up somewhere around 2am to report noises down below. Access through the cat door had been blocked. The screen door was closed. What could it be? Skunk again. So I propped open the door, even though it obviously didn't need a way out, and went back to sleep. I was up early enough to see in the pre-dawn light and solved the mystery. The skunk had come in through a tunnel under the sill of the barn, a tunnel made, quite obviously, by a skunk getting out, not in. There's no way of knowing what happened when. The cats and the skunk don't seem to mind each other, oddly enough. If a strange cat approaches the barn, Ox will fiercely defend his territory. A few minutes ago all three were out front within a several feet of each other. (I trained the flashlight on the skunk and told him to get lost. He left but not in a hurry.) I went around the corner outside and noticed that he had been trying to dig his way back in at the same spot as before. I interrupted this attempted break in by banging on the wall with the pointy end of a broom. Hopefully, he's gone for the night. Given that, according to an entry in Wikipedia, skunks have powerful front legs and long claws that a perfect for digging, there's no way we can stop him from getting in short of digging around the perimeter of the barn and burying some sort of wire mesh. If this had happened at the beginning of the summer, I'd had done that by now. But we've got such a short time left in the barn I don't know that it's worth the effort.

I finally got the wood stove up and running. There's a fire blazing in it right now. I'm not taking any chances that, come tomorrow morning, the last application of joint compound won't be dry. The diversion of heat from the solar hot water system is working beautifully. It was 69F in the house this morning just by turning something we hadn't used into heat for the floor.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Showers and Skunks

At 4am this morning I woke to the sound of something getting into the bag of cat food. I thought it was one of the cats; maybe their bowl was empty. Ox is black and white but this animal was black with a white stripe running from nose to tail. I very carefully propped opened the screen door with a pumpkin and tip-toed back into the barn and up the stairs to the loft. The skunk appeared to pretend I wasn't there. I sat at the top of the stairs, listened to the sound of skunk mastication and waited for it to leave. When it had gotten its fill, it left the way it came in- through the cat door. (That we have been trying to teach Harry to use the cat door for a few weeks without success was the first thing I thought as I saw the skunk effortlessly exit.) I wasn't much in the mood for sleeping after that so I went to work for a couple hours before breakfast. Fast forward to 6am and I'm standing at the sink assembling oatmeal when I hear a rustling from behind the couch. Apparently the first skunk had come in with a partner. (I had closed off the cat door after the first one left so this was certainly a different skunk.) When it saw me, it retreated to safety behind the couch, curled up and went to sleep for the rest of the day. Michelle sat at this computer and worked all day. We were in and out. Ate lunch. The skunk slept. Our strategy was to vacate after sundown and give it a chance to leave on its own. After dinner out we returned to a skunk-free barn. We'll keep the cat door closed tonight.

I haven't had a chance to write that a couple days ago I took the first shower in the house. It was at the end of the day the solar system was up and running and the plumber had come and brought water to the shower stall. The cedar shower was fabulous. The scent of warm red cedar filled the bathroom. We don't have propane coming into the house yet so this was all solar heated. On the first day the 80 gallon storage tank reached 130F. On the second day excess heat from the storage tank was pumped through the slab and kept the house warm all night. So far the whole system is exceeding my expectations.

The last coat of mud went on the drywall today. Sanding on Friday.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

House, Drywalled

Here's a slideshow of images of the house drywalled. If you want to view them individually, they are online here.

This Week

Several things come together this week. Weather permitting, the evacuated tubes will be installed tomorrow. There's one tube in place now and it actually heated water Friday afternoon while the system was primed and tested. But we're waiting on the plumbers to bring the water supply to the system before putting the rest of the tubes up. That will also happen tomorrow. So, if all goes as planned we could take solar heated showers tomorrow afternoon. Getting propane into the house was supposed to happen Friday but didn't. It's just as well because the original guy running the gas lines last week was out on Friday and another, more problematic guy was going to take his place. When I chose Solar Marine to do the hot water system, I was unaware that there is a less than pleasant relationship between the plumbers and solar installers, and the most troublesome element of this friction is the guy who was supposed to show on Friday but didn't.

