Monday, November 25, 2013

The Log Cabin Roof is Insulated

Once again, these posts are a little bit delayed between things actually happening and the posts going up.  It certainly isn't as severe as the last few posts though...  These events are all less than a week old.  It's just that this has been a difficult time for us on the homestead.  There have been ups and downs as far as the logistics of the homestead itself goes, but I also just learned a few days ago that my Grandfather has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

I have been extremely conflicted about this situation.  It is hard to imagine a more difficult choice to make as far as to try to arrange a short-notice flight down to see him one final time, or to remain here with my family and maintain the gains we have made.

I know that Grandpa Ken (yes, Kenny was named for his great-Grandpa) is surrounded by many, many friends and family and is well loved and cared for there.  That certainly helps.

Here, with the last of the contractors finishing the cabin, the temperatures dropping to ten and twenty below, and our water lines (both in and out) having frozen up in the past two days, I really feel it would be a difficult hardship to impose on my family here.

I called my Grandpa and spoke to my Grandma (he was sleeping) and let her know that we were thinking of them.  It was probably more comforting to me than her, but it felt good to be sure that she knew we were praying for them.

Here on the homestead, with the cabin roof structurally complete and the ice and water shield installed, it was time for the insulation to be installed.

As per every recommendation a rational person could find, we opted to go with spray-foam.  It provides a very compelling R-value, as well as structural attributes that are hard to beat.

The fellows showed up that morning with a huge trailer and their own, impressive generator.  I jokingly suggested that I could mooch some electricity from them and they surprisingly agreed right away.  I thought my 4000 watt generator was pretty peppy...  They had a 40,000 watt diesel in the back of the trailer!

I did feel a little special though when they pointed out that it would take them two days to install the foam, and that their generator needed to be warmed up before it would start on day two.  They actually needed me to run my generator the next day to warm up THEIR generator before they could continue the job.

After carefully covering and masking any areas that I didn't want overspray foam on, they set to work in full body coveralls and breathing masks.  The gasses during installation are not that healthy to breathe directly, but after only a few hours it is perfectly acceptable.  I found that after only a few hours I couldn't notice an odour, and certainly after a day it was innocuous.

Contrary to their first assumptions, they were able to complete the job in a single day.  They normally have to give the foam time to cool off and cure between four inch coatings.  The day they installed was pretty cold though (twenty below or so), and the foam on one side of the cabin had cooled sufficiently by the time they finished the other side, so they were able to return to their first work and build it up to a good depth.

I apologize that we didn't have any "in-progress" photos, but one could hardly expect my staff photographer and ouchie-kisser Donna to risk life and limb going into the cabin while it was being sprayed.

I did do a careful inspection after they had left, and am very happy and hopeful for its ability to keep us warm in the years and decades to come. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Log Cabin Roof Begins!!  (And a Few Solar Panel Placement Observations)

Bright and early Monday (well, shortly after eight - that's as soon as it gets bright enough to work here in Thunder Bay now...) Ranta Construction showed up to get cracking on our cabin roof.

It was amazing how quickly things appeared to go together that first day.   First some support posts at each end.

Then a long ridge beam, and another support post in the middle.

After that, with Jeffrey cutting rafters and Kyle and Ryan skillfully and bravely assembling them, things began to take shape in no time.

I couldn't help but insert myself into the thick of things a number of times (although I don't believe I provided any assistance.  Kyle charges double when the client helps - a wise fellow!) to see how things looked.

I was very tickled to see just how much sun exposure the top of the cabin receives compared to where my panels are currently located ha ha!  (Get it?  Solar electricity - *currently* located...  Oh, don't act shocked at my dumb electrical puns - you knew I couldn't resist!)

After a day or two though, I did come to notice that one of my jack pine trees does provide a little shade - I think that this is a very temporary thing though, dependant on this exact time of year.  It is enough to convince me to wire my panels in parallel rather than series.  While my new controller can handle up to 150 volts on the input side, I am using 4 gauge cables for about a twenty foot run.  Plenty enough that even at 24 volts I won't suffer much in the way of cable losses.  And wiring solar panels in parallel means that if one panel is partially shaded, it won't limit the current on the other panels, the way they would if they were in series.

The first day was clearly the glory day.  The second day as they framed the gable ends, things didn't change that dramatically.

Day three though, that was another big one!  The sheeting went up and one could really see how the roofline and cabin came together.  It was up until this point that I still had a feeling that the pitch of the cabin roof would overwhelm the overall look of things.  Now I'm a fair bit more relaxed.  I think that the roof doesn't overpower the cabin, and complements it nicely.  It also provides a very comfortable second floor space for Kenny's room as well as a spare bedroom/office.

