The Straw House Blog


Drywall Part Two & fun in the snow?

Taped and mudded today. Joanne came up from the city in the morning. The first coat is done. The second tomorrow, if we have time.

Monday, Simon’s coming up first thing to give us a lesson on the off-grid system. Then we’re up to Pete and Tina’s for lunch. Pete’s done some examples of his stucco with marble dust for us to check out. We’re hoping we can get that done soon.

We had many guests today. Paul came by with his friends Jill and John. He wanted to check out our progress. He promised Jill and John a pleasant snowshoe around our land. What he didn’t tell them is that we got another six inches of snow last night and that we don’t exactly have any groomed trails. Even with snow shoes it’s not easy going. The extra snow certainly didn’t make things any easier for the dogs. Both were porpoising around just to get anywhere.

When we got back Mike Cooper and his wife Karen were there. Mike hasn’t been to the house since before the New Year. He was pleased with what he saw, and gave us some advice for the drywalling.

That’s it. I’m about as tired and sore as the dogs.



Drywall Part One

Saturday. Beautiful day. Sunny, warm (-2C). The panels were pumping out 10 amps (which is about the max). We ran the generator all day to refresh the batteries. The timer seems to be working, Dad ran the generator on Monday, and it wasn’t run again until today. The batteries seemed to be just fine.

I got lucky again at Eurolite, somebody returned five of the lights we wanted to use in the kitchen, so they gave us a deal. Earlier we lucked out with the fans. We like Eurolite, they’re good people.

So today I hung the first kitchen light to see what they’ll look like. I’m going to Photoshop in all five at the proper heights, I might post the pic. We also took delivery of this really fantastic Italian florescent fixture, two 4’ skinny tubes and one hell of a reflector makes a bright bright light. Plus an electronic ballast for low noise. So I put that in the battery room and it really helps.

Mom continued her taping, she’ll be happy when that job’s done. Dad worked on the bathroom doors. And then, after lunch, we drywalled. Yessir, nothing says fun like drywallin’. We got one wall and the ceiling done, taping and mudding tomorrow. We’re thinking of doing the entire west wall in tongue and groove cedar. After we got home Dad and I spent a couple of hours planing and jointing some of our cedar. It looks like we’ve got enough for the west, north and south walls. “But Glen,” you say. “What will you do behind the shower?” Hey all of that boat building experience hasn’t gone to waste, we’re going to put a layer of fibreglass and epoxy over the wood in the shower stall.

This morning and this afternoon I took the dogs for a walk. Apparently all of the rain that we got in Toronto last week was snow up here. The snow is up to my knees in the bush. That’s a serious impediment to the dogs. They are exhausted.

Last, but absolutely not least, a big congratulations to Steven and Laurie who just gave birth to their first child, an (undoubtedly) beautiful baby girl named Malaika. Way to go guys!

I have no pictures of the baby, but I did take pictures at the house.



I See Dead Porcupines

House wise, today was much like yesterday. Mom kept sealing up the vapour barrier and Dad and I did a bunch of odd jobs around the house. We labelled all of the circuit breakers and tested that they all had power. We sealed some of the front windows and worked at removing the ends of the window shims that are still exposed. I vacuumed up the gallery area, and finally got around to cutting off the extra window gasket. Periodically we’d go to the utility room and stare in a perplexed manner at the inverter or boiler. Something’s going on between those two, and I don’t like it.

My parents left around 3:30 and I took the dogs out for a walk, or rather they walked, I snowshoed. There’s a couple of feet of snow in some spots, more in drifts. With the freezing rain we got last week there’s a hard crust and then powder underneath. This is not the best walking terrain for the dogs. They tend to punch through the crust but then because the powder is so deep they get sort of ‘hung-up’ with all four paws down and their chests against the crust. I feel bad for Gator when the snow’s this deep, as a certain part of his anatomy tends to carve its own groove through the snow. That cannot be comfortable. Gator spent most of this walk following in the path of my snowshoes, stepping on the tail of one now and again just to keep me alert. Ceara just wanders around looking for new kinds of shit to eat.

Today we walked the southern boundary of the property and up the east side into the coniferous bush. It’s neat walking around this time of year since you can cruise over the swampy areas that are impassible most of the year.

I saw a deer, or at least the ass end of a deer, it’s hard to be stealthy in snowshoes. I think I found where the turkeys live, or at least where they spend a lot of time. And I came across a dead porcupine. I think the poor fella froze to death out in the fields a couple of weeks ago. In Peterborough it was getting down below -30 at night, and doing anything let alone foraging for food is dangerous at that temperature.

Yup, pictures. WARNING!! There is a picture of the dead porcupine, if you’re squeemish cover your eyes before clicking on the link!



The Problem with Three-Ways

So the fun with wiring continues. Dad and I keep disagreeing on how to wire up three-way switches. Dad thought there was a problem with a switch and re-wired it but while it worked, it wasn’t right. This morning we set out together and we re-wired every single light and three way switch in the house. We now have working lights in the back rooms, and the mud-room, plus proper switched power to the front and back door exterior lights. Paul (the architect) lent us a book about the electrical code and we just wired everything up with the book open in front of us, saved arguing, and everything works. We’ll hook up the other lights as we acquire them.

The heat is lovely, we leave it set at about 17 degrees, and even though we’re having some troubles with the inverter, the house can stay warm through the night with no heat. Which is good since both Dad and I have walked into the house in the morning and found the inverter off and displaying an unknown error. However, after a quick look through the manual (RTFM ya’ know), Dad discovered that there is a way to display the type of error that has occurred. So maybe tomorrow, if there’s a problem again, we’ll be able to figure out what’s going on. Now wouldn’t that be exciting?

