The Straw House Blog


A fine winter day

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 dog bath. I (finally) put up the outside backdoor light, and worked on the dog bath 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.



At low ebb

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

Not a lot of work got done today, lotsa driving around in fairly crappy weather. Over the course of twelve hours about 8-12 inches of snow fell around southern Ontario. Our driveway has 12” of snow on it, and it hasn’t been ploughed. 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.



More of the same

Pretty much the same deal as last weekend.

Come back tomorrow for a longer entry.



Easter? Ah, no.

We had an interesting weekend.

The driveway is nearly impassible, if you don’t have 4-wheel drive, don’t even bother. Thirty acres of fields with at least 3 feet of snow are currently melting across our driveway. I spent the morning on Saturday walking along the road with a shovel trying to clear some of the crown and ruts that were blocking the flow of water across the road. On the one hand when you have a lot of water flowing across the road you risk it washing out and just disintegrating into the fields, but on the other hand where it pools the road can get very soft and in some places the mud nearly swallows the truck. We have come to the conclusion that we really need to dig some bigger ditches, and probably add a few more culverts, that or for two months of the year we park at the road and walk in. It’s only 900 metres, do you think Joanne would mind? Yeah, me too.

So we have an wrecked driveway, there’s still 2 feet of snow on the road to our gravel pit, which is soft at the best of times, and there’s a 5 ton weight restriction on the county roads. All of which means that we won’t be able to dig a septic system until mid-May or early June, and that means we won’t be moving for a little while yet. So Easter was just a dream.

We were up Friday and Saturday this week and we got quite a bit done. The bathroom is now ready for plumbing, the shower base we ordered won’t be in for 10 weeks but that’s the only real hold up, we’ll be able to bathe anyway. We’ll start staining/sealing the cedar next weekend and Pete will be stuccoing the walls when he does the rest of the interior. It’ll be nice to have running water. We’ll also be hooking up the dog bath in the back room, given the amount of mud around the site that’s going to get used quite a bit.

We also installed the fans up in the cupola, and they look fantastic. I couldn’t be happier with them. I installed two pot lights in the front bathroom and I’ll install the pot lights in the back bathroom next weekend. The back bathroom is just going to be storage for the foreseeable future, but at least it will be well lit.

The fellows at Eurolite sold us these great florescent fixtures that we’ve installed in the back room and the systems room. They use the small T-8 tubes and have this super high quality reflector and an electronic ballast (so they don’t buzz). They throw off this great light and have really improved both of those rooms. One of the problems with the grey stucco walls is that they just eat up light, there is almost no reflection off of the walls so you need a really bright fixture in any area that doesn’t have a lot of natural light. Or you need to paint the walls white, which we’ll get around to some day.

I’m hoping that the week after next we’ll be able to get the truck up the hill and get that wind generator installed. We’ve noticed already with the slightly longer days and the different solar angle that we’ve been getting more power off of our panels, but it still isn’t quite enough, and if we had a fridge running, we’d be in trouble. We’re in a shoulder period now and we need the two systems working together.


Sweet smell of cedar

Everybody was busy today. Mom continued her onerous task (but cheerfully), Joanne worked on the drywall and then sanded posts. Dad and I put up the first of the cedar boards in the bathroom, then we ran some wires for the front rooms, then we attempted to put up the cement board for the area around the dog bath.

Now I’m tired and I think I’m getting Joanne’s cold. Blah.


Laundry Lists

I’ve been feeling like the entries have been more like lists lately, and I’m not happy about it. The thing is we’re getting down to the end, or at least if you squint, and the light’s right, you can see the end, somewhere, out there… The tasks are changing, it’s no longer about the big strokes, and the house doesn’t change massively from week to week anymore. It’s harder to take pictures for the same reason. I think the tenor of the blog may start changing, does anybody have any suggestions? Any questions about the house?

So here’s the laundry list for today, Dad and I have been working on the cedar planking for the bathroom. Dad planed and jointed most of the cedar we had left and last night we ripped it to common widths. Today we took it down to the house and laid it out on the floor to try and match the boards for colour and clarity. Our cedar isn’t very clear, there are a lot of knots, so we have to try and find the clearest sections to cut our boards from. After cutting them to length we brought them back to Dad’s and routed the tongue and groove into the boards then cut out the larger knots and glued in plugs. Tomorrow we’ll put them up on the wall. After they are up we’ll fibreglass the boards behind the shower. Once the boards are up we can install the last of the plumbing and get the water hooked up and running. THAT would be a big step towards our goal of… IN BY EASTER!!