Family and Children's Services of Thunder Bay rang me up the other day to see if we were still entertaining the thought of fostering a child in the near future.  I assured them we were, but that we still needed to have a roof over our own heads before we could think to provide one for others.  They will reconnect with us in the spring to see where we are at.

I am told that early next week the fellow will come in to apply the spray foam insulation.  This will be another exciting moment!  (I'm curious to see if I get any spammy spray foam insulation comments after noting this sentence...  I've been noticing some context-correct spam appearing in comments on the blog.)

By the end of next week the steel should arrive for the roof, and then we're really in the home stretch!  The floor needs to be insulated, and the wood cookstove installed, but after that, we should be green-lit to move in!  (Donna willing...)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Roofing Materials Arrived!

Just as we were preparing to head to Nipigon for another fantastic visit with Aunt A! and Uncle E!, the lumber truck arrived from Peterson's to drop off the boards and sheets that will be used to construct the cabin roof.

I "helped" the fellow unload (really more a matter of chatting while he used his remote control boom to offload the materials) and then rushed over to Mummu and Grandpa's to hitch the ride to Nipigon.

Grandpa remarked on my natty workpants, and Mummu threw in a comment about my sawdusty fleece sweater, and sent me back home to change into appropriate clothes for a classy visit with my in-laws.

Returning in (hopefully) more suitable attire, we headed off for a super evening of great food, and stimulating conversation.

Coming back late at night, we stumbled to bed, well fed, but cold.

Talk about a winter wonderland when I woke up the next morning!

It took me three hours to get the driveway cleared to this point.  The first ploughing of the season.  Surely not the last, but hopefully it won't get as dire as it did last year.

Returning to the sauna I saw that the snow had slid down considerably.  I'm not thinking I would want to spend time under the edge of the porch!

I dusted off our building materials, and am excited to get started with the roofers!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Spreading Some Humanure

Where our pond had been dredged this past summer, a large pile of rich, dark soil had appeared on the shore.

Grandpa took it upon himself to turn over this pile a number of times, spreading it wider, and pulling out all the rocks and stones that appeared.  He used these to line a pathway down to the pond and what he now declared to be "Kenny's Garden".

As fall approached, Grandpa mounded this soil into eight deep rows.  He then pointed out that it could probably still do with a bit of amending.  We both were a little interested in seeing just how the humanure piles had come along.

The first piles I had created had lay fallow for over a year now, so we decided that they were safe to bring up to spread on a garden that would not be pressed into service until after the winter had passed.

Driving the tractor down my sawdust and gravel ramp by the sawmill to the old humanure piles was an adventure in itself.  One that I am not enthused about repeating any time soon.  Maybe with the addition of more gravel to make it a bit more solid.

In any case, with the tractor and trailer positioned close to my original piles, I was able to get in with a wheelbarrow and shovel and start filling the trailer.

The humanure piles were in much better condition than I expected.  That is to say, there was very little identifiable material in them.  One was a single "wet-wipe" that must have accidentally found its way into the thunder box or Tardis.  It was completely unaltered by the time it had spent percolating.  A fair warning to people that flush those things.  We have subsequently turned to making our own degradable wipes from baby wash, baby oil, and thick paper towels.

Corn cobs, (not kernels!), eggshells, and avocado skins were the only other items that I could pick out while transferring the heap.  Otherwise, not a turd in sight!  (Or smell, thankfully).

In fact, aside from pockets of pure sawdust, which I never expected to compost quickly, the rest of the heap was a uniform yellow/brown colour, very similar to other composted materials one would expect to purchase.

Two trips polished off the previous summer and fall's supply of humanure, and I deposited it into the furroughs Grandpa had created.  As each trench filled, I used the neighbouring peak to cover it, until the garden was returned to a (mostly) flat surface.  I grabbed the gravel rake and passed back and forth a few times until everything looked fertile, and then sat back to imagine all the goodies that this may grow for us in the future.  It will be very interesting to see just how well things will grow in this unusual mix of soil here in the boreal forest!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

An Overflow for our Gravity-Fed Water System

Well, it had to happen sooner or later I suppose.

The switch for the pump was originally a simple on/off switch and I had anticipated that whoever turned it on would carefully monitor the water level in the tank and switch it off in an appropriate manner.

