The Straw House Blog


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.




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.”



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.


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!


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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.