Friday, July 31, 2009


Having just returned from a fundraiser spelling bee, it's sad that I had trouble spelling spalling. The computer's spell check doesn't know spalling, but you can be sure that the concrete guys do. Spalling is their worst nightmare. (Or at least in their top ten.) It's when the surface of concrete (or any material; spalling is not specific to concrete) flakes off. I noticed one such area a few days after the floor was poured and have since found maybe a dozen more simply by tapping on the surface. If the there's a hollow sound, the finished surface is not adhered to the mass of concrete. When I called in my discovery, Dale Dagget (Dirk Diggler?), the representative who'd come out to see the problems, said they're already looking into what he called retro-plating, the remedy of last resort. It would involve taking the surface of the floor down a bit to a new unblemished surface. This is tricky business because the aggregate (chunks of stone) that give concrete its strength sit just below the smooth surface. If you grind down into the aggregate, the surface would no longer be a solid color but flecked with bits of polished stone. Some concrete floor specialists add aggregate of a certain color and then grind it down and expose it on purpose to get a special look. We, however, do not want this look. I suppose it all depends on how far down the aggregate sits in the floor.

I'm just about done putting in the first layer of rigid insulation in the walls of the first floor. It's not difficult, just a little tedious and time consuming. My first job today, however, was to cut a new window opening in the west wall looking out onto the porch. This proposed window has been a matter of much discussion over the last few weeks, and it all started when both Chris Doyle and Eric Blake pointed at the wall in question and said, "You need a window there." Since then we've asked everyone who's shown up for a tour to weigh in on the subject, and the results were mixed but in favor. So today I framed an opening for a good sized awning window, and I must say I like it already.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The King of Knuckleheads

For a few hours this morning I was in the presence of royalty. None other than the King of Knuckleheads was driving the truck carrying my insulation. Though humility is hard to find in a king, this one cared not that truck driving might be beneath him. He was having a good time, circumstances be damned. After backing his way down Sis Porter Rd, he was in the middle of making a valiant attempt to pull the back end of his rig onto our drive when the left half of his front end went a little too far off the pavement and promptly sunk in the mud. The whole thing was pitched to such a degree that most of the wheels on his right side were up in the air. The King knew at once that he was hopelessly grounded. He laughed it off; kings do not let such trifling matters ruffle their feathers. He called for help, and then started taking pictures to send off to his subjects and document his extreme degree of stuckness. "Ron has just got to see this!" he said as he snapped a shot of his wheels floating in air. While we waited for the tow truck, I was lucky enough to hear royal tales of ridiculously excessive beer drinking (his belly was size of a keg) and four wheeling with his friends. He never stopped talking. For about two hours his chariot completely blocked Sis Porter Rd.
On the plus side we did get to meet the folks from the other end of Sis Porter, who, looking for a way out, found a tractor trailer blocking their path. Fortunately, they didn't seem to mind or have any place urgent to go. Perhaps they were simply humbled by the presence of The Knuckleheaded King. But we got our insulation. It could have been much worse if the early morning rain had continued. Instead we got a swampy afternoon in the 80's.

Stuck truck

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Floor Problems

After spending ten hours pouring and finishing a beautiful concrete floor, it's a shame that in the final twenty minutes they dropped the ball. When the floor is hard enough to walk on but still setting, it's easy to leave a mark if there's dirt or even dust on the bottom of your shoes. The mark, if not troweled in, will set in the concrete, and that's what happened when the machine used to cut control joints was rolled across the floor. Not only are there wheel marks but a handful of boot prints as well. My efforts to wash these marks away the following day were not effective. They're part of the concrete. That's one problem. Yesterday, as I was sweeping up after framing some walls, I noticed a area of fine cracks about two feet long and six inches wide. Tapping on the area produced a hollow sound. I remembered that there was a little low spot there that they'd filled in with a very thin coat of cream. As it cured, this thin layer didn't adhere to the concrete below, and it's well on its way to peeling off. A phone call yesterday got somebody to come and look today. What course of action will be taken is still up in the air. But, since I haven't paid a dime for the work thus far, the ball they dropped is most certainly in my court.

Bird lovers out there will be pleased to hear that a minor relocation of the baby phoebes went without a hitch. I decided for everyone's good that they'd be better off outside the main part of the house. I chose the screened-in porch, made a little shelf for the nest, and very carefully slid the nestful of birds onto a cedar shingle. Down one ladder and up another, I carefully deposited the shingle in the new location just around the corner. All is well; the parents found them easily and now have a sight with less traffic.