After a number of times whereby I was distracted and then with terror in my heart came back to find that the tank was nearly overflowing, I decided to change the controls to a timer switch.  Now whoever was pumping the water could simply elect to run the pump for five, ten, fifteen or thirty minutes.  Thirty minutes maybe if the tanks were both completely empty.  Five or ten minutes being much more likely options.

Problem solved!

That is, until the pump was set for about five more minutes than it took to fill the tanks, and we were suddenly treated to the sound of water falling from the ceiling and into the change room.  Augh!

Shortly after, I decided that we could no longer trust ourselves to accurately predict how much water we should pump into the tanks.  My solution?  An overflow hose leading any excess water to a harmless location.

I was reluctant to run a line down the outside of the wall and to the laundry tub - my first thought.  Upon climbing into the loft with the water tanks I was presented with another option - I could still drill down from above and run a small line down the inside wall to the floor.  There, we could have it harmlessly drain onto the floor and over to the drain in the steam room.

After one or two test runs, I found the sweet angle for the hose, and called Donna in to help me snake it inside the wall and out a hole I had pre-drilled near the floor.  When I add a baseboard all around, I will make the drain hole even smaller and have the hose snugly extend out and down towards the floor drain.

Now, although I'd rather not use it, we do have the ability to run the pump with much less supervision than before.  While I was up there though, I did take the time to mark the "danger" level on the side of the tank so we would have better feedback.

Drying Laundry in the Sauna

With the advent of the heavy, wet snow our hanging laundry on the washline has been curtailed to the point of completely ceasing.

I had in my head that laundry could continue to dry, even in sub-zero weather, but as it happens, when it is wet and around zero and there is no wind or sun, laundry tends to get cold and clammy, and no where approaching dry.

My next thought was to hang the laundry on the small porch that Grandpa had built for us behind the sauna.  We still had our drying rack from last winter, and I pressed it into service.  Alas, even with the snow not actually falling on our clothes, they didn't see to be drying in any semblance of an acceptable time period.

Bringing the rack from outside the sauna to the inside improved things quite a bit on the drying front.  With a fire on in the steam room and the door propped open, it only took about a day or two for most things (save mats or heavy items) to dry out to a useable degree.

Finally, Donna pressed on me a suggestion that I had first put forth before the sauna had ever been constructed.

She had observed that the sauna seemed to take quite a time to warm up.  Attributing that to the fact that heat rises, and we have a rather high ceiling we both concluded that much of our warm air was spending its time up in the peak of the sauna.

Heading up there with two lengths of one by four inch boards, about five feet long, I threaded clothes line back and forth through holes in the boards, and then screwed the boards into the rafters of the ceiling.  I made sure to tension the clothes line so it didn't sag too much, and then came back down to the floor.

Pressing into service a large number of clothes hangers and the hook we use in the yurts to open and close the domes, I was able to easily hang the laundry on hangers, and then raise the hangers up into the rafters and in turn hang the hanger on the clothes line.

I have to say, this worked amazingly, amazingly well.  The rising heat when the sauna is in use dries clothes extremely quickly.  I have certainly hung heavy items up in the early afternoon, and been able to bring them down warm and dry later in the day when we actually take sauna.  This is one idea that I am going to declare a real winner.

It isn't difficult to hang everything on hangers right from the spinner of our washing machine - and it actually should be even more helpful to just bring items in on the hanger and hang them in our (as yet to be built) wardrobes.

The only challenge is oversized bedsheets or mats.  I've tried putting them across multiple hangers with some success.  Socks seem to work most efficiently hanging five or six on a hanger with clothes pegs before transferring them up to the rafters.

We just have to be diligent about throwing hangers into the wash baskets with the dirty clothes, so they will be available in the sauna as items come out of the spinner.

Frozen Water Lines Already + Bonus Review of the Panda Washing Machine

Ugh.  After a night of fourteen degrees below zero, in the late afternoon, Donna headed out to the sauna in her cold weather gear to attempt a load of laundry.

She returned shortly after with photo evidence of how cold it was.  The water pails had frozen.  Sigh.

At first I didn't register any concern.  It wasn't until I went out myself and realized that the water pipe had frozen that I began to feel a bit of panic well up inside me.

I rushed over to the cabin first, to test the water line from the sauna to the cabin which had been constantly dripping for the past month.  Thank goodness, it was still dripping.  I opened it up and let some good water flow through for a few moments before capping it back to a slow drip and returning to the sauna.

I put on a roaring fire in the sauna, and then broke the ice in the pails.  Using ice cold water, I started the Panda washing machine and got it to agitate a moment.  Hearing some of the chunks of ice banging around inside, I quickly stopped the machine and waited an hour or so for some warm water to be present in the sauna stove's holding tank.

