April 2003 Archives

A block of time

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Happy times for the next week or so, I launched two sites yesterday, the RCMP Veterans Association Store and a stub page for Scott Morris Architects full site to come soon. I'm taking the next 5 days off to work on the house, next week Jo and I have our first appointment with the doctor in Peterborough. This is our temporary doctor, she's helping us only until the baby is born, then we're SOL. The doctor situation outside of Toronto is really bad.

Pete and Tina are in the house again, applying the final coat of plaster to the interior walls. We're mixing the plaster with white marble dust, it should look pretty cool. Another nice thing about working with Pete and Tina is the music. Music is delicate balancing act in the house, the trick is to find stuff that is enjoyable and good to work too, but doesn't offend my parents. They're pretty accepting of most light country, acid jazz, and light rock type music, and Paul Simon. We're starting to get a bit tired of those albums. So after my Dad left today we threw on the new White Stripes, Elephant, which seriously kicks ass. After that David Holmes' Bow Down to the Exit Sign. Both great albums to work with.

This week we also have one group of my parent's friends coming through on Friday and Joanne's whole family comes up to celebrate her birthday. Somehow I don't think we're going to get a bunch of work done those days.

Pete was saying that some of the straw bale house owners he knows have gotten so sick of the constant stream of visitors they have started charging admission. Another house only allows visits one day a month. I wondering if we're going to get that frustrated. We get about one visitor per weekend, usually neighbours, who we enjoy meeting, but occasionally we get strangers who've just heard of the house and are curious. Those people we're a bit less happy about. We've also learned that for most people, a No Tresspassing sign is pretty meaningless.

Tour Day

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We really didn't get much work done today. Mom did some sanding and Dad and I worked on the drywall. Just after lunch friends from Toronto came up, with Joanne. David and I worked together over the last year or so, and he came with his wife Angela and super cute daughter Veronica. We toured them through the house and around the land. A good time was had by all. Seeing parents like them (ie good calm together parents) gives me hope that this whole kid thing will be OK. Veronica loved the dogs and had an altogther splendid time wandering about the the land exploring. She was a treat.

As we were walking back to the house Steven and Laurie pulled up with their wee daughter Malaika. Malaika is just two months old. She basically slept the whole time, but even so she held her own in the cuteness department.

Then they left, and the Morton's came buy. We bought the land from Hector Isaac Thorton Morton. His nephew is Anson Morton. Anson's sons Randy and Kevin farm the front 25 acres of our land. They live just up the land, you can actually see their place from ours out the front door. Anson told us stories of the area and his family. His father and uncle built the barn on our land. His father was born in the house on the 100 behind us. It was a nice visit.

But we got nothing done this afternoon. Jo took some pictures though.

Rube Goldberg came to our house

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Well you should see our mechanical room now. We have great soaring pieces of pipe, a panopoly of pumps and pressure tanks all humming and burbling in their own ways. Evidently Simon ran into some trouble on Friday as the solar hot water system is still in pieces. Nothing involving fluids seems to go well at our place.

Here's the way the system works. There is a submersible pump in our well which is 53 feet deep. The well controller runs off its own 48 volt line direct from the batteries. The pump feeds into a 30 gallon pressure tank which feeds our domestic water.

The hot water tank is actually a heat exchanger with two sets of coils. Both coils are closed loop sub-systems. The lower set of coils is fed from the solar hot water system. A glycol/water mixture runs up through the panels and then back down through the heat exchanger. The pump for that loop is fed from a panel tacked onto the side of the main panels. We call it the "pimple panel".

The upper loop is fed from the propane boiler, which is capable of producing 140,000 BTUs. The upper loop heats both the domestic water and the radiant floor system. There is an aquastat on the side of the tank, if the solar hot water system hasn't pre-heated the water sufficiently, the aquastat makes a request to the boiler and it starts to circulate its glycol/water mixture through the top loop. The radiant floor system is controlled through a pair of thermostats in the house and a pair of aquastats on the return side of the floor loops. If the ambient air temperature inside the house drops, or if the return mix temperature drops too low the boiler will fire and the floor pumps will start.

If it sounds complicated don't worry, it's much much worse when you look at it.

Here are the pictures

I was gonna rant...

