The Straw House Blog


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.


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.



Roofing Part Two

The roof is done. Soffits and fascia will go on some time in January. Many thanks to Mike of MG Construction and his crew of Rich and Rob. It snowed today, just flurries but it was cold and windy up on the roof, they were ever cheerful and took the time to make sure that everything was done right - not to mention that they worked through the weekend and bumped a couple of jobs to get our steel up.

In the pictures you can see that we got the racks for the solar electrical panels and the bottom brackets for the solar hot water panels in place. We also put up a chimney, we don’t know when we’ll have a fireplace but we thought it best to have the roofers put in the chimney while they installed the roof, rather than us trying to do it later.

Dad and I continued our work on the electrical system, we’re hoping to have all of that done by the New Year, then we can start putting in insulation.

Happy Holidays everyone, I know what I’m thankful for… we’re enclosed by Christmas!



Roofing Part One

The cupola is covered. Yippee!! No more annoying drips down the back of your neck as you work in the front. Tomorrow they start on the back portion, but it’ll take much longer to do that - they’re expecting to spend the next two days on it. Mike and Rich came out from MG Construction, really nice guys, good humoured and very easy to work with. Interestingly enough they have put quite a few roofs on straw bale homes, they are VERY impressed with our walls, they say that the other houses that they have worked on have had very uneven walls, real rough work. So cudo’s to Camel’s Back! Much as I’d like to take the credit it belongs to the care taken by Pete, Tina, Stephen and Andrew (who incidentally didn’t work on those other houses).

Meanwhile Jo and I worked on insulating around the windows. The big problem is that the expanding foam doesn’t work very well in this cold.  The other issue is that some of the gaps are quite large and don’t fill up well with foam, or else take a great deal of foam, those Joanne has been (carefully) stuffing with cut off chunks of Roxol.

In the morning Dad and I ran the last of the main electrical wiring. Next we have to run the wire for all of the various switches, plus there’s a good bit of work to do in the back room.



Well it’s been a seriously crappy week so far, but we got some fantastic pictures today! The windows are in, the septic tank is in, and with any luck the roof will be going on at the end of this week. Repeat after me, “Enclosed by Christmas, enclosed by Christmas.”



Half a Fine Day

We had Mike and Dave for only half the day today so we started at 8am. It was warmer than it has been for a while and we set them to work on trimming the back beam and setting up the boxes for the back windows. Meanwhile Rene finished up the fascia board and put up blocks for the ceiling drywall. I helped Dad, helped Mike and Dave, and shovelled the last of the snow off of the roof.

Jo and my Mom stayed behind in Omemee and put another coat of stain on our doors. When they arrived at the land Jo and I took off for Peterborough and bought our chimney and flashing. We’re going to install the chimney now, so that the roofers can flash the whole thing in properly. We don’t really know for sure when we’re going to put in a fireplace or wood stove.

When we got back Eric had arrived and was in the process of installing our wind tower anchors at the top of the hill. He carried two anchors at a time in the bucket of his backhoe. So we’re ready to get the wind tower installed. As an added bonus Eric’s coming back tomorrow to install our septic tank and cut the trench from the well to the house. Things really seem to be rolling along! It’s very exciting.

All of the pictures are of Eric installing the anchors.



We’ve got windows!

The windows came today and there were only two errors. We ordered an extra window for the back corner that was somehow left off of the original order but the window that came was way too small. So it went back and the window people are sending out a replacement ASAP. The second problem is one of those annoying things that seems to happen all to often when you are building a house, I relate it here as a tale of warning.

When we ordered the windows we sent off our list of sizes to the manufacturer and they sent back a quote along with their list of sizes, since most manufacturers have standard sizes. Now ordering windows turns out to be more complicated than you might think, there are issues with window size vs rough opening size, there’s the method of fastening the windows to the house, usually something called brick mold, and of course there’s the constant worry about the sizes. So we went back and forth a couple of times and dropped the doors because they were too expensive (we got solid wood doors in Western Red Cedar from another company). Being pretty paranoid I also sent a full set of plans off to the window company via courier so that they could double-check the sizes. When we had a final list of windows and a price we sent the list off to our architect to check over, to double check that all of the sizes were correct. He OK’d it, and we signed the agreement and sent off a deposit check.