I poured this water into the Panda to melt the ice, and then resumed the load.

Imagine my annoyance when I tried to switch it to "drain" mode, and the dial was also frozen.  Forcing it slightly, the knob suddenly banged, and then I could spin it freely around, obviously not engaging anything.

This brought me nearly to my knees with frustration.  No water, and now no way to drain the washing machine!  What else could there be?

I pulled off the knob, and saw that the cog underneath had somehow "fallen" lower than the knob could reach.  Retrieving my needlenose pliers, I pulled it up, and switched it to drain.

The Panda groaned under the strain, and no water moved.  I check the hose underneath and - you guessed it - frozen solid.

I bailed the water out by hand, and then moved the clothes to the spin side.  It spun for a moment, and then it too started to groan.

It appears that the two sides of the machine have separate reservoirs.  Something that should be obvious, but wasn't always so to me.  Whenever you are spinning, the spin side tried to drain water.  So the drain pump was straining to pump against the frozen hose.  Also, as soon as enough water builds up in the spin side to reach the basket, the friction of the water is far too much for the spinner to move at any great speed.  Thus, I couldn't spin the clothes.  They were coming out of the machine soaking wet and freezing.  Pieces of ice were still falling from them at that point!

I pulled the hose up as high as I could, restoked the fire, and was mildly happy to see that the faucet was finally drip...  drip...  dripping.   

By about six-thirty in the evening, the faucet had thawed, and I could get water.  The washing machine had made all sorts of awful sounds, and I was fairly certain I had killed it by pumping against the blockage for so long, not to mention washing clothes with chunks of ice in the agitation side.

When it was finally pitch dark, I decided to call it a night and go in for supper.  As I left the sauna, I tripped heels over head on the wagon that I had so unwisely left at the bottom of the stairs earlier in the evening.  Great Grandpa Higginbotham would have been proud of my attempts to not take the Lord's name in vain. Instead, I just made up a few new words.

Back in the yurts, Donna nourished my body and spirit with both soup, and kind, supportive words.  I decided to make use of the warm sauna and go out to wash my face and hair after eating.

Once there, I attempted one last try at draining the washing machine, and, lo and behold, it worked!  I quickly raced outside in my boots (and little else) to start up the generator again, and banged off a few loads of laundry while I could.

With the pliers, I pulled up the cog for the wash/drain setting, and put the dial back on it.  As of a few days later, it is still working okay.

While the Panda cannot seem to properly agitate our largest, flannel blankets, I am still quite happy that we have the ability to wash most of our other items.  However, it is difficult to resist the temptation to overload this little machine.

Donna has been using a home made liquid detergent she has been making with soap nuts.  Occasionally she doesn't even bother with a rinse, as this detergent is suppose to be very mild.  This saves us on water, time and electric power.

I still would recommend the Panda to anyone in our situation, and would readily replace it if it were to be retired in the future.

In any case, I spent the next day redoing the framing around the sauna doors.  I removed almost all of the existing framing, and as I replaced it, I added surplus sill gasket and some leftover Roxul insulation.  I also made sure that all openings were covered as best as I could to keep out any draughts.  I had a fire burning most of the day, and put on the final log about three-thirty.  Donna went out as late as seven to wash her hair, and reported that the stove water was perfect for washing!

Now it remains to be seen just how often we need to fire up the sauna to keep those lines open.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Simple Woodshed

Based on the humanure hacienda I constructed a few months ago, I decided to build a simple woodshed.  It looks like it will work so well that I ended up building three of them so far, and currently think I may make ALL my wood storage along similar lines.

The first one I built was five feet deep, nine feet wide, and five feet high at the back, six at the front.

The next two were only six feet wide.  At six feet wide, five feet high, and five feet deep, they hold about a cord of wood.

Having them in widths of three foot increments allows me to cover them with three-by-six foot sheets of steel - readily available and in manageable sizes.

I cover the sides with odd boards and slabs from my slab pile - stuff that is destined to burn anyway.  I leave one to two inch gaps between the boards.  This is enough to allow good drying, while keeping off the bulk of the rain.

I face these generally towards the south.

It remains to be seen how well they work over the course of the winter, but for now, I'm excited about how easily they can be constructed and how well they have protected my extra wood.  

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Winter Arrives at the Homestead?

Oh how quickly the weather changes from this

To this

You'll notice that one of our first models refused to appear in the second picture.

