The Straw House Blog


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.



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.


What’s Going On?

We got snowed in on the weekend. Went to a wedding on Saturday of some good friends (congrats Mike & Alex). One of the best weddings that Jo and I have ever attended, nice ceremony, great food, fine company. When we left it was snowing somewhat and we decided to wait and head up Sunday morning. Big mistake. We woke up and there was a winter storm warning in effect. So we lost a day.

Fortunately/unfortunately I’m going to have more time to work on the house in the immediate future. My largest client is going through some tough times and has released me (and all other contractors) from my contract. Bummer. So I’m going to take this as an opportunity and try and get as much work done as I possibly can before I have to start looking for work in earnest. That said if anybody come across any web or UI gigs… I’m your guy.

On the agenda for this week is drywalling the bathroom, checking out stucco samples at Pete and Tina’s, and installing lights. Oh, and I’m using my spare time to work out some stuff with my various web-sites, I hope to have comments working tonight on the blog. Dad’s apparently been busy planing cedar which we’ll probably use on the bathroom walls.



Drywall Part One

Saturday. Beautiful day. Sunny, warm (-2C). The panels were pumping out 10 amps (which is about the max). We ran the generator all day to refresh the batteries. The timer seems to be working, Dad ran the generator on Monday, and it wasn’t run again until today. The batteries seemed to be just fine.

I got lucky again at Eurolite, somebody returned five of the lights we wanted to use in the kitchen, so they gave us a deal. Earlier we lucked out with the fans. We like Eurolite, they’re good people.

So today I hung the first kitchen light to see what they’ll look like. I’m going to Photoshop in all five at the proper heights, I might post the pic. We also took delivery of this really fantastic Italian florescent fixture, two 4’ skinny tubes and one hell of a reflector makes a bright bright light. Plus an electronic ballast for low noise. So I put that in the battery room and it really helps.

Mom continued her taping, she’ll be happy when that job’s done. Dad worked on the bathroom doors. And then, after lunch, we drywalled. Yessir, nothing says fun like drywallin’. We got one wall and the ceiling done, taping and mudding tomorrow. We’re thinking of doing the entire west wall in tongue and groove cedar. After we got home Dad and I spent a couple of hours planing and jointing some of our cedar. It looks like we’ve got enough for the west, north and south walls. “But Glen,” you say. “What will you do behind the shower?” Hey all of that boat building experience hasn’t gone to waste, we’re going to put a layer of fibreglass and epoxy over the wood in the shower stall.

This morning and this afternoon I took the dogs for a walk. Apparently all of the rain that we got in Toronto last week was snow up here. The snow is up to my knees in the bush. That’s a serious impediment to the dogs. They are exhausted.

Last, but absolutely not least, a big congratulations to Steven and Laurie who just gave birth to their first child, an (undoubtedly) beautiful baby girl named Malaika. Way to go guys!

I have no pictures of the baby, but I did take pictures at the house.



Drywall Part Two & fun in the snow?

Taped and mudded today. Joanne came up from the city in the morning. The first coat is done. The second tomorrow, if we have time.

Monday, Simon’s coming up first thing to give us a lesson on the off-grid system. Then we’re up to Pete and Tina’s for lunch. Pete’s done some examples of his stucco with marble dust for us to check out. We’re hoping we can get that done soon.

We had many guests today. Paul came by with his friends Jill and John. He wanted to check out our progress. He promised Jill and John a pleasant snowshoe around our land. What he didn’t tell them is that we got another six inches of snow last night and that we don’t exactly have any groomed trails. Even with snow shoes it’s not easy going. The extra snow certainly didn’t make things any easier for the dogs. Both were porpoising around just to get anywhere.

When we got back Mike Cooper and his wife Karen were there. Mike hasn’t been to the house since before the New Year. He was pleased with what he saw, and gave us some advice for the drywalling.

That’s it. I’m about as tired and sore as the dogs.



Starting to feel like home

Simon from Generation Solar came by Monday morning to give us an overview of the system and all the various intricacies of the inverter and charger. Being the way we are Dad and I had been messing around with all of the various settings and variables but it was nice to have a pro go over the whole thing with us. One of the most frustrating aspects of the whole solar/wind inverter/charger setup is that there are no good monitoring tools available. Neither the inverter nor the charger save any kind of logs and only the inverter has a serial out for computer logging. The controller for the wind generator doesn’t even have an analog meter to let you know who much power the wind generator is producing RIGHT NOW. Dad and I are bit heads - we want sophisticated logging tools! Simon knows of two tools for monitoring one is a $500 box and the other is a $1200 box. Yeah right. Or we could use the Trace stuff and leave a computer ON next to the inverter, wasting power just to track our usage. Ah… no.

Monday was -25C when we woke up and really it didn’t warm up much past -18C. But the sun was out and it was gorgeous in the gallery.

