The Straw House Blog


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.



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.



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.



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.