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... but now I'm not. I had a big ol' rant prepared on the age old topic of contractors who don't show up. Except it turns out he showed up, at night, after we had left. Now I could deliver a mini rant on the subject of contractors who don't call, but really I'm just happy to find out that the work is done.

On Wednesday my cousins Steve and Phil came up to help. Steve's in visiting from Vancouver and it was the first time he's seen the house. He seemed really impressed with the place, and with the land. Being city boys we all have trouble with the scale of 100 acres, Steve and I walked around a fair bit, but he seemed a little overwhelmed. Steve is a few years older than I am, when I was younger I worshipped him. He used to take me to see the Star Wars movies when they came out, and he loaned me his Eurhythmics, Human League, Heaven 17, and Thompson Twins LPs and 12"s. He dressed cool and he moved out when he was 17. That was a long time ago, but Steve and I have grown to be good friends so I was very excited to have him come out to visit.

His brother Phil (who is 5 years older than Steve) loaned me his Frank Zappa, Steely Dan, and Lynyrd Skynyrd albums. Steve and Phil more than anything else are responsible for shaping my adolescent musical tastes. Phil is far more handy than Steve, he helped us hang drywall, and hopefully he'll be back next week to help hang more. We might even get him mudding.

We gave our notice two weeks ago and the landlord has already rented it out for June first. So we really are committed. Everything now is a milestone, everything is another immediate step towards the big move. This week we put up the mailbox, got most of the plumbing done, sanded a bunch more beams, urethaned the outside of the bathroom, put up drywall, and did a bunch of electrical work.

In addition Simon was in to plumb up the solar hot water system, and Dan Peel rewired the the radiant system to use thermostats out in the house in addition to the hydrostats on the return loops. The boiler has been replumbed so that it supplies hot water to the heat exchanger, and all of the pumps have been configured to work independantly depending on whether the request for heat comes from the floor system or the tank.

They're late but here are the pictures from Wednesday.

World of Ends

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If you haven't seen this and you're at all interested/involved in Internet stuff please go give it a read. It's well worth ten minutes of your time.

World of Ends

Ooops, I forgot to mention that Joanne is pregnant and that we're expecting our first child in October.

Sorry to interrupt. Please carry on...

Rainy day, dream away

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We have a mailbox now. Amazingly the post office has been the least bureaucratic group we've had to deal with (so far). Their criteria for starting mail service is: install a mailbox, put your name on it, call them. Oh, and the mailbox may not be more than 42" off the ground. So tomorrow I will put my name on it, and call them.

One of the things I really like about the country is how neighbours really do go out of their way to help each other out. Randy and Kevin Morton who farm our land, and hunt on our land, and whose great-uncle we bought the land from, came down with their post-hole digger to help us install our mailbox. We used a cedar post leftover from our cut two years ago.

Nick spent the night with us at my parent's place, and was back sanding at 10am. He sanded pretty much non-stop until 5:30pm. His whole body must have been vibrating at the end of the day. He got most of the cupola done and he's staying over again tonight so that he can finish the rest tomorrow. It's a crappy job and we're very thankful that he's up there doing it.

Dad and I worked on a whole variety of small tasks around the house including, installing the locks on the bathroom door, some plumbing work, a bunch of electrical work and a whole heap of planning.

Tomorrow we're going to have a seriously busy day as we are expecting visits from Simon to install the solar hot water system and fix our water pump, Dan Peel to change the radiant system over to air temperature thermostats, Andrew Green (the plumber) to fix a couple of problems and finish the dog bath and bathtub (human bath), and last but certainly not least my cousins Phil and Steve are coming up. This will be the first time that Steve has actually been up to the house.

Here's the pictures.

Who was that masked man?

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Joanne here - a new voice. We had a few more visitors this weekend. On Saturday the president of Thermotech Windows stopped by to take a look and get some pictures. We had broken a lever on one of our front casements and he brought a replacement. He said he'd keep our spare window in mind and suggested we post it here. Window anyone?

Mike the roofer also stopped by to check out the completed soffits and discuss eavestroughing. We didn't work on Sunday - family event at Aunt Joan's. On Monday we were back up and were joined by Nick (my dad) who came all the way from Grimsby and spent the day sanding the big double beams in the gallery. I finally got a few pictures since I stupidly missed getting any pictures at the beginning of February when he and Anna (my mom) came to visit. We didn't even do a blog entry that time! They came all the way from Grimsby, helped out, and we went out for a wonderful dinner for Glen's birthday and there has been no record of it. It's been bugging me since then so I'm happy to have finally put it in the blog.