We’re just working on small stuff around the house these days, for a whole variety of reasons we’ve sort of slowed down while we get a grip on things. We’re nearing the end of the project and there’s not quite as much money left as we’d hoped, and we feel like we’ve been on a runaway train with rushing to get everything done. Now that we have heat we can slow down, take stock, and get all of the last stuff done right.

So Mom’s been taping the seams in the vapour barrier, Dad and I are working on electrical, caulking, the bathroom, and figuring out how all of of new high-tech systems work.

The next goals are sealing the concrete floor, doing the final coat of stucco on the inside, and running the conduit around the perimeter. Then we have to finish the plumbing, finish the inside the bathroom, and then the kitchen. After all that, maybe, just maybe, we move in. It doesn’t seem that far away now…



No Heat, plenty of Cold

I’m pleased to report that the passive solar design and the windows seem to be working. It was bitterly cold out today: -18C in the sun, -30C with the wind chill. You couldn’t take your gloves off outside for more than a few seconds. But inside the house the temperature climbed up to -3C, and that was without a good deal of the ceiling insulation. If we cold hold that heat in we’d be doing great. I took a picture of the thermometer after lunch. The windows certainly generate heat, they’re very warm when you stand near them, but until we get the house sealed up we won’t know how well they hold it in.

As for getting the heat turned on, too many things went wrong today. The propane guys came this morning and hooked up the vent, and they were supposed to come back this afternoon to hook the propane up to the boiler, but they didn’t. They did deliver and install the propane tank, and it is big! 1000 gallons. Given what it costs to fill I sure hope that lasts us a while. Hopefully they’ll be back tomorrow.

Dan Peel was there with a helper and they hooked up the manifolds and piping and connected all of that to the hot water exchanger and propane water boiler. Dan’s a great guy, and really knows his stuff. Unfortunately the boiler had a loose part inside and when they pressurized the system it leaked Glycol/Water all over the place. Dan had also slightly misjudged the amount of Glycol he’d need so they could only fill one of the two manifolds. They weren’t done until 3:30, and the propane guys weren’t back so they left. They’ll be back tomorrow.

Dad came around 1pm and we took off to Monaghan’s to collect our three interior doors. They’re made by Madawaska Doors and they’re Western Red Cedar. Dad and I did a bit of work on the electrical and insulation in the back room. Dad and Rene will be back tomorrow.

Simon got most of the electrical system hooked up yesterday but there were some problems with the charger that prevented us from using the generator to get the batteries charged up - they’re a little low from sitting in storage. Plus the panels still have to be put on the roof and there’s some plumbing and stuff for the hot water system. When I talked to Simon he said he’d be back tomorrow.

It’s going to be busy around there tomorrow. So one last time everyone, “Heat on Thursday, heat on Thursday.”


Now THAT’S Cold

Today when I left the house, I walked out the front door and locked it behind me. That felt so cool.

By the way it was minus 19 degrees Celsius outside today, keep that in mind. Minus one million with the wind chill. Man it was cold in the wind.

We have water. The pump is in the well, the line is run into the house and into the pressure tank. Yesterday Dan installed the boiler, it just needs the gas hookup and we could have warm floors. The gas will be installed early next week, the guys showed up this morning but they were completely unprepared for the job, they had been misinformed back at the shop about what they had to do at our place.

So here’s the scenario, Eric dug a trench with the backhoe, breaking through the frost from the well to the house at a depth of about five feet. We had left a piece of Big-O pipe through the foundation into the back room to run the water lines. Andrew ran the lines in, we back-filled the trench and Andrew connected the pump and dropped it down the well. That took almost all day. Andrew will come back later when the heating is in to finish the rest of the plumbing. While Andrew dropped the pump, Eric graded around the front of the house, the grade is almost at the right level.

Even though it was so cold today the sun was out all day long. I’m pleased to report that the windows worked quite well. By the time I left at 4pm it was -18C and inside it was -4C. If you stood in front of the windows you could actually feel it warming you. Very cool.

My new hat might be goofy, but it is damn warm.



Snowy Day, Busy People

Here’s what happened today: Dad built the battery box. Mom and Rene worked on the insulation. Ian strung wire from the back room lights to the posts for future switches. Joanne sanded posts. I worked on completing the wiring for the various rooms, connecting the wires with Marettes and stringing wires for switches. We’ve moved a few things around, the clothes washer is moving out of the kitchen and into the back room next to the dog bath, we’ve added wall sconces to the bathrooms along with the pot lights in the ceiling. We’re also putting some lights in the top of the bathroom that will shine up and illuminate the ceiling providing some ambient light.

Tomorrow Dave’s coming back to fix up our front doors, maybe he’ll even get to our open bits at the top ends of the gallery. We’ll all be back tomorrow, hopefully I’ll even get my wiring done.

We went for a walk late in the afternoon and saw our friend the porcupine, so I took his picture.



Poured the Floor

We poured the floor today. Rick Russo and his crew did a fine job, of pouring and smoothing 34 cubic metres of concrete. We had the concrete tinted a brown/tan colour and the results look fantastic.

We also filled our anchor forms (built by my father) that will be carried up to the top of the back hill and used to anchor the wind tower guy wires.

Tomorrow Jerry and his crew will be starting on the post and beam, so we are on track for our straw bale deadline. Things are looking pretty darn OK.