Friday, June 28, 2013

Improving and Extending our Driveway

Crunching the numbers and economy of mixing my own concrete led me to the realization that there is a reason why so many people opt for ready-mix solutions. Not only do they save you a load of hard work schlepping gravel, sand, portland and water, which you then have to mix and pour. They can do all that for less than the cost of the components. Even with a rapidly diminishing supply of sand and gravel, the cost of portland (cement) would have been nearly equal to that of the ready-mix quote.

The problem was my ongoing road issues made the thought of bringing in a concrete truck laughable. Regular readers will recall me almost losing the tractor to some quicksand-like mud on my "road" from the dojo tent to the buillding site.

All this just to get the footings poured. It ignored bringing in any further building supplies, or accessing the cabin in the future.

The only viable solution was to extend a proper driveway from where we had left off last summer, all the way to the building site. I managed to get a quick quote from the same fellow who had done such a great job last year (B.J. Kapush Contracting). A few days ago he arrived with his "big machine" - which proved to be exactly as described!

After the first day of work, he had managed to beef up our existing driveway to his own satisfaction. He cut down many of the trees that were leaning out over the driveway, and then laid them across the driveway, burying them under a new layer of gravel. He got up to the sawmill and dojo tent, where he expanded, levelled, and regraveled the whole area into a luxurious spot to park and turn around. We can now have visitors without fear that they will be unable to turn around - or without us having to move our vehicles to the neighbours!

The second day I went to work, and Donna and Kenny went to Mummu's house to escape from the noise and (slight) dust. But I returned to the amazing sight of a driveway that could likely accomodate TWO vehicles passing one another. It took 12 hours of labour and 29 loads of gravel, but now we were ready to call the concrete fellows to come in and do their thing.

I made the call just as BJ was leaving, and we agreed that they would come sometime two days hence.


Posted with BlogsyPosted with Blogsy

Monday, June 24, 2013

Insulating an Underground Water Line

With the trench dug between my two structures, Grandpa was chomping at the bit to get the lines between both footings laid in and the trench filled in. We had a few rains which filled in the trench, requiring either bailing, or, in my lazy case, a siphon line with two garden hoses.

At its deepest, the trench was about three feet deep. F!, while digging it, seemed to think that at that depth we were close to being below the frost line. Unfortunately, at the sauna end, it rose up above ground level over the course of about six feet, and at the cabin end, it rose onto a rock plateau about twelve feet out, and then up to the footing in the last two or three feet.

To mitigate this, I decided to try to take a few steps to help as best as possible. First off, I wanted to have the option to change out the water line if it ever became unsuitable. To accomplish this, I laid down a non-perforated drainage tile as an overall conduit between the buildings. This also gave me a chance to run my electrical lines with the same flexibility. I decided to try them first. Shoving my 1" poly pipe through the drain tile proved to be a challenge. Not impossible, but Grandpa had to follow along as I shoved from one end, shaking the tile to allow the pipe to pass the ribs. We got the poly pipe through, and with my fish tape and some dish soap, were able to easily pull through two 14/2 wires. One of these should supply power FROM the cabin, to the sauna during normal solar conditions. The other should supply power FROM the sauna to the cabin, when I decide to run the generator to charge up the batteries in winter time. This will allow me to run the generator on the far side of the sauna, hopefully shielding the cabin from the drone of the generator while it charges.

Grandpa, in an ever so clever move, carved out a "torpedo" from a nearby branch that was about an inch in diameter, and we duct taped this improvement to our actual waterline poly pipe. This pipe was twice as long as the drain tile and the electrical conduit (poly pipe). I wanted to run this pipe directly to the water tank in our sauna, and as close to the cabin sink as possible, before having to put in a coupler. Every coupler respresents a loss in flow and efficiency.

After feeding in about twenty-five of the one hundred foot line, I attached a gutter/eaves trough heating cable to the pipe with cable ties about every eight inches. This was my "nuclear" option for dealing with a frozen water line - I could run the generator, or perhaps on an exceptionally sunny day use my battery bank, to thaw the line with the heat cable. It is sixty feet long and draws about 300 watts. This is a considerable amount to run for any length of time, but compared to the alternative...

