The Straw House Blog


The obligatory thermostat picture

Got up to 14C in the house today. Hoo-ray!! I love winter, but this -20C stuff gets pretty damn tiring.

No I don’t know why the thermometer is showing LL.L as the outside temperature. It probably froze last week.


Sometimes when you do it yourself…

We have heat. In the end the whole problem with the boiler was caused by the plug for the boiler being wired out of phase. Apparently the boiler is really picky about that sort of thing.

I wired that plug.

There aren’t enough expletives in the English language for how I feel right now.



The Restorative Powers of Soup

The insulation is pretty much done so the house is no longer hemorrhaging hot air. Dad guessed within 6 bags how much insulation we needed, a pretty impressive feat. He’s buying the rest on Monday. He’ll also be trying to coordinate the propane guys and Dan Peel to get the gas hooked up to the boiler so that we can start heating the place. (You’ve all been chanting right? ‘Cause it does seem to be working….)

The sun made an appearance just after lunch and a whole bunch of cool things happened. First the temperature inside the house rose to nearly zero. All the insulation seems to be working. I went up on the roof and brushed last nights snow off of the panels and the batteries are (we think) fully charged.

There’s about 12” of snow in some places on the roof but near the back windows (north side of the cupola) there’s nothing. I don’t think that it’s just because of the overhang. Paul said that he thought that the wind would cause a sort of vortex as it blew under the overhang and above the roof. It would appear that Paul was right. Hey, don’t look at me, I’m as surprised as anyone. (Hi Paul!) 

I’ll explain about the soup later, but today, it was chicken noodle. Yesterday it was potato bacon, my personal favorite.



Fixing a leak

How do you fix a leak in a radiant floor pipe under a 4” concrete slab? We documented the whole process for your edification and education.

Meanwhile Dad worked on the electrical, Rene and Mom stuffed insulation, and Joanne cleaned up. I helped Dad, Dan, and did some electrical work. We also hooked the generator up to the inverter and we’re pretty sure that we charged the batteries. But we’re not positive. Nothing exploded though (or even smoked) so that’s good. And the numbers changed, and even climbed on the charger display so that’s promising. We also ran the floor pumps off of the batteries (through the inverter), so we do know that everything is functioning.

If we can get the propane guys in on Monday to do the last hook-up to the boiler we will have heat. Really. But if you want to go to bed tonight repeating, “Heat on Monday. Heat on Monday.” It probably wouldn’t hurt.

It gets worse before it gets better

We still don’t have heat. But we do have a leak in the radiant system - under the slab. Looks like when the Dave’s put in the back bathroom walls they decided to nail them down to the floor. They had been told not to, and when they built the front bathroom walls they glued them down, but apparently they forgot when they did the other walls. [CORRECTION: The leak was not caused by a nail, it was caused by a rake when the slab was poured. My apologies to the Dave’s. The leak just looked like it was coming out from under their wall.] So now that we know where the leak is we have to break a hole through the concrete and patch the pipe. No I don’t know how they patch the pipe, but Dan does and that’s all that matters. We’re just damn lucky though, that the Dave’s only managed to nail one pipe… sorry I couldn’t resist the pun.

Today Simon and JP finished up the electrical system. The solar panels are up on the roof and are charging the batteries. We also have a pig-tail off the charger so that we can use the generator to supplement the panels. The solar hot water panels are up on the roof as well, but they aren’t plumbed in yet. 

Dan’s coming back Saturday to finish up his stuff. Rene’s coming to help finish the insulation, and Dad and I are going to finish the electrical conduit, and apparently break up some concrete.



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.”


Working towards another milestone

If things go right, if we can maintain our kharmic alignment (or something like that) we will have heat on Wednesday. Given that they’re calling for a low of -25C on Wednesday that would be a good thing. The gas fitters are supposed to be in tomorrow, hooking up the tank (1000 gallons) and running the gas lines to the boiler and kitchen stove. The guys from Generation Solar might have been there today, and will be there tomorrow finishing up the electrical install. So we’ll have electricity and gas, all we’ll need are the various manifolds etc for the radiant heat system. Dan Peel has assured me that he will be there on Wednesday to hook it all up and sometime that afternoon we will flick the switch and have heat. If you hear a faint “Yippee” from the north, that will be me, in case you haven’t been following along it has been DAMN cold for the last little while.

