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

Sunday, September 13, 2009

LowE 179

One of the chief reasons I chose Marvin windows was that they had a glazing option that worked well with passive solar design. If you know what to ask for, you can get a Cardinal Glass product called LowE 179 for the south facing windows. It's got a solar heat gain coefficient of .70 and a U-factor of .28. The high solar heat gain coefficient is what sets it apart from typical coated LowE glass. Typical LowE glass would block about 60 to 70 percent of available solar gain, a property that's awfully helpful in Florida but not in Maine. So imagine my surprise when I noticed something a little odd about the light passing through the three panels of the sliding glass door. Not long after installation a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that light passing through the two fixed panels of glass was different from the light passing through the middle operating panel. As it shows on the dark concrete floor, the light from the middle panel is clear but the light from the two panels on either side is slightly yellowish. I also noticed that the floor is cooler to the touch where it's been heated by the yellowish light in comparison to the floor behind the middle panel. I couldn't think of a reason why the panels should be different. The information etched into the glass in the upper corners of the panels didn't mean anything to me, and the stickers on the windows which normally provide glazing information were blank. To try to get to the bottom of this, I first called Cardinal Glass, the folks who manufacture LowE 179. The guy at the coated glass plant in Minnesota shared my conclusion; if it looks different and feels different, it's not the same. He said it was probably standard LowE glass in the two fixed panels, but without any other information he couldn't be sure. Armed with this information I called Marvin. Presented with the facts, the woman at Marvin directed me to Cassie at AW
Hastings, the same Cassie who was involved with arranging the repair a few weeks ago. (As I understand it, AW Hastings actually makes and distributes Marvin windows.) She said she'd look into it and get back to me, but I imagine that the same guy who helped fix and install the door will be paying me another visit. No hurry this time; I don't see those panels coming out until June. The visible difference in the panels can be seen in the picture of the slider below; it's subtle, but it's there.

Michelle and I finished the IKEA marathon in just over seven hours. We left with all the parts to assemble the kitchen cabinets, a bed frame, a sofa and a few lights. The drywall guys finished hanging yesterday and will be back tomorrow to start taping. Winter is closing in.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Live, From New York, It's Saturday Morning!

Just before 7 there's a steady hum of traffic seeping in the open window of Tim and Anna's apartment in the city that doesn't sleep. It's nice to get away from the constant work, but I can't really leave it completely behind. Perhaps putting a few days between me and the house will loosen its grip. Michelle and I think that a real vacation is in order once the critical work of kitchen and bathroom is done. Then I'll be able to relax. The ultimate goal is to fashion a way of living that doesn't produce the need to go on vacation.... Seems like the rest of the apartment is waking up.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Writing from North Smithfield, RI, on our way to NYC for the weekend. Joe and his sheetrock hanging helper showed up yesterday morning just after 7am, and the truck with all the sheetrock for the house arrived shortly after. After an hour or so of lugging sheets into the house, they got right to work, and by the time we left at 3pm, they'd hung the stairwell, the ceiling for the second floor and they were working on the ceiling downstairs. Michelle and I were working to get the place ready up to the last minute. It's been a long haul to get to this turning point; and, because of the rush and pressure, it hasn't been an enjoyable process. The last month in particular. By the time we return late on Tuesday, the whole house will be hung and ready for tape. We'll return with our kitchen cabinets in a rental truck.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Monday, September 7, 2009

Almost There

With two days before the drywall shows up, we're looking good. The first floor is ready to go, and the second needs a clean up and a once over to make sure that all the framing is in place for sheet rock. And it's not a moment too soon; the mercury dipped below 40 for the first time this morning. This morning was an early indicator that the design of the house is working just fine. Though many of the upstairs windows were open and the attic and second floor cold storage is still open to the rest of the house, the house was considerably warmer than outside. If the excess heat from the solar hot water system makes even a small contribution as it is added to the slab over the course of a sunny day, we may not need to fire up the wood stove until December.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Recent photos

I've been remiss in adding photos. Here are a bunch.

The new slider, showing the gap

Plasticing up for Danny

The new door

First day of kindergarten and looking so small.

Michael and the Marvin guy install the big slider

Thursday, September 3, 2009


The Marvin rep showed up this morning and fixed the door fairly easily. If someone had been able to tell me what to do, it would have saved everyone a lot of time and trouble. The panels are not siliconed into place as I had thought. The three screws I had removed a couple of weeks ago were really all that was holding the panel to the frame. All it needed was for someone to brace against the bottom of the frame while another gave the bottom of the panel a shove. After the fix it took us all of 15 minutes to install it in the opening, and I spent another hour putting in the operating panel and finishing the installation.

The drywall guy showed up at the very end of the slider installation. We walked through the house again and went over a contract for the job. He's having materials delivered next Thursday and will start hanging sheets while I'm still there to fix any last minute problems. If all goes as planned we'll be off for a trip south after Chloe gets out of school. A week from today. A much needed break.