Some months later, we’ve been delayed for any number of reasons, and we’re getting close to needing the windows so I decide to double check the list. I find out that we’re missing one window. So I call the salesman explain the problem, it’s really nobody’s fault, everybody missed it, and we get that squared away (that’s the window that came the wrong size, so we’ll get it squared away again).

At the opposite end of the house from the front doors is a window. Since this window is quite large, six feet wide and seven feet tall, it was broken into two panes, think of it as a set of french doors that don’t open. This is the only window like this. It is pretty expensive. Today when they delivered the windows, they delivered two of them.

When I looked at my list sure enough there were two listed. There is no other window like this yet the salesman, the architect, and myself all agreed to the list. And we have an extra, large, expensive window.

Here’s what I think happened: because the window has two panes when we looked at the drawings we assumed that the quantity referred to two windows, attached to one another. At least that’s what I hope I thought, ‘cause otherwise it’s a pretty dumb mistake. It’s also possible that we looked at the window size, looked at the plans and when they all agreed we never really paid attention to the quantity. Now, that said, I have no idea what the salesman was thinking since he had the plans and knew there were no other windows like that in the house. I don’t believe that he was being dishonest, but I can’t figure out how that window got duplicated on the price list.

Today, Dad and Rene got most of the filler boxes in on the front of the house, I got a couple of boards up, and then after the windows came Mom and I went off into Peterborough to look at wood stoves. They are much more expensive than I expected. I think we’ll be doing without one for this winter and hoping the passive solar works.

The distance shots of the house were taken from the top of the large hill to the east of the building site.



Another Lazy Sunday

We’re still busy trying to get everything ready for the windows and roof. Both of which are supposed to be installed on the 16th of December. Rene and I got the last two pieces of plywood down on the roof this morning and then he got to work on the insulation blocking and fascia board.

Dad was down below and he and I worked on the front window beams and posts. These posts and beams are not load bearing for the house but they do support all of the windows. Next week they’ll finish the fascia across the front of the cupola (Rene will be wearing his safety harness), plus the next set of beams, and the supports for the north windows. I don’t know where we’d be without my Dad.

On a very positive note the angle of the roof seems to be perfect for December sun entry into the house. At 11am this morning the sun was hitting the back (storage room) wall of the house. Here’s hoping that Paul got the angle right for June as well (no sun entering the house at all).

Enjoy the pictures of Gator leaping for shoveled snow. And more!



It’s cold, it’s windy, let’s put on plywood!

Rene and I just about finished sheeting the cupola roof. We just have two boards at the end to finish up, the it’s on to the fascia boards. And no, I don’t really know how we’re going to do the front ones without leaning out over that six foot overhang. At least Rene’s got a safety line.

Meanwhile, down on the ground, Dad was working on his posts and fake beams to go in between the windows.

Next Friday the windows get delivered, and the Monday after, the installers are coming. Apparently the installers can get done in two days. Here’s hoping that we’re ready for them.

Joanne took the pictures today.



The Cupola Ends

The east and west ends of the cupola roof overhang by 4 feet. Due to the vagaries of building construction no truss company could ever build them correctly so they won’t supply them with the building trusses. Instead you have to custom build them yourselves on-site. In our case the truss company screwed up and didn’t supply beams long enough to support the overhang. So we called Paul and he suggested cantilevering the ends over the edge. Dad then designed a method of getting the compound angles by building a mini-truss and a custom cut 2x10 to take the tapers. These were attached to the last truss, and then we tied 16 foot 2x4’s on 12” centres to the tops of our ends to act as the cantilever. See yesterday’s entry for more details.

Today we lifted them into place. Everything went very smoothly lifting and placing them. Then we had to secure each 2x4 to every truss it crossed with a hurricane clip. These clips provide strength to prevent the ends from breaking loose. Normally you’d just toe-nail the purlins into place. We started the day with 175 clips, we ran out and have about 75 to go, Dad bought out two hardware stores entire inventory to get the 175. After they were secured down we started extending the regular purlins across the rest of the roof (on 24” centres) meeting at each end. The extra fun ones were the last row, six feet out from the beam on the overhang and about 20 odd feet above the ground. Wheee! That was fun. All that and it snowed pretty much all day long.

We also had a new roofer come by to check things out and it looks like they can get the roof on in a couple of weeks. That would be very good, here’s hoping their price is reasonable. I haven’t been happy with the other roofer, I won’t have any problem letting him go.