We had lunch with Pete and Tina (thanks guys!), and Pete showed us some samples of his plaster with marble dust added. We took two of the samples to the house and we’re gonna go with the white (vs. buff). It’s gonna look stunning. 

Now I know I’ve asked a lot of all of you, but we’re aiming for an Easter move in, so if you could all just quietly, once or twice before you go to sleep, give us a little “In for Easter, in for Easter.” Well that’d be really appreciated.



Drywall Part Three - The Dust Storm

Dad and I worked on drywall and insulation, Mom taped the vapour barrier seams. And Joanne, Joanne worked on the drywall seams, sanding and mudding in the bathroom. That just about sums up the day.

Dad and I have to find some time to work on our cedar. Even after it has been sanded and planed all of the knots have to be removed and plugged. Then we have to route the tongue and groove into the side of each board. Then we can put them up. We’re going to put our maple and oak into a kiln this month and get it dried out so that we can use some of it on the house.


Scotty! I need more time!!

There just isn’t enough time in a weekend. It’s a cliche I know but it has never seemed more true than now. I have got to start taking a day or two a week and heading up to the land to get stuff done. I just can’t get enough done in two days.

We did have a very good weekend though. Dana came by today and provided a great deal of help to Joanne who was quite sick. Except for a final sanding the bathroom is drywalled. We have a bunch of the drywall up in that back portion as well as the between room insulation (for fire retardation and sound proofing).

Dad and I started putting up the barn boards on the outside wall of bathroom. This wall faces on to the mudroom immediately adjacent to the front door. This is the only part of the house that will appear ‘old’ (since our style is definitely modern). The bench in the mudroom will be made from one of the original barn beams. The mudroom will be our homage to the barn. We started to run out of boards though so Dana and I went out and I climbed up to the top of the barn. Between the two of us we got the rest of the boards down and into the house. We’ll leave them stacked for the week to dry and equalize with the house humidity.

Mom (bless her heart) continued the thankless job of cutting and taping the vapour barrier. Someday she’ll be done.

We saved the dog walk for Dana. When she got there Dana and I strapped on the snowshoes and took the dogs out. We got more snow last night. The snow is now deeper than the dog’s shoulders, they can really only walk by following in our tracks. We could just walk them along the road but twenty minutes through the bush is better than an hour on the road. This was also the first time that Dana has done any real snowshoeing, talk about your trial by fire! She did very well.



The big jobs left at this point are planing and routing the cedar for the bathroom, but since we have to do that in Dad’s unheated garage we prefer to wait for the temperature to get nearer to zero. Then we have to install and stain the cedar. When that is done we can finish the plumbing and start on the kitchen. At the same time as we’re finishing the bathroom we can do the final coat of interior stucco, installation of the Wiremold baseboard, and finish the the drywall and other various trim type jobs. Somehow I don’t think we’ll be installing the windmill for a couple of months.


But, but, why?

One question we get asked a lot, not all the time, but enough that I would remark on it, is some variation of, “Why?” Off-grid, passive-solar, strawbale, these are not common terms, common materials, or usual ways of building a house, so.. why? Yes it was a dream, yes I’ve always wanted a unique house, but I also offer this quote as at least partial explanation for what might seem to others as a bizarre, expensive form of lunacy.

“Just occassionally you find yourself in an odd situation. You get into it by degrees and in the most natural way but, when you are right in the midst of it, you are suddenly astonished and ask yourself how in the world it all came about.”

- Thor Heyerdahl



Laundry Lists

I’ve been feeling like the entries have been more like lists lately, and I’m not happy about it. The thing is we’re getting down to the end, or at least if you squint, and the light’s right, you can see the end, somewhere, out there… The tasks are changing, it’s no longer about the big strokes, and the house doesn’t change massively from week to week anymore. It’s harder to take pictures for the same reason. I think the tenor of the blog may start changing, does anybody have any suggestions? Any questions about the house?

So here’s the laundry list for today, Dad and I have been working on the cedar planking for the bathroom. Dad planed and jointed most of the cedar we had left and last night we ripped it to common widths. Today we took it down to the house and laid it out on the floor to try and match the boards for colour and clarity. Our cedar isn’t very clear, there are a lot of knots, so we have to try and find the clearest sections to cut our boards from. After cutting them to length we brought them back to Dad’s and routed the tongue and groove into the boards then cut out the larger knots and glued in plugs. Tomorrow we’ll put them up on the wall. After they are up we’ll fibreglass the boards behind the shower. Once the boards are up we can install the last of the plumbing and get the water hooked up and running. THAT would be a big step towards our goal of… IN BY EASTER!!

The weather is actually supposed to turn warmer tomorrow, I think Ceara will actually be relieved to see some of the snow melt. She’s be somewhat less than enthusiastic about her walks lately.