The Straw House Blog


Damn fine day

Here’s the rundown: 2 working phone lines, 2 house guests, 2 bays caulked, the bathroom and kitchen painted, and some drywalling done.

As an added bonus Eric came by to check out the state of the road back to the gravel pit. It seems to be OK, and so he’s coming out to dig the septic bed next week. In addition he’ll be grading the ground around the house, digging the trench for the wind generator power line, and fixing up our driveway. The driveway is bad enough right now that Joanne figures we can use it later to induce labour if necessary.

Gator had to be hosed down again after he rolled in something unspeakably foul. Fortunately he loves it when you spray him with the hose, so it makes the job much easier.

I spent a good part of the morning just relaxing and reading a book. With the windows open and a breeze coming in, the sunlight outside, it was just perfect. Both Joanne and I had a hard time getting a start on house work.

7 days to go.

Want pictures? We’ve got pictures.


Blogging from the new house

Excuse me while I geek out for a moment. This entry is coming to you from what will be my living room. So the phone lines are in and working, Dad’s wiring up the jacks, and I’m very excited.

What am I doing? Caulking seams and joins way up in the top of the gallery/cupola. It’s 20C, the sun’s out and the White Stripes are on the iPod.

Life is good.



8 days and counting

We have a dial-tone!! Just one line works, but it’s a start. In the end the problem had to be handed up to a higher order of technician - the so-called “Cable Guy”. He was utterly unlike Jim Carrey, but, as has become a tradition in this project, he knew our land. In fact he had hunted coyotes on our land and killed his first one in the south field. I did the nod and smile thing.

On the hunting vein, I ventured out to get some gas and came across two fellows parked in front of my property, both looking across my fields with binoculars. I stopped to ask them if they required any assistance (being such a helpful fellow). Apparently they’re just avid bird watchers, not hunters. No sir. Being a rude city person I proceeded (despite their protestations) to make it abundantly clear, in no uncertain terms, that they DID NOT have permission to hunt on my land. One of them finally asked, in a rather nasty tone, “Don’t you like hunters?” I like hunters just fine, I don’t like poachers, and anybody hunting my land without my permission is a poacher. I told them that there already was one fellow hunting the turkeys, and a crew hunting deer, people who had the decency to come up to the house, meet me, talk to me, and ASK PERMISSION. They shut up after that and I drove on. Sheesh.

On the drive back there was a white tailed deer just wandering up the road. I got within about 30 feet before she saw me and took off into the bush.

Lots of small jobs got done today, some painting, some drywalling, Nick sanding and sanding and sanding. The man is a sanding machine. He said he’s coming back next week for a few more days of fun.

Just for Jeff,  here are the pictures…


Another annoyed Bell customer

So the afternoon rolled around and still no dial-tone. So I called Bell. It seems that I’m now considered a repair, even though the line only got installed yesterday and it’s never worked. So they managed to book a tech to come out and ‘repair’ the problem tomorrow. Sometime between 8am and 12pm. Nice. It took me a while to convince the rep at Bell that it couldn’t be my inside wiring.

Rep: “Now if it’s your inside wiring we’ll have to charge you.”

Me: “There is no inside wiring. I’m connecting my phone directly to the demarcation point.”

Rep: “OK, but if the tech finds that the problem is with your inside wiring that isn’t covered.”

Me: “There. Is. No. Inside. Wiring. I haven’t run it yet.”

Rep: “Oh, I see they installed the line yesterday, well then it’s covered under the 30 day warranty.”

Me: “It’s never worked.”


Pete, Tina and I did crack repair on the interior walls, yesterday Pete demonstrated crack repair on the exterior walls. Dad continued his work on the conduit, but until we have a dial-tome we can’t hook up the phone jacks.

Just before lunchtime Nick (my father-in-law) arrived to continue the fine Sokolowski tradition of sanding paralams. We finally dragged him away at 5:30pm. He’s coming back with me tomorrow at 8am.

In other notable events today: Simon (Generation Solar) stopped by for a visit, we connected the clothes washer and did a load of laundry, and the dishwasher was delivered.