In any case, here's a visual treat of what it looks like around here.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Taking Delivery of our Baker's Choice Woodstove

Recently we were in the city running some errands.  While in Home Depot, I got the call from Howie's Saw - the woodstove had arrived!

With Donna and Kenny in tow, I realized how fortunate I was to be with the truck, and that it wasn't heavily laden yet.

We pulled in at Howie's, where the boss gave me a fright by declaring that my little Ford Ranger wouldn't be able to handle the weight of the stove.  Of course, had I given it a bit more thought, I would have been able to calculate that the weight of the stove (no more than five hundred pounds) was equivalent to that of two or three large fellows - easily within the capacity of the truck!

Anyway, he laughed at my gullibility, and then proceeded to load up the stove in the back of the truck and send me giddily on my way.

We got the stove home safe and sound, and the next day Grandpa arrived with his superhero equipment to help us get the stove into the cabin.

It went much more smoothly than I expected.  I was able to back the truck right up to the cabin, where we removed the front door from the hinges to give us a full inch of clearance.

We removed everything possible from the stove, including the doors.  Then bridged the gap between the tailgate and the cabin with a small piece of plywood.

It was suprisingly easy to scootch the stove across the span, and with it inside, we replace the door of the cabin in short order.

We haven't yet reattached any of the parts of the stove we have removed, as we haven't yet insulated the floor where it will go.  Once that is complete, we will put the stove in its final position.

For reference, here is a photo of the back of the stove.  I searched high and low online for a picture of the back of the stove to see the placement of the stovepipe.  I suspected that it was off to the right, directly behind the oven, but no one could confirm that for me.  As such, here it is.  A 7" oval exhaust, but included with the stove was the adapter to permit the use of round stovepipe.

I'm sure in the future I will be posting more and more about how this stove works for us.  In the meantime, we are just too excited to give it a test run!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Installing Windows and Doors in the Cabin

This part went pretty smoothly.

Thanks to our friend B! who had helped me work out how to properly install the windows and doors in the sauna, I had the techniques and confidence to repeat the same thing on the cabin.

Again, it was basically a matter of only attaching the window or door at the bottom, and then building a sort of pocket frame around it to allow the sides and top of the opening to slide down within the frame as the logs finished settling.  I am really looking forward to next year when I hope/plan on fastening the windows and doors directly to the logs for a more secure, better insulated fit.

First I obtained the patio door for the south side of the cabin, and installed it in short order with a bit of help from Grandpa.

The two small windows in the bathroom and pantry followed in short order.

Next up was the kitchen window, and by that time, the C! family had arrived and together J! and I got in the front door.

With J!'s assistance, we then proceeded to finish off with the patio door in the bedroom, and then, joy of joys, the two picture windows in the living room.

Donna found us in repose, enjoying a chance to take a breather from our grinding pace of work!

It sure looks great with the windows all in place.  Now, if I only had a roof!  (Yes, the second patio door isn't in in this picture, but I wanted to show the windows here.  Trust me, all the doors are in now!)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Building the Loft in our Cabin

With the revised idea of actually attaching the loft to the laminated beam, we were able to move forward with constructing it and not have to worry about what would happen as the cabin settled.

Grandpa continued to be full of great ideas - starting with attaching a board along the beam to hold our floor joists temporarily until we could screw them into position.

He then continued in the vein of doing all the work, while I do all the watching and talking.  Luckily Donna's photographs capture these moments accurately.

This went very quickly, and I was able to move into building the "landing" just off of the loft, where people would stand at the top of the stairs before deciding which of the two rooms they would enter.

At first I had though of building this landing just in place, with the beam as the central support, and then some sort of "suspension" to hang the outside corners of the landing in place.  I was at first thinking of using some threaded rod or pipe which would be suspended from the collar ties of the ceiling.

Instead, I then opted to install two two-by-eight inch beams about thirty-two inches out from the loft, and then put in a few floor joists between them to act as the landing.  This made the landing about five or six feet wide, and over thirty inches deep.

The stovepipe would pass between the loft and the landing's two-by-eight at one end of the cabin, and the stairway would go up to the loft at the other end.

It didn't take long to get the plywood up and onto the loft floor.  I opted to screw it in place in this case, as I felt I could acceptably insulate (for sound) from below.

With the ladder in place and almost exactly the correct length for a stairwell, we tested the angle for comfort.  I was almost half disappointed that it wasn't steeper, and that we can likely use a standard (albiet steep) layout for the stairs, instead of the more unique "paddle" stairs.

It was really exciting to get up onto the loft and feel how roomy it was, as well as to be able to look over the top of the cabin walls and get a whole new perspective on our living zone.