With both these lines run, it was time to take some passive measures. I purchased a number of sheets of 1.5" closed cell foam suited for direct contact with soil and water, and cut them into six and twelve inch strips. The six inch strips I placed under my drain tile in all but the deepest part of the trench. Then I placed two twelve inch ones over the pipe from one end to the other. Again, using duct tape to hold them together in a sort of "A" frame, I squirted some "Great Stuff" expanding foam along all the seams and joints to seal it up.

Grandpa shoveled soil against this foam, completely covering it in the deepest part of the trench. After this, he made one more trip to my gravel/clay pit down by the well and topped up the trench with more fill. At this point, the trailer blew out a bearing again, and he decided that was enough for now. Besides, I had returned to work on the sauna itself, and my electrical cords and workspace had spilled across the path the tractor had to take.

I will place some more sheets of foam over the "A" frame as we build up the soil, probably just laying them flat and extending out some distance to either side. Then a light layer of soil over them to hold them in place, and we'll hope for the best come winter!

Working in my favour hopefully are the following:

  • The line is deep in the trench for a good distance, hopefully at or below the frost line.
  • The line has an airspace insulation all around it in the form of the non perforated drain tile.
  • The drain tile has at least an inch and a half of closed cell foam insulation all around it for the entire distance.
  • The drain tile will also get another inch and a half to three inches of additional foam insulation where it rises up to the footings.
  • I can fall back on using the eave/gutter heating cable if it does freeze up.
  • If we take regular saunas, the water that will run from the sauna to the cabin may be significantly warmer than regular groundwater.

Only experience will tell how things really work out for us though. Much depends on just how warm the sauna gets, and how long it holds that warmth after the fire goes out. I'm sure I'll post a notification when (or should I say if?) the water line does freeze up.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Building a Log Sauna, the First Run

With the block wall in place, it was time to start actually assembling beams for the sauna.

Originally my plan had been for three inch thick walls at the sauna, and five inch thick walls for the cabin. When I found a source for much larger white pine, I upgraded the cabin walls to six inches thick. This meant I had a surplus of five inch logs. They would certainly be put to good use as extra sauna logs. It also was a bit of a blessing, in that some of the beams on the top of my beam pile had begun to warp or twist. I'm assuming this was because they didn't have much weight pressing down on them compared to the beams at the bottom of the pile.

As such, my first two or three available beams were all of the five inch variety, so I had to load them up and carry then back to the sawmill to cut down to three inches. I was surprised to find that they were still as heavy as ever - I suppose it does take some time for beams to fully dry out.


Once I had beams of the right size, I began by ripping the four inch height beams for two sides of the sauna in half vertically. This would allow me to stagger my runs from one wall to the next. I am planning on using the simple, yet strong, mortis and tenon type of joint.


I centred these two beams on opposing walls, making them flush to the outside bricks. I had placed four pieces of rebar close to the corners of the sauna, and heavily mortared them in place. They were only a foot long, and in hindsight I would consider two foot long ones, as one of them did become a little loose from my fitting and adjusting the sill beams.

In any case, I drilled out a hole to allow the beam to settle on the 5 or 6" of rebar sticking up. I then lined up full size beams on the remaining two walls, and, using a pencil, marked off where I would have to remove material to allow them to interlock.


Flipping the beams over, I used my portable circular saw to cut four 1 1/8" deep slices through the marked area. One on either pencil mark, and then two more at 1" intervals. Then, with a 1" chisel, I cleaned out this cut. With the half beams on the blocks, I did the same thing, only on the side facing up.

Once I had them assembled and looking good, I disassembled them again, in preparation for the next step.


I am planning on inserting two splines on the top of each beam as they go up. These splines should fit into grooves that I plan on cutting into the bottom of the next beam. Between these splines I plan on putting some sill insulation cut into 1" strips. I'm hoping this will create a really good seal between courses.