A big hello to visitors who have come here by way of Dwell Magazine, seems they printed a letter from me, and included the blog URL. Enjoy the site, please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Sorry Jeff, no pictures today.


What happened Wednesday

I knew things were going too smoothly with Bell. But we’ll get to that.

Pete and Tina were in the house again, and I was helping them out with the stucco. We completed the living room wall and fixed cracks on some of the others. Tina spent some time scraping stucco off the posts and beams, they have a special tool that seems to be made for just that task.

Dad worked on the conduit, and we ran some cable from the mechanical room up across the back and through to the front part of the house. So we have all of the phone and electrical wire run around most of the front part of the house. Once we have a working phone line we’ll start connecting the various jacks. We’ve strung Cat-5 networking cable along the outer perimeter as well, but it is my intention to use 802.11 for my main networking needs.

So everybody left around 4:30pm, but I had to hang around because Bell was supposed to come and hook up my phone lines. I waited until 5:30pm and then I went back to my parents. No sooner had I sat down and started into my email than my cel rang. Of course it was the tech, and of course he wanted me to meet him at the house. So back I went, with some reheated lasagna and my book.

By 7:30pm there was still no sign of the tech, so I drove out to the road to look for him. I found him at the main box for the line, cursing. Seems there was no dial-tone and he couldn’t get a test pulse from our road box to the line box. That was the result of mis-numbering. With that resolved he had to wire from the road box to the house. They’d already run a line in alongside the driveway with 5 test boxes. The line had to be connected from box to box and then connected to the house. By the time he had wired the line from box to box to the house it was 9:00pm. He finally left at 10:00am, and I still didn’t have a dial tone. He said to call if I didn’t have a dial-tone by 2pm Thursday.



Very long day

Long day, I just want to watch the West Wing finale and go to bed. Here are some pictures.



Rainy Tuesday

Mom finished the taping and priming. Dad worked on the conduit and wiring. I did a whole bunch of different stuff. Tomorrow Pete and Tina are back and we’ll get that last wall done. Bell comes tomorrow, we should have a working phone.

Just three pictures today.

When I got in this morning the turkeys had surrounded the hill and were gobbling away like nobody’s business. I don’t know what the deal was but those turkeys were definately ticked off about something.

Maybe it was foreshadowing. We had an afternoon guest who would like to hunt the turkeys on our land. Turkey hunting facts: the season runs from April 25th to May 31st, each hunter may take a total of 2 birds for the whole season, wild turkeys are actually good eating. We also found out that somebody might already be hunting our land; apparently there are some guys who travel around in trucks, park on the road, walk across people’s land and leave. Hunting without permission is a problem up here, even though our land (and most land) is posted. The Morton’s have exclusive privileges during deer season, they’ve been instructed to chase anybody else off the land. Brent now has the same authority during turkey season. Oh, and he promised not to shoot towards the house, that was nice of him, dontcha think?

Basically I’m a Hunter by proxy.



More progress

It rained most of the day. Which in our case is good and bad. Good because it made the house more humid which helps the stucco. We were getting some pretty bad cracking and crinkling on the freshly stucco’d walls, part of the reason for this could be that the walls are so dry that they are pulling the moisture out of the stucco mixture too quickly. Bad because we depend on the sun for our power.

The wall that we stucco’d yesterday had to get a re-coating of lime today to fill in the cracking and crazing. Pete and Tina went over the whole thing, Tina with her ‘jet pack’ soaking the wall down and Pete spreading the lime down super thin.

We got the back bathroom (storage room for now) primed and set up the grey shelves. That enabled us to clear out the back room and move the saw and other tools out of the front part of the house. Maybe now we can keep the level of dirt and sawdust down a bit in the front room. Two weeks to move date.

Here’s the current to do list:

  • Paint kitchen and bathroom walls (and bathroom ceiling), both have already been primed.
  • Conduit and main house electrical and phone lines.
  • Door and window trim.
  • Caulk/foam all remaining door and window edges.
  • Fibreglass shower back wall, order shower stall glass, door, and all hardware.
  • Measure for kitchen cabinets, get measurements to Gene, cut and build cabinets.
  • Fix exhaust pipes where they pass through roof above bathroom.
  • Get stove & dishwasher hooked up (dishwasher not yet delivered).
  • Clean.