A tractor trailer of insulation is due to arrive tomorrow morning.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Phoebes: Part 2

It occurred to me yesterday as I was cleaning up bird crap from the new concrete floor that I hadn't mentioned anything about the phoebes return. Phoebes frequently have more than one batch of babies over a summer, and ours are true to form. About a week after all birds, babies and parents, vacated the house, the parents came back, reassembled a new nest and, before I knew it, filled it with three more eggs. Those eggs hatched some time over the last few days, and now the parents are in and out with food. Their means of exit are dwindling, however; I've got all but two windows installed. There's the big slider opening, two door openings, and the not yet closed in eaves. The last batch of baby phoebes flew away in a couple weeks.

Friday, July 24, 2009


The floor pouring was a great success. What we have is a smooth matte finish resembling honed slate in texture and color. It will be interesting to see what an application of wax will do to the look of it. It's supposed to bring out more of the color and give it a little more shine much like a coat of satin polyurethane will enhance a wood floor. Tomorrow I'll spray it down with water, remove any debris and cover it with a couple layers of the same heavy duty pinkish paper used under hardwood floors. Installation of the first floor windows immediately follows.
One might be thinking at this point: What's with the title? Was there some irreconcilable conflict during the pour? No, nothing of the sort. It's about a log and my head and how, almost impossibly, they got together. Since I really had nothing to do today but oversee the pouring of the floor, I decided that, despite the weather, I'd finish up with the firewood. At the start of the day I had a little more than a cord to stack and split. Because of the rain, I'd throw a pile of wood under the shed roof so I could split and stack out of the weather. What happened is hard to believe, but it went something like this. (I'm not 100% certain.) There was a jumbled pile of logs at my feet, and I stood one upright to be split. I raised the maul, brought it down, made contact with the log, and somehow the end of a log just under the one split flipped up in an action very similar to what would happen if a cat was sitting on one end of a see-saw and an elephant stomped on the other. The log went almost straight up perhaps six or seven feet, and, then, on it's way down landed right in the middle of my head. I saw stars, felt for a lump and came away with a bloody hand. The blood ran down my forehead as I walked briskly to the barn, hand applying pressure. In the end, it's wasn't so bad. No stitches. I could not perform this feat again if I tried for the rest of my life.

Floor Pouring

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Approximately 72,000,000 Btu's of firewood arrived a few days ago. I was surprised to see that the load was very nearly all red oak. Typically, in these parts, a delivery of firewood will be predominantly red maple, ash and birch. I have a soft spot for oak. Though there are just more than a few types of wood that top red oak as a source of heat (apple, black locust, hickory, white oak) and a couple that are tied (sugar maple, beech), in this neck of the woods red oak is the best in the most-likely-to-get category. If you asked a firewood supplier if there'd be any apple in the mix, the answer would be most definitely NO. The same would go for just about all the above mentioned species save beech. So, when you order three cords of firewood and it turns out to be 98% red oak, consider yourself lucky. The only issue with oak is that it takes longer to dry, and burning oak with too much water in it extinguishes the benefit. Ideally, the wood I bought this year would be next year's heat, but since I had only a little more than a cord of wood cut from last year, we'll have to rely on some portion of the oak just delivered. To speed the drying process, I've been splitting most of it in two. (This requires just a touch more effort as it takes to lift the maul above my head and letting it fall. Red oak is easy to split.) After a day or so of chipping away at it, I'm just about done. Chloe is excelling as an apprentice wood stacker, not so much for productivity but enthusiasm, and she'll be ready to take over full time in a few years.


The guys pouring the floor are due to arrive at 6:30 in the morning tomorrow with the concrete truck coming at 7. Everything's ready to go. We'll post pictures as we take them.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Windows Tomorrow

Called Eric at Viking to see if the windows were on the horizon and he says, they're just coming off the truck right now. Off one truck onto another; they'll be delivered tomorrow. I'm ready to pop a few of them in on the east side. My plan is to install all the second floor windows, pour the concrete floor and then the first floor windows will go in. Or maybe I'll pour the floor before all the second floor windows go in. I finished installing the under slab insulation and mapped out the radiant tubing. I should be able to call the concrete guys early next week and give them the green light.

Now for some pig news. I'll be picking up food waste from a new restaurant in Blue Hill called Table, owned by the same folks from our favorite place in Ellsworth. Three five gallon buckets per day should put on some serious pork. They're doing well, still dividing their time between rooting, running around and sleeping. After I gave them their first installment from Table, they ate ravenously then slept for the rest of the morning.