My first attempt to cut a groove to accept my 5mm plywood spline was with the chain saw and a chalk line. This was noisy, wavy, and difficult to keep the depth consistent. It did give me a good, wide groove for the spline. But it wasn't a nice prospect to think of doing this four times two each beam.

I next tried my router with a 1/4" bit. This was much more physical! The router groaned under the effort, not to mention it didn't run from my modified sine wave inverter, and I had to run the generator to get it to go.

Finally I tried my circular saw. It actually cut a groove that was acceptable, although just a bit too narrow. I really had to hammer to get the spline to fit.

I am thinking about the possibility of fitting two blades on the circular saw at the same time. We will see if that is realistic.

With the grooves cut into the tops of the beams, I was ready to put down flashing. I wanted to add flashing that overhung the concrete blocks both inside and out, to ensure that creepy crawlies wouldn't have an easy path up to my log walls. I had found a large roll of it at the dump last year, and only needed to supplement it with about 5' of newly purchased material at the last minute.


With Donna's help, I laid it all out and drilled a hole for the rebar.


The hole needed to be enlarged with my snips.


Then I laid down a bead of caulking on top of the blocks, set down the flashing, and finally set down my first run of beams. Exciting!


Crouching down, I could see that the beams didn't do a great job of compressing either themselves, or the flashing, against the blocks. I tried stacking a few extra concrete blocks on top of the beams to really create a good seal, but alas, wood does as wood does. I will certainly end up going around the wall again with my caulking gun, sealing under the flashing inside and out, and then doing the same between the first run of beams and the flashing.

All in all, it was an exciting and successful start - next step on the sauna will be to actually lay a second row of beams on top of the first one - made more challenging with this spline fitting notion.



Saturday, June 22, 2013

Zodi On-Demand Hot Water Shower - First Impressions

Continuing briefly on the theme of reviewing our latest purchases, here's our thoughts on the Zodi Instant Hot Shower.

Now that the warmer weather is here again, we find ourselves breaking a sweat much more often than in winter. Luckily, I found and broke out the good old "solar shower".

As I remembered, it was much like having a dog peeing on you. Only colder. I know my parents have used it to great effect, but I suppose they are better able to keep it in the sun. I was generally a little miserable fighting the bugs to spray myself down and then try to rush inside before I caught a chill. This year I had the sense to hang it indoors as the sun began to set, and then sit in an oversized Rubbermaid tub and let it pour down on me. Better, but still required a sunny day, and foreknowledge that I would want a shower.

Donna has missed a shower, so it was with some excitement that she ordered up the Zodi, a propane tank fueled device that would hopefully see us through the summer and into our sauna.

It arrived, and she was very crestfallen to read over the numerous safety suggestions. No indoor use, no use within 15' of combustables. This pretty much makes it only useable in the middle of a large concrete slab or desert.

After just looking at the box for a week or two and debating whether we were going to send it back, or take the safety rules as suggestions, we finally decided that our yurts could be well ventilated (or already were!), and that with a fire extinguisher nearby, it should be worth trying. My argument is that many people in enclosed cabins don't hesitate to use propane powered lanterns, which admittedly burn slightly less fuel.

At last we decided to give it a try. I assembled our fire extinguisher, opened up the dome and some windows, checked the batteries in the CO detector, and then set up the Zodi.

Everyone was excited to see how it worked. I volunteered to be the guinea pig.

After inserting 4 D cell batteries in the pump and filling up the reservoir with some ice cold water direct from our well, I hit the red button and success! We had running water!

Next, I turned on the propane and hit the piezo starter button. With a knuckle-singeing "whoomp!" a blue fireball puffed out and then the heater settled into the hissing everyone is familiar with.

Soon condensation began to build up on the bottom of the heater - as expected and clearly mentioned in the Zodi instructions.

I felt the output of the water - it was cold. This was marginally better than the ice cold that we had begun with, so that was at least in the right direction. As many previous reviewers had suggested, I placed the output back into the reservoir to recirculate, and after about ten minutes, things had warmed up enough to consider the water above room temperature.