The weather is actually supposed to turn warmer tomorrow, I think Ceara will actually be relieved to see some of the snow melt. She’s be somewhat less than enthusiastic about her walks lately.



Scotty! I need more time!!

There just isn’t enough time in a weekend. It’s a cliche I know but it has never seemed more true than now. I have got to start taking a day or two a week and heading up to the land to get stuff done. I just can’t get enough done in two days.

We did have a very good weekend though. Dana came by today and provided a great deal of help to Joanne who was quite sick. Except for a final sanding the bathroom is drywalled. We have a bunch of the drywall up in that back portion as well as the between room insulation (for fire retardation and sound proofing).

Dad and I started putting up the barn boards on the outside wall of bathroom. This wall faces on to the mudroom immediately adjacent to the front door. This is the only part of the house that will appear ‘old’ (since our style is definitely modern). The bench in the mudroom will be made from one of the original barn beams. The mudroom will be our homage to the barn. We started to run out of boards though so Dana and I went out and I climbed up to the top of the barn. Between the two of us we got the rest of the boards down and into the house. We’ll leave them stacked for the week to dry and equalize with the house humidity.

Mom (bless her heart) continued the thankless job of cutting and taping the vapour barrier. Someday she’ll be done.

We saved the dog walk for Dana. When she got there Dana and I strapped on the snowshoes and took the dogs out. We got more snow last night. The snow is now deeper than the dog’s shoulders, they can really only walk by following in our tracks. We could just walk them along the road but twenty minutes through the bush is better than an hour on the road. This was also the first time that Dana has done any real snowshoeing, talk about your trial by fire! She did very well.



The big jobs left at this point are planing and routing the cedar for the bathroom, but since we have to do that in Dad’s unheated garage we prefer to wait for the temperature to get nearer to zero. Then we have to install and stain the cedar. When that is done we can finish the plumbing and start on the kitchen. At the same time as we’re finishing the bathroom we can do the final coat of interior stucco, installation of the Wiremold baseboard, and finish the the drywall and other various trim type jobs. Somehow I don’t think we’ll be installing the windmill for a couple of months.



Drywall Part Three - The Dust Storm

Dad and I worked on drywall and insulation, Mom taped the vapour barrier seams. And Joanne, Joanne worked on the drywall seams, sanding and mudding in the bathroom. That just about sums up the day.

Dad and I have to find some time to work on our cedar. Even after it has been sanded and planed all of the knots have to be removed and plugged. Then we have to route the tongue and groove into the side of each board. Then we can put them up. We’re going to put our maple and oak into a kiln this month and get it dried out so that we can use some of it on the house.


Starting to feel like home

Simon from Generation Solar came by Monday morning to give us an overview of the system and all the various intricacies of the inverter and charger. Being the way we are Dad and I had been messing around with all of the various settings and variables but it was nice to have a pro go over the whole thing with us. One of the most frustrating aspects of the whole solar/wind inverter/charger setup is that there are no good monitoring tools available. Neither the inverter nor the charger save any kind of logs and only the inverter has a serial out for computer logging. The controller for the wind generator doesn’t even have an analog meter to let you know who much power the wind generator is producing RIGHT NOW. Dad and I are bit heads - we want sophisticated logging tools! Simon knows of two tools for monitoring one is a $500 box and the other is a $1200 box. Yeah right. Or we could use the Trace stuff and leave a computer ON next to the inverter, wasting power just to track our usage. Ah… no.

Monday was -25C when we woke up and really it didn’t warm up much past -18C. But the sun was out and it was gorgeous in the gallery.

We had lunch with Pete and Tina (thanks guys!), and Pete showed us some samples of his plaster with marble dust added. We took two of the samples to the house and we’re gonna go with the white (vs. buff). It’s gonna look stunning. 

Now I know I’ve asked a lot of all of you, but we’re aiming for an Easter move in, so if you could all just quietly, once or twice before you go to sleep, give us a little “In for Easter, in for Easter.” Well that’d be really appreciated.