On Sunday Brian came up installed our electrical service panel for us. He also installed some of the conduit and left us his bender so that we could install the rest. That was a huge help for us and really saved us some time. So a big thanks goes out to Brian, it was very cold in that back room, all the diner had was chicken-noodle soup (not his favorite - more on the soup later), and out heaters were inadequate to say the least, but he was ever cheerful and stayed to make sure that everything was done right. 

After that I took the dogs for a walk to warm them up a bit and give them a run. While the land in some senses is paradise on earth for the dogs (it’s a scat buffet!), when we’re working they don’t get to do much. Gator will amuse himself and has taken to disappearing for short periods of time (no that doesn’t worry me at all… no sir, not at all…) but Ceara insists on sticking near me, and as a result she often gets quite cold. It is a deeply unsettling thing to watch a dog as large as Ceara shuddering from the cold, when that happens she gets put in the truck with the heaters on full blast, or if possible, taken for a good brisk walk to get her blood flowing. She got both on Sunday, and I resumed my brief sojourn into the realms of amateur digital photography.

And when you go to bed tonight, repeat after me, “Heat on Wednesday, heat on Wednesday.” Do it for Ceara kids, it’s cold out there.


Happy New Year

A title just like a billion other blogs…

We’ve been working on the wiring over the last few days. Brian (a fellow from my hockey league) is an electrician and came up after X-mas to take a look at what we’re doing. He offered some excellent advice, pointed out a few mistakes, and offered to come back and help wire up our breaker panel - an offer we will definitely be taking him up on. The solar guys wire everything up on their end from the wind generator and panels, through the inverters, batteries and chargers, right up to but not actually into the breaker panel. For that we need an electrician - or we do it ourselves. We’ll be taking that route with plenty of guidance from Brian.

So for the next few days we’ll be stringing up the rest of the wiring and later this week or early next week Rene can start putting up the insulation and vapour barrier.

The next month or so is an interesting juggling act with all of the various trades. We want to get our electrical system set up, our plumbing installed, and our radiant in-floor heating set up. But, we need heat to keep the water system from freezing, and we need water for the heat system. Kind of a Catch-22. At least if you’re building in January… we really don’t want to wait until spring to finish the house.

We bought door handles yesterday, nice ones, clean lines, nice swoop, good action, and not too terribly expensive. We bought ten, enough for all of the doors in the house as well as all of the doors we reasonably expect to have in the near future. Tomorrow we’ll go into Peterborough and get some deadbolts. Once we have the front doors back we can actually lock the house. Then we can leave tools and other stuff there with no worries. My parents will be hugely pleased since that will mean we can empty out their garage and basement.

Joanne and my mom have been working on sanding down the posts and beams that will be exposed inside the house. The doors that we have are Western Red Cedar and we’re finishing the outside trim and window/door bucks with cedar off of our land, finished to look like Western Red Cedar. I’m also hoping that Joanne can figure out some sort of finishing that will give the posts and beams a similar or at least complimentary look.

Today Gator met a porcupine for the first time today. He got close but Joanne managed to call him off. The dogs have developed an obsession with a scrap of some sort animal pelt. We think that it’s off of a deer, probably killed by coyotes. It’s a nice piece of fur, maybe we’ll make a hat.

No pictures this time, wiring just isn’t that exciting.



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.



A Fine Start to the Morning

So I got up early this morning and headed up to the land to meet the guy who’s going to pour our slab. I had to make sure that our bracing was adequate (it was) and I had to choose a tint for the floor (Jo and I aren’t fans of grey, I chose a tan colour).

My Dad showed up at nine o’clock as well and we tied some extra rebar around the edges of the slab and added some re-enforcing to our battery and fireplace slabs.

The slab will be poured on Tuesday and with any luck the timber frame guys can start on Wednesday or Thursday. The weekend of October 19th is the straw bale raising so we have to have the frame up by then.

What would a trip to the land be without pictures? These are also the first house pictures taken in the rain. We’ve had some incredible weather so far, let’s hope this isn’t a sign of things to come.