I would have to say that it could not even be charitably called an "instant" hot shower. It works, but it takes time to heat water. I suspect that it could be nearly as easy to purchase only the pump and a bucket, and then heat water on your stove and mix to your own preference before showering, but this is kind of fun.

Kenny volunteered to be my personal shower stand - with the added benefit that I could just name a body part and get it sprayed.

While I believe we are going to keep the Zodi and try to mount it at our sauna and arrange it in a more comfortable situation, if I were simply looking for a car camping solution, my bucket and pump idea would likely be a much more attractive option.

If anything changes, I'll try to update.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Our Panda Washing Machine - an Early Review

As exciting as it was to move from buckets, to oddjob, to our own apartment sized washing machine, all good things must come to an end.
As such, I was unimpressed the morning when we switched on the machine, it agitated briefly, and then died. Apparently agitation is contagious, as it spread to me immediately.
I tried running it on the inverter (which it hadn't done previously), and then back on the generator. Then by itself, then with a different cord. But no go.
I left it unplugged overnight and then plugged it back in. That was more exciting - it agitated briefly, and then died.
I again left it unplugged for a number of hours, but this time it was not to be revived.
We managed to drain the water out the back door. I popped the back cover off and saw no user-serviceable parts or fuses or breakers or anything useful for a tinkerer.
Loading it up and taking it to General Appliance down in the city saved me on what would likely have been an expensive in-house service call. The next day they called back - $250.00 for the part, plus labour, less the $50.00 sunk cost I had already paid just for them to examine it. I told them I would think about it, and then went online to check my options.
I knew I wanted something small and simple - that's my current style. I was all over Future Shop and Home Depot's websites, looking at their offerings. Nothing seemed to be available without special order, and even then, it was almost as expensive as a full sized unit!
I'm not sure how it happened, but eventually I found this Panda Washing Machine with a Spin Dryer. It cost less than repairing the old one, even with taxes and shipping!
It took me two days to convince Donna to at least let me try ordering it, and on Friday morning I was able to close the deal. I suspect it was going back to this that helped convince her to order promptly :).
Amazingly, it arrived on Wednesday, and I excitedly retrieved it from the back of the car and brought it to the yurts.
We set it up where the old washer had been, and with its reduced size, it made the back yurt seem even larger than before!
We put in some underwear and dish towels, some soap nuts, and then poured in a bucket of water. I was delighted to see that it agitated just fine!
Two pairs of jeans was too much for it though. You do have to be cautious about overloading it. This is more difficult when you have to carry in all the water you plan on using - you are always trying to see if you can make it wash more in fewer, smaller loads. This will likely be less of an issue when we have it plumbed in to a larger water supply.
The spinner is really great. I wouldn't even say the clothes come out damp. Somewhere between damp and dry. They can dry really quickly on the line after being spun out.
For the first few days we had it draining back into empty buckets, which I then carried outside to dump. I was a bit annoyed that it took me so long to realize I could just put its drain hose out the same hole as the previously existing drain hose. It even fit nearly perfectly!
We really like the fact that it is so simple to use and that there is actually more interaction - we know better what is happening. You can actually lift the lid while it is agitating and see if the clothes are tumbling well. This also allows you to gauge just how dirty the water is becoming.
Same for the rinse which is essentially another wash cycle that you don't add soap to - you can observe the water before deciding to pump it out. This would also give you a future option to use it as a sort of "suds saver" feature - and reuse cleanish rinse water on a second load of heavily soiled items.
One feature that I super appreciate is that without complicated electronics or motors, it runs flawlessly on our modified sine wave inverter, and at a very manageable draw in amps - I believe that in full sun, our solar panels can keep up with it, meaning that on sunny days we don't even draw down the battery bank to do laundry!
Donna and I discussed this morning how it would not be able to wash our mats or quilts - we'll likely have to relegate those to an occasional trip to the city laundromat, or perhaps some vigorous work in a large tub. But otherwise, after a week, we're still going strong with this little machine.