The drywall is scheduled to be finished on Wednesday or Thursday, and we may try to get together a painting party on Friday afternoon. After a coat of primer and a finish coat on the ceilings and walls downstairs, I'll finish the concrete floor with sealer and wax. This process could take a few days. While it's curing, I'll start assembling the kitchen cabinets. We can also take delivery of the appliances. We should stay out of the house for as long as possible. Yesterday morning, however, the mercury dipped to 28 F and it will be difficult to stay in the cold barn when there's a warm house next door.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Solar collectors going on the roof

First floor shower stall

Moth-Free Shower

I bought red cedar from the Brooklin Boat Yard to construct a shower stall. If it doesn't work out we can always use the stall to store sweaters. Weather permitting, we will be getting solar collectors installed on the roof today. If the gas guy shows up, we could be very close to having running hot water. Joe, the sheetrock guy, has been out with a bad head cold for the last two days but I expect him today.

Pig news: Their date for slaughter has been arranged for 11/29. Seems like raising your own pig has been gaining in popularity. I called one place that was fully booked until January and is already reserving dates for next year.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Baker's Hours

What better time to clean the workshop than just past 3am? After serving as a workshop for the past couple months, the porch was a disaster. Cluttered with wood cuttings, sawdust, trash, scattered tools and whatever else needed to be out of the house, it was difficult to work without tripping over something. The porch had become a reflection of what was going on inside my head, and cleaning the porch was a good first step to tidying up my brain. Waking up at 3am and thinking about the pile of things that have to happen over the next several days doesn't accomplish anything. I didn't just wake up on my own and start obsessing over work; Harry woke me up because he hasn't been able fit the cat door into his peanut-sized brain even though he sits there and watches his buddy and mentor, Ox, come and go freely. When I finally get to work today and go to use the now unburied table saw, I'll say, "Thanks, Harry!"

Hazel and I spent an entire morning running errands in Ellsworth. At Viking Lumber I checked out their selection of tongue and groove red cedar for the shower stall and discovered that, in the words of one the guys working in the yard, "They're not giving it away." At $3.38 per linear foot for 1x6 our shower stall would cost over $700. Sticker shock sent me to Eric who had a pile of left over mahogany from a job at the boat yard. The mahogany needed a lot of work and may not have been enough to do the job so we took a ride to boat yard to look at other left overs that Eric could get for me at cost. How lucky to find a pile of beautiful 3/8 x 6 red cedar left over from planking the 90' sailboat launched this summer. Eric's going to get back to me about cost. If the guy running the gas lines finishes this week, we could be very, very close to having a shower up and running!

At the woodstove store I discussed but did not leave with what I would need for stove pipe and heat shields. I was hoping to buy it all and spend the day running all the pipe, but they didn't have one of the heat shields in stock and without it I wouldn't have gotten very far. A thousand bucks in pipe, though. (Minus a 30% energy tax credit for biomass burning system.)

At a plumbing supply store we checked out a variety of kitchen faucets not available to the general public. They sell to plumbers, but I've found that if I mention that I'm a contractor I can buy at wholesale. I'm a contractor who just happens to be working for himself at the moment. Selecting a kitchen faucet isn't as easy as it would seem, or more accurately, it's as easy as you want to make it. The internet, though, with it's vast, mind scrambling resources can make something as simple as buying a kitchen faucet into an adventure in indecision. What to buy? Who from? How much? Reading consumer reviews....Michelle is particularly bad when confronted with this excess of information. She's determined to make an informed decision and ends up unable to make one. Ask her about her toilet research.

The rest of the barn is waking up and I'd better get breakfast going.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

More drywall

Backside of electrical panel

Downstairs mail desk
2nd floor hallway