The Straw House Blog


Noxious Fumes Redux

We had a great day today. I caulked the outside windows. Dad and I put the second pane of glass in the front door. Dad is building a little hut for the generator so that it can sit outside and be locked up safely. We’ve been charging the batteries with the generator over a fairly thick 100’ extension cord. By putting the generator outside of the battery room we can use a shorter length of #10 wire. So what? Well there was a 10 volt drop across the 100’ cord and we could only charge at 15 amps. With the #10 cable we get no voltage drop and can charge at 25 amps. That makes a big difference when you are charging the batteries.

Mom and I worked most of the day on cleaning up the floor in preparation for sealing the remaining area. We finished the remaining three back bays, the kitchen, dining/living rooms and the gallery. So the whole slab has been sealed. I expected that we would only get half done today and we’d do the rest on Sunday. This means that we can start drywalling in the bathroom.

Monday we’re heading up to see Pete and Tina to see about the finish coat of stucco for the inside. Pete’s got some samples where he’s added marble dust to the stucco. Sounds very cool.



More dead stuff

Nothing takes the edge off a really really crappy week like working with incredibly noxious chemicals. You betcha. We started sealing the concrete slab this weekend. This is the first chance that we’ve had to get it done, we had to wait for the heat to be working to apply the sealer. So now the fun starts. There’s months of marks on the floor as well as all kinds of stucco that spilled on the floor from the straw bale. So we vacuum, scrape the floor, sand and brush off any marks, vacuum again, and run over the floor with slightly damp towels. Then we apply the sealer. Only two of us can work because we only have two good masks, so Dad and I take care of the sealer and Jo and my Mom take the dogs for a walk. We do the sealer last, right before we leave, the fumes really are that bad.

We seem to have brokered a detente between the radiant system and the inverter. The radiant system is on a timer and is only allowed to come on every other hour. This saves us around 50% of the power but doesn’t seem to affect the heat. The catch is that we have to leave the inverter ON. Normally you leave the inverter in search mode, but unfortunately the relay in the timer requires line voltage to trip and the search pulse isn’t sufficient. We need to find a timer that is 100% battery controlled, one must exist, every timer we’ve found so far requires line voltage to trip the relay - or keep time.

The inspector stopped by on Saturday to check out the insulation, vapour barrier and our progress in general. He was happy with everything he saw. We had another neighbour show up this weekend as well, an older fellow, he and his wife moved to the farm about 6 lots east in 1945. He told us that he has kitchen cabinets in his house made from two Butternut trees off of our land. He invited us by to check them out. We rarely have a weekend go by without somebody popping in to check things out. Apparently we’re known in town as “The Straw House”. I’m sure we’ll be known that way for years and years. “Those city people with the straw house.” I’m looking forward to that.

The winter carnage continued this weekend. We found an owl by the side of the house, it looks like he might have flown into the big side window. It was a nice looking bird, I’ve never seen an owl up close before. So naturally, in our currently morbid fashion, I took a picture.



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 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.



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.



Idle feet… get lost

We didn’t work today. It was -21C this morning and since we Hunter’s value our various extremities we didn’t go down to the house today. Instead Dad and I drove into Peterborough and picked up his new 8” industrial joiner. And no, that has nothing to do with Canada relaxing its dope laws. The beast weighs 600 pounds; we managed to get the box into his garage, it may stay there for a while, neither Dad nor I could lift the main table.

It warmed up to -6C by the afternoon so I took the dogs to the land and we went for a nice long walk through the bush. I carried my camera with me and snapped a picture of anything that caught my fancy.

I also managed, somehow, to get quite lost on my own land. So lost in fact, that I ended up not on my land but on my neighbour’s. Once I figured out where south was I snowshoed my way back, and then we met the turkeys. Two of them, the dogs actually seemed to notice them for a change. Unfortunately (or possibly fortunately) you can’t exactly be stealthy in snowshoes and they were all ready high-tailing it before the dogs got close.



Wildlife, more snow, and… sunlight?

Ever since the farmers took the corn harvest off we’ve had all sorts of critters out eating what’s left. The porcupine’s been out a bunch, we see deer, rabbit, and coyote tracks all the time, but the most interesting animals (for us) have to be the wild turkeys. They usually travel in a flock of about 30-40 birds, they really do gobble if you get too close, and they are BIG. The big males are taller and wider than Gator. If they’re across the road when you drive in they’ll run along ahead of you for quite a distance before peeling off into the field, and if you split the flock on either side of the road the birds to the south will get very very agitated trying to get back with their friends. Their tracks are really cool, they look exactly like giant chicken tracks, so all you can think when you come across them in the bush is that Foghorn Leghorn is going to step out from behind a tree. The turkeys were out this morning.

