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.