That’s the list for moving in.



A Message from Your Pregnant Correspondent

Joanne here again. It was another busy day as we try to get things done before the big move (now confirmed to our landlord as May 25). Pete and Tina worked on the final coat of stucco. Glen has become quite the skilled dry waller (but if anyone asks for his help on this he will deny all knowledge of drywalling or his repetitive stress injuries will suddenly flare up) and after working on the back bathroom/storage room he learned some more about stuccoing from Pete and Tina. Donna and I finished priming the utility room. She helped Ron with the tub base and I put some Tremclad on the metal around the newly installed shower base (don’t worry Karen, I wore my respirator).

That is both the curse and the blessing of being pregnant while working on the house. It’s nice to take more breaks, but it’s a bit frustrating when so much still needs to get done before we move in. Although it doesn’t exactly break my heart that I won’t be able to move the heavy boxes….

One of the biggest challenges we’re going to have is getting the rest of the beams and posts sanded before we move. It’s a time-consuming job and we can’t do it while we’re painting or while Pete and Tina are stuccoing. My dad offered to come out to sand more beams which will definitely help, but ideally it would be good to do the posts with 120 grit because they’re still pretty rough.

Tomorrow I need to drive along Morton Line and find the Kennedy’s. They stopped in at the house one day when Ron was there and in the course of conversation asked about how I was going to get to work in Toronto. Apparently there are a few people who car pool to the Oshawa Go Station and they wondered if I’d like to join them, which, of course, I would. 

I did want to add another point to the last entry about the things we’ve learned. Always start something new in less visible places. Especially if you’ve never done it before. We first tried drywalling in the bathroom (where it will be seen the most). We should have started in the laundry/dog bath area and done the bathroom once we had a better idea of how to do it.

You don’t get to see me in my Darth Vadar respirator because I took all the pictures today. (my first successful pictures link!)



Something new every day

It’s a cliche but everyday I’m at the house I learn something. Today Pete was teaching me some better stuccoing skills. We were filling in cracks on the walls, as well as the gaps where the straw/stucco settled over the winter. Once the cracks and gaps are filled we can start applying the white marble stucco mixture. I’m hoping to help with that tomorrow, and learn some super smooth stucco skills.

Jo and Mom spent the afternoon priming various walls, Dad did some electrical work, wiring up the back room electrical outlets. We also took down the kitchen lights, to protect them from accidental… collision.

Tina has fallen in love with our dog bath. A while back we decided to have the dog bath serve dual use as our utility sink. We had it plumbed with a service box that includes a hot and cold water tap, connected with a Y-hose. This set-up allows us to fill buckets, clean tools, and bathe dogs. I suspect Pete’s gonna get a request to build one for Tina real soon.

Here are some things we have learned so far, maybe they can help others:

  1. You cannot plan enough. Check, then check again. It’s forgetting the little things, then having to go back and fix them that really eats into your time.
  2. Buy the big box. We started with a 50 pound box of 3” spiral nails. Figured we’d end up with leftovers. Bought a 25, innumerable small boxes, and then another 25. We should have bought a second 50. We’re going through the same thing with drywall mud.
  3. The lowest quote is rarely the best. Find the best people, hire them. Use your quotes as a reference, and to make sure everybody’s price is in line. In every case when we have hired solely based on price we’ve been sorry.
  4. There is absolutely no limit whatsoever to the varieties of awful smelly things that a work site dog can find to roll in on 100 acres. Two weeks ago Gator rolled in something so foul it made your eyes water when he got close. Get a hose plumbed ASAP.
  5. Unless you have tested them, the wires are live.
  6. Some retailers have credit cards that save money on your first order. If you time things right you can use the card to save on a big purchase. If we had used such a card for our insulation purchase we’d have saved around $600.00.
  7. The plans are never complete enough.

Today, we took pictures, imagine that.