Glen and his dad were working on the bathroom. Today they got the glass in the doors which means we really have a usable bathroom now! Donna and I applied another coat of urethane to the outside bathroom walls and doors. Then I started sanding the posts with 120 grit -- I got five done, only twenty-three to go.

At the end of the day Ian showed up, he hasn't been out here for a couple of months so he was seeing some big changes. Later this week Glen's cousins Phil and Steve are coming out, Phil to work and Steve to visit (I'm not sure that Steve's all that handy). The plumber's supposed to be out tomorrow or Wednesday to fix a few problems. When that is done we can put up the drywall in the kitchen and back bathroom.

Here are the pictures.

Another Job Completed

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Pictures from Sunday

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Well I had hoped to do an entry about Sunday sooner than this, oh well.

This Monday I gave our landlord notice that we would be moving out as of the end of May. So we're commited. The bathroom's looking pretty good, Dad got one of the doors fitted, and a good portion of the plumbing is done. We now have a toilet and a sink. Unfortunately there seems to be some issue with the water pump and we have no pressure or hot water. Simon's working on that though, and promises results before May. We met with Andrew the plumber and discussed various plumbing related issues with him. Hopefully we'll have a people bath, and a dog bath very soon. The shower won't be installed for a couple more months as the shower base was a special order and might not be in until June.

The major to-do list now consists of kitchen cabinets, final stucco, drywalling, and sanding/sealing the posts.

Here are the pictures from Sunday

New Homepower

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There's a new issue of Homepower out. It has a big article on a house with a massive solar system and all kinds of monitoring software. Looks like the Maui stuff, but I haven't had a chance to read the article yet.

We've been getting between 10 and 11 amps out of our panels on the sunny days but we're only barely keeping ahead of our requirements - and that's with no fridge. We need to get the wind generator up to give the batteries a boost. The tower was recalled though and isn't back yet, and the wind generator was recalled and is now going back to the factory for a retro-fit. All of which is moot though since we haven't got any cable run, and won't be until things thaw a bit more. Obviously we're going to have a problem in the shoulder months when we have the heat and the fridge going at the same time. Although once we turn the heat off we can put the inverter back into Search mode, that'll save us a little.

A long soft road

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Just when the driveway dries out we get 12" more snow. Then that snow melts, and the driveway's back to a muddy rutted mess. Mom and Dad can't get in anymore with their Subaru because the ruts are so deep that the car bottoms out. We don't have any problem but then I haven't taken the snow tires off the truck yet.

But the big news is the working toilet! Joanne is a very happy camper right now. The plumber got most of the rough plumbing done yesterday, and I hooked up the bathroom sink. We still don't have hot water but maybe next week. Sunday I'm going to install the exhaust fan in the front bathroom. Dad's been working on the doors and windows of the bathroom, so we'll have a bathroom with privacy.

The installation of the soffits and fascia continues, but there's only one guy working on the job so that probably won't be done until next week.

We ordered our appliances today through a store in Peterborough. Our criteria for appliances is a combination of energy efficiency, quality, and cost. We chose a Kitchen Aid fridge and stove, a GE front loading washer and an Asko dishwasher.

Today we took exciting pictures of plumbing!

Some good news

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The plumber was at the house yesterday, and he should be there today. We might have plumbing for the weekend. Mom and Dad are going into Peterborough today and they said they'll pick up the glass for the doors and windows (of the bathroom), so we might even have a bathroom with privacy. You know, versus, "I'm going to the bathroom, everbody go to the opposite side of the house."

The engineer from Bell called this morning and she said they can put in a phone line to the house. It's going to cost us $2,400.00, and given that the driveway is nearly 1km long that doesn't seem so bad. In comparison Ontario Hydro wanted $35-$50 per metre to bury their cable. Bell's going to put in three test boxes along the road just in case something happens and they need to test the line. They're going to run 3 pairs to the house so we can have a maximum of 3 phone lines. That won't be going in until mid-May. Right around the same time as the septic bed.

I think we're going to bite the bullet and give our notice on the apartment for the end of May.

A fine winter day

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However odd it might be having a day like today in April, it was a beautiful one. Just above 0C, blue sky, bright sun, and everything coated in ice. Everything was glittering like fields of tinsel.

