Recently in Exterior Category

Sorry it's been so long.

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As often happens around here it's been quite a while since my last post, so I figured I'd upload some pictures to give a sense of some recent events around here.

We finished of the deck on the east side of the house with some steel grating we acquired a year or so ago. Near the back part of the house we built a sandbox for the kids. When they're grown we'll make a nice zen garden or something back there.

Joanne has been busy finishing the ash boards that will be going up on the ceiling. We figure that we have enough for the whole front half of the house. The scaffolding is out on loan right now, but comes back in a week or so, this will be a late summer job for us, but it will be fantastic to have a ceiling up.

Most blog readers beyond friends and family won't know this but we lost both of our dogs in the last 12 months. Ceara had a stroke and had to be put down last May, she was 14 1/2. Gator had a tumour on his spine, we had to put him down in February. Gator made it to 11, which if you were familiar with his tendency to eat foreign objects was a miracle. We were devastated. The picture above is Cash. He's our new boy, a 3 year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever. The boys are head over heals in love with him. Fortunately he has shown no inclination to eat rocks.

Sometimes I can't believe how lucky I am to have ended up here with such a fantastic family and place to live. Sometimes the universe concurs.


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We've had quite a bit of rain here in southern Ontario this year. In fact we've already had more rain than we had all of last summer and we've shattered all previous records. I don't mind rain at all, but I'm not a fan of massive downpours that wash out my driveway. So far we've had three such storms this summer, and since we've never been washed out before that's pretty serious rain.

We've had Eric in with the backhoe twice now to fix the driveway, and the township has been working on the road pretty much continually all summer.

We think there used to be a culvert here. If there was, it's gone now.

If you look behind Declan you can see most of road, back there in the forest where it doesn't belong.

Fortunately this new gully is the township's problem, not mine.

Joanne makes me drive the truck over the washout, neither of our cars could make it.

Here's the road. There's a brand new ditch, the old ditch is full of the washout from the previous storms.

The new deck

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Long time readers might recall a post I wrote back in April of 2005 talking about milling cedar and the fabulous decks that would be built. I'm pleased to report that construction has finally begun on the east decks, including a new deck directly off the front door.

My helpers

This deck is a team effort, unfortunately I have to spend as much time trying to keep the kids on my team as I do building the deck. It takes only a matter of seconds for them to not only form their own team but for that team to splinter into two entirely separate (and warring) factions. Things degenerate rapidly at that point. So as a result both children are gradually accumulating their own tool sets and each has a simple task that they must perform in order to "help" me. For example both travel with a handful of 3 1/2" screws that each gets to hand me in turn as I screw down the decking. Both kids help me measure the deck (each with his personal dollar store tape measure natch) which lends an interesting twist to the old saw "measure twice, cut once" since neither can actually read a tape measure.

Deck boards going on.

I have noticed that they are doubly helpful when they are wearing superhero pyjamas.

The dynamic duo.

It's all worth it when you get a section done and the kids are so proud that they helped build the deck.


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The tobogganing conditions the last couple of weeks have been stellar. We have 2' of hard pack snow than runs smooth down the back hills and almost right to the house. Conditions are best in the morning after a good cold night when the crust is still frozen. By mid-afternoon this crust is slushy and the hills are slower.

This is the view from the top.

The view from the top

Of course to get there you have quite a walk ahead of you.

Climbing to the top of the hill.

Savour the view for a few minutes, catch your breath and then it's time to come down.

Tobogganing. Tobogganing.

The run from the top is too long and steep for the kids to do themselves but there is a nice hill about half way that Gil can handle on his own. The longest runs are around 300m. We toboggan from the back property line almost all the way to the house for our final run.

Tobogganing. Tobogganing.

Though sometimes speed gets the better of you and you and the GT part company.

Tobogganing. Declan thinks that a soother counts as protective headgear. Declan.

The Barn is Gone

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Cladding the front of the house

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From the very beginning there has been a debate over how we would finish the front of the house. We went through the first winter with no cladding at all which was a mistake.

The front of the house before any finishing.

As you can see from the image above there are a great many cracks and crevices along the front wall. We believed that sealing up the inside would be 'good enough' to get us through the first winter. We were wrong. The house was drafty and at times cold. At the very least we should have put up house wrap and taped all of the seams.

We knew that cladding the front was a priority for this year but what material? We had always thought of covering it with western red cedar, similar to our doors, which contrasts nicely with the grey stucco and soffits/fascia. WRC also weathers well and is durable. The drawbacks are that it is (in Ontario) an expensive material and that with all the windows would require a great deal of custom work to make it all fit. Even then guaranteeing a weather-tight seal would be very nearly impossible. We talked to Paul (our architect) and he and Charlie came up with a plan. First we would prime the walls, then a layer of a material called Blueskin, which is adhesive and waterproof over the wood and attaching to the sides of the windows (which stand proud of the front of the house by almost one inch). Over this we would apply strapping and then the WRC would be attached to the strapping. As Paul says you start from the assumption that water is going to get behind the cladding and work from there. Unfortunately all of these layers would leave the wood about one and a half inches out from the windows - and aesthetically we were not very happy with that idea.

