The Straw House Blog


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.



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.



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.”

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.



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.


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.


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 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.



The Problem with Three-Ways

So the fun with wiring continues. Dad and I keep disagreeing on how to wire up three-way switches. Dad thought there was a problem with a switch and re-wired it but while it worked, it wasn’t right. This morning we set out together and we re-wired every single light and three way switch in the house. We now have working lights in the back rooms, and the mud-room, plus proper switched power to the front and back door exterior lights. Paul (the architect) lent us a book about the electrical code and we just wired everything up with the book open in front of us, saved arguing, and everything works. We’ll hook up the other lights as we acquire them.

The heat is lovely, we leave it set at about 17 degrees, and even though we’re having some troubles with the inverter, the house can stay warm through the night with no heat. Which is good since both Dad and I have walked into the house in the morning and found the inverter off and displaying an unknown error. However, after a quick look through the manual (RTFM ya’ know), Dad discovered that there is a way to display the type of error that has occurred. So maybe tomorrow, if there’s a problem again, we’ll be able to figure out what’s going on. Now wouldn’t that be exciting?

We’re just working on small stuff around the house these days, for a whole variety of reasons we’ve sort of slowed down while we get a grip on things. We’re nearing the end of the project and there’s not quite as much money left as we’d hoped, and we feel like we’ve been on a runaway train with rushing to get everything done. Now that we have heat we can slow down, take stock, and get all of the last stuff done right.

So Mom’s been taping the seams in the vapour barrier, Dad and I are working on electrical, caulking, the bathroom, and figuring out how all of of new high-tech systems work.

The next goals are sealing the concrete floor, doing the final coat of stucco on the inside, and running the conduit around the perimeter. Then we have to finish the plumbing, finish the inside the bathroom, and then the kitchen. After all that, maybe, just maybe, we move in. It doesn’t seem that far away now…



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!