We got a late start at the house because Dad found some nice cedar boards in his basement that we had missed, and that gave us enough to finish the outside walls. So we had to do the plane, joint, rip and rout process all over again. So Dad and I (but mostly Dad) got the last boards up on the outside bathroom walls. Mom spent the day with a paintbrush in her hand sealing baseboard, bathroom walls, and priming the dogbath. I (finally) put up the outside backdoor light, and worked on the dogbath and bathroom. After Mom and Dad left I sanded the bathroom walls and got one end stained.

The house is passive solar, and it has been designed with the sun in mind, but it really is amazing the dramatic effect the sun has on the house. The temperature (and comfort level) goes up about 5 degrees and the solar panels were producing 10 amps. Sweet. Plus the whole house just lights up, it's so much brighter and inviting.

Here's the pictures.

At low ebb

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There are times working on this project when I just don't feel like we're getting anywhere. The task is so huge that, as close to the end as we are, it still seems like there is way too much to do. Our Easter move in date is long since history, we're looking at the end of May right now. Our landlord wants six weeks notice on our apartment so if we want to move in at the end of May we have to give notice next week. It's a bit of a gut check to give notice when we have no appliances, no water, and the whole place is covered in dust. We really can't afford to bring in any help at this point, so it's all up to us.

Here's the laundry list for today:

Mom put the first coat of urethane on the bathroom walls, and the Wiremold conduit covers. She applied stain to the shower back wall since Dad's experiments showed that fibreglass will adhere to stained wood.

Dad worked on the outside walls of the bathroom. It looks like we'll have just enough of our wood to finish.

I put the third coat of drywall mud on the back walls, sanded the outside walls of the bathroom, and built the dog bath.

Dog bath? You can see it in the pictures.

April in Ontario

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Not a lot of work got done today, lotsa driving around in fairly crappy weather. Over the course of twleve hours about 8-12 inches of snow fell around southern Ontario. Our driveway has 12" of snow on it, and it hasn't been plowed. I managed to get in with the truck, but it wasn't fun. So the roofing guys weren't there, the plumber couldn't get in, and Joanne is stuck in Toronto, since all Go trains were cancelled this afternoon. The weather people are calling for more of the same tonight.

Dad and I went into Peterborough to pick up our Wiremold conduit and glass for the doors. We got the conduit but the glass place was closed, probably due to the weather. So, as has become the norm for this project, we've pretty much lost a week. Good news though, we were hoping to do the outside window trim in Western Red Cedar, because it would match the doors, and because it contrasts with the grey exterior stucco so nicely. Turns out that the quantity we need will only cost about $300. For the interior window trim we're going to use either our own oak or maple.

Dad's got the cedar up on the outside face of the south end of the bathroom, we'll stain that tomorrow. He also did a test of laying the fibreglass over the stained cedar. It sticks fine, so after we finish staining the shower wall we can apply fibreglass.

Snowy pictures.


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Mike and the guys started on the soffits today, they got most of the way down the east side. The soffits are silver aluminum, the fascia is silver Galvalum. So everything should match.

Now if we could just get the plumber out there we'd really be moving along.

No word from bell today.

Soffit picture courtesy of my Dad.

Mid-week Update

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There's a lot going on this week, the roofers are back putting on the fascia and soffits. The plumber should be making his way in to connect up our plumbing. It's bad enough going in the bushes when it's cold out, the women have made it very clear that no plumbing in black-fly season will not be acceptable. The Wiremold conduit for the perimeter electricity, phone and data is ready for pick-up, as is our glass for the bathroom doors and windows and back room door.

Now we're having fun with Bell Telephone. Two years ago when we started this whole thing we called Bell and they came out and told us that they could run the wire, and it would cost just over $2K, they actually sent people out who measured the driveway. Bell pays for the first 165 metres, our driveway is 900 metres long, $2K didn't seem like much. I called them on Monday to get that particular ball rolling, and of course the whole thing began to unravel. An engineer came out today and she told my father that she isn't even sure thay can run a phone line that long... uh pardon? She's going to go back to find the original file and see what they told us and why. Great. They did reserve our phone number though and it is a seriously kick ass number. The kind where you hear it once and it's memorized. It'll be really great, if we ever get a phone.

Remember folks building a house is a full contact sport. Do not forget your cup.

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