We had another busy day, Mom and Rene continued with insulation, Dad finished the battery box, Joanne sanded and I continued with the wiring. The insulation and vapour barrier should be done next week. I got almost all of the wiring done, there’s just one small circuit left, and Dad can take care of that. With any luck we’ll have the water and propane hooked up next week, and the week after we’ll have electricity and radiant heat. Now that would be exciting!

Today was the first sunny day that we’ve had in a very long time and it was wonderful, the thermometer only showed it as 1.5 degrees warmer inside than out but if you were working near the windows it was a lot warmer than that. The sun penetrates the house almost to the back wall. We laid out some old carpets to try and catch some of the snow that inevitably gets tracked in, Ceara spent most of the day curled up in the sun in front of the windows, she didn’t get too cold today.

It was a good day.



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.



Electricity and the Canine Mind

The electrical inspector came by today to do a ‘rough-in inspection’. He was quite happy with everything he saw, offered us some excellent advice and told us a few things we could do that will certainly make our lives easier. A very easy guy to get along with. Dad and I spent the rest of the day working on our wiring. We’re just about done. I bought another 75m spool of 14/3, so far we’ve used around 300m of 14/2 and if we use up this new spool we’ll have used 225m of 14/3.  We have quite a few three-way switches. We’ll have the wiring completely done this weekend. Simon and JP are coming by tomorrow to do some work on the solar stuff and hopefully Brian will be coming back soon to help us with the panel. We could have electricity in a matter of weeks!

Dave McCracken brought our front doors back today. He did a nice job on them, if it weren’t for the part that he shaved off being unfinished you wouldn’t be able to tell that they’d been changed. He’s going to hang the doors tomorrow, as well as put on the handles and deadbolts. We’re actually going to have to carry house keys!!

Dave brought along an assistant, also named Dave, they worked on the door frames, as well as putting up the walls around the en-suite bathroom. The en-suite I feel I should explain is likely going to be a storage room for quite a while as I don’t see us being able to afford to kit out a second bathroom anytime soon.

Dave is a geologist by trade and since we had some fresh excavations right near the house he gave us all an impromptu geology lesson before lunch. He showed us all of the different strata (a new word!) and talked about how and why they got that way. Basically we were looking at sand and stones that probably hadn’t seen the light of day for 10,000 years. Certainly that would be true of any hole of sufficient size out in the country, but it’s still a pretty cool concept.

The dogs have been pretty interesting to watch lately. A couple of weeks ago (before the porcupine) they found part of the hide of some unidentifiable animal (we’re guessing deer). They are fascinated with this pelt and will do anything to get their mouths on it. I keep meaning to nail it to the side of the barn to try and dry it out, maybe this weekend, I’ll post a picture if I do.

In the winter Gator is on a constant mission to eat his body weight in snow, and then pee it back out. One of the frustrating things about dogs is that they’re exactly not smart enough to make those connections. It’s pretty cold out most days, around -5C, and when the dogs get cold we put them back in the truck. Gator’s gotten to the point where he will ask to be let into the truck, he’ll sit at the back passenger door and bark - “Hey!” “Hey humans!” “Open the damn door!” He rests for a while, then hops back out and tries to get the pelt, or rolls some rocks, or eats some snow. It’s a pretty good life.

Ceara, on the other hand, likes to keep her eye on me while she’s resting, just in case I try to go somewhere without her. Mom found an old patio chair cushion and some old sleeping bags and we laid them out on the floor. Gator still prefers the truck, but Ceara flakes out on the sleeping bags and whenever anybody walks past she fixes them with her sad neglected look and she gets petted. So Ceara’s life is pretty good as well.

We had a good day today. I even remembered the camera.



Snow and Electrical

We spent the afternoon working on the wiring again. We’ve got the wires laid out where we want them and now we’re just stapling them in place. Mom and Jo are busy sanding the posts and beams. One pass with 60 grit, and later they’ll do another pass with 120 grit. Yesterday in Peterborough we bought Joanne her own Random Orbital Sander, so now she has steel-toed boots, a tool belt, a hammer, and a power tool. She’s rough and ready to go!

We got a whole bunch of snow today and it looks to keep going all night long. Eric dropped by to see if the drive needed plowing and we chatted with him for a bit. He’s going to talk to Andrew (the plumber) and coordinate getting our water hooked up. Now since Andrew said before the holidays that he was going to coordinate with Eric between the two of them hopefully they can get this done.

We didn’t take any pictures again so I thought I put together a bit of a retrospective of what we got done in 2002. So here’s the year in pictures.