Earlier this spring I helped Pete and Tina from Camel's Back Construction on a stuccoing job at Camp Kawartha and I began to wonder about using stucco as our cladding. It has several benefits for this kind of job: it's very easy to shape which would make working around the windows a breeze, stucco as it is used in strawbale homes is breathable so water is less of a concern, and it is relatively inexpensive. So back to Paul and Charlie for a plan.

Paul and Charlie's new plan was very similar to the old one, primer, Blueskin, but adding rigid foam insulation and a sheathing to allow water to run behind that over the Blueskin (should water ever get back there). Over the foam they wanted mesh and then stucco. All told this came out to six layers and again would have resulted in cladding that was proud of the windows.

While I agree with the base philosophy - water will get in, so build to expect it - the whole thing seemed overly complex and to me six layers means six places where failure can occur. Water is just about the worst thing that can get into a strawbale wall, yet they're just covered with only two or three layers of stucco. Why does this work? Because the walls are breathable - moisture from inside passes freely through the wall to the outside, water from outside has a very hard time getting through the stucco to the bales. I believe this is one of the reasons that people find strawbale homes so comfortable to live in. Blueskin is not breathable, any water vapour that manages to migrate through the wall to behind the Blueskin would remain there. That's why the rigid foam was necessary, to move the dew point out of the centre of the wooden beams.

So we formulated our own plan. The cladding needs to perfom two functions: seal the house from drafts and water, and protect the front from the elements. First we caulked all of the seams in the structure and any gaps around the windows with a high quality caulking. Then we applied a layer of Tyvek house wrap and taped all of the seams with Tuck tape. Tyvek allows moisture to travel one way, from the house out, but not from the outside in. It will greatly (if not completely) cut down the drafts, but will be an imperfect water barrier since it's pierced hundreds of times by staples that hold down two layers of plastic mesh. The plastic mesh is in place to give the stucco something to grip onto, since it will not adhere to Tyvek. We're counting on the stucco to stop the bulk of the water from ever getting though to the Tyvek. Since the front of the house rarely gets directly rained on this shouldn't be too much of an issue. The east and west ends of the gallery do get some weather and we will have to keep our eyes on them.

There are some risks to our method: if a quantity of water gets behind the stucco, or the stucco gets saturated that could present problems to both the stucco and the Tyvek covered wood. While straw is quite breathable, wood is less so and if a quanitity of water (condensation for example) builds up inside the beams it may exceed the breathablility of the materials, mold and rot could occur (though this could happen with the other method as well). It's possible that the plaster could shrink back somewhat from the windows and we may need to apply a thin bead of caulking around the windows. We did use metal mesh for the corners but two layers of plastic mesh for the faces. Plastic mesh is not as strong or stiff as metal, but is much easier to work with. To test the plastic mesh we plastered the north face of the gallery first, left it for several days and checked it before starting on the front of the house.

In the end only time will tell if we have made the right decision, but there's no debate that it's made a huge improvement in the look of the front of the house.

This update is actually one week late. The septic system is done and covered over and half of the final grading is complete. So we can now flush whenever we feel like and we don't spend any more time worrying about the level of our holding tank. We've also got a layer of topsoil laid over the septic bed and I'll be seeding it this week (if the rain keeps coming). We've had unseasonably cool and rainy weather this month, which is just fine by me, and means that the grass might get a hold before the August heat hits us. Of course we took pictures to document the whole process.

In other news we've started the process of getting a mortgage now that the house is largely done and we've started closing out our permits. The health department permit (for the septic system) is closed and on Saturday we had our final inspection for our building permit. The inspector, who has been great through this whole process, told us that although we had a few outstanding issues he would close the permit. So now all we have to clear is our electrical inspection.

That is looking to be the biggest hurdle. The inspector was happy with all of the work Dad and I did inside the house he had issues with the off-grid system. His problem wasn't with the quality of the work, but with a bunch of stuff that ended up sounding to me more like he didn't like all this new-fangled off-grid stuff than anything else. Anyway Simon and JP, calm as always, will be taking care of all that and I'm happy to let them. If you're going off grid good installers are worth their weight in gold.

Massive Update Part One: The BBQ

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The house is officially broken in, we have had our first party. Friends and family, city and country, everyone came out for an evening of house tours and BBQ. Special thanks go out to my Mom and Dad who helped us paint and clean to get ready, and to Phil who ably handled the BBQ.

Here are some pictures from the night.

The barn comes down

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We pulled the last part of the barn down today. It took quite a bit of doing. Despite its lean it was quite sturdy. We finally got the last section down by pulling with the bulldozer.

We've been held up a bit with our other stuff though. The septic system isn't going to be done until sometime next week -- if we're lucky. And we're picking up our kitchen cabinets on Tuesday.

Here's the barn pictures, plus some views of our new grading around the front of the house.

More trenching

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We got the trench filled in today. Tomorrow we start on the septic bed.

Here's the pictures.

I'm having a hard time deciding if the +31C (+38C with the humidex) right now is worse than the -20C (-30C with the windchill) we had six months ago. Of course there weren't any Deer flies out then...

I'm going into town tonight to see Tina's band play. They're called BobCajun - guess what kind of music they play. My feet are killing me though, I'll probably skip the dancing.

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