Deet Dipped

Along with this summer's near record rainfall comes a seemingly inexhaustible supply of mosquitoes. As the hours ticked away last night I was awake thinking about all-things-building and trying hard to shut my brain down and go to sleep. Just as I felt I may be getting somewhere sleepy, a particularly aggressive mosquito would swoop down and destroy any progress I'd made. This went on until 2:30 and I decided to take evasive action and try sleeping on the couch downstairs. (It worked.) Every time a mosquito would attack I'd think of my promise to make this place mosquito-proof. I've been chipping away at what might be ways for them to get in, but it doesn't seem to be making much of a dent. I could look at the glass as half full and think of the thousands of mosquitoes trying but failing to get in, but that's not much consolation at two in the morning. In my sleep deprived state last night I fantasized about using an industrial sprayer to apply a wash of 100% Deet to the exterior of the barn just before dusk every night. A more sensible way to maintain sanity would be to use a mosquito net.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Concrete Floor

We should be able to pour our concrete floor next week. Having the floor in will allow us to frame the bathroom walls, finish the rough plumbing, and frame the stairwell walls. And once the windows are in all else will follow: electrical, insulation, drywall, paint, kitchen, wood stove, winter....

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Big Week Ahead

With the roof one day away from completion and the windows on their way, this week see some significant signs of progress. With a little luck I'll get the concrete guys to come and survey the situation and set up a date to pour the floor. Roof on, windows in, floor poured...we'll be just about ready to abandon the little barn and move in. But we won't until the very last minute. Which should be some time in October.

After a day or so of framing interior walls upstairs, I'm almost done. It's nice to see my scaled drawing turn into real walls, creating real spaces that you can walk into. Closets, bedrooms, hallway, bathroom.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

Upstairs Partitions, Underslab Insulation

Got delivery of a load of 2x4's to frame the walls for the rooms on the second floor, and started nailing them together to finish the day today. The same delivery brought a pile of 2 inch polystyrene insulation to go under slab. The ground on the first floor is groomed smooth and level, and it's ready for vapor barrier, insulation and wire mesh. I've been going back and forth about the virtues of different insulating systems, and I've settled on the option that yields the biggest bang for the buck but requires more effort on my part. A lot of my building decisions fit this formula; my time, while not free, comes pretty cheap, and I'm sometimes willing to take on a time consuming process if the benefit is commensurate to the effort. In this case insulating with fiberglass batts and installing a thermal break to the inside would be the least effort option. But I don't really trust the effectiveness of fiberglass, and the R-value with a flawless installation would be around 27. The option of greater effort involves getting a shipment of 2 inch polyisocyanurate (polyiso to those in the trade) by tractor trailer and cutting it to fit the space between studs. I'm sure I'll come up with a quick and easy way to cut the stuff to size. Two layers of that plus a thermal break to the inside would yield an R-value of somewhere in the low 30's, tight to the inside and breathable to the outside.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

This is NOT July

I've been up since 4am looking into trucking options from Springfield, Mass, where there's a recycled insulation warehouse. My fingertips are a touch numb because it's raining and cold. I'm wearing a winter hat, long underwear and a sweater. I wonder if being cold is shaping my thought process on how far to go with insulation in the house.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Rained Out

The roofing crew showed up this morning with hopes to get a full day in, but as has happened far more often than not over the past month, rain put them out of work. They made it one panel beyond the stove pipe. I've never seen the standing seam process before. A crimping machine in the back of a large pick-up truck turned a roll of galvanized sheet metal into roof panels that were cut to the length of the run. They took some measurements, and in a couple hours all the panels for our roof sat stacked on the ground. On the north side where the roof changes pitch, the run from peak to the end of the shed roof is about 38'. This will be one continuous panel bent in the middle with no break. They'll show up tomorrow weather permitting. They've got two or three days to completion.

I ordered four inches of polystyrene foam insulation and the wire mesh for the slab. The guys who'll pour the floor are going to show up next week to check out the site for adequate access; and, hopefully, we'll have it poured in two or three weeks. I'm going to start framing the interior partitions for the second floor while I wait for the windows to show up sometime next week. Once the roof, the floor and the windows are paid for, we'll have to take stock of our drained financial resources. We may end up falling a little short of what we need to finish the essentials before winter. In that case we'll have to look into what we were hoping to avoid; we may soon find out what it's like to borrow money in a post-liquidity-crisis environment.

Roofers Roofing

Monday, July 6, 2009


The phone rang at quarter to seven this morning. Brian Mitchell calling to say he'd be starting the standing seam metal roof tomorrow and might even make it this afternoon to set up. First thing this morning I popped in the stove pipe near the peak of the roof. They'll flash to it in conjunction with the stovepipe flashing I provide. Next I ran to the hardware store to pick up some flexible drain pipe I'm using to pipe in fresh air to the wood stove and the passive air inlet. The pipes run under the concrete footing and will come up under the screened in porch.

Thursday, July 2, 2009