Sunday, December 31, 2017

Frosty, Frosty Windows

We've encountered a number of -30 days in a row here on the homestead, and it's overwhelming even the windows I've added a third layer to!

Donna snapped this in the pantry one morning:


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Water Line Frozen?!?!

Don't panic, it's not a TOTAL disaster.

The water in the bathroom has stopped running.

The tap's on full, but no dice!
Funny, when I washed my hands yesterday morning it did seem a bit slow, and I even wondered if the line COULD be freezing up, but dismissed the notion immediately as ludicrous, as it had never happened before and everything else in the cabin was working fine.

Whelp, then just after lunch, Donna reported that the water wasn't running in there anymore.  Sigh.

I have the tap open wide, and am trying to direct some of the heat from the cabin into the crawlspace.  Hard to imagine how long it may take for it to make a difference, but one can only try one's best...  At least the cabin is still warm, and water is running in the kitchen, so that's still light years beyond our water issues of the past...

Oh, before anyone gives me any extra good ideas - the water line for the bathroom is embedded directly in the floor - so I can't just crawl underneath and try to thaw the pipe directly.

After almost taking a header, I've since put two buckets right in front of this hole.  Can't imagine how long it will take to thaw out the crawlspace.

Awesome Youtube Minecraft Channel - A Shameless Promotion

Kenny for the past many months has been labouring to post a new Minecraft video nearly every day, and yesterday he posted his 100th video!  I'm very proud of his determination, and would like to share it with anyone who is willing to give it a quick look at, maybe thumbs up, or maybe subscription if you or someone you know is into that sort of thing.  They are very calming (generally) and suitable for ALL ages.

Check out his channel here:

Be sure to let him know that aikihomestead sent you!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Tree Lit Up!

Here's a few pictures of our Christmas tree at night with the lights turned on...

No Flash

More light from adjacent area and slow shutter speed

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Replacing a Switch with a Switch and Receptacle Combination

Shortly after starting to use the kitchen full time, it became apparent that two outlets weren't always sufficient - especially when they were both located on one side of the counter, and we try to keep an air purifier plugged in at all times to make me feel better about dust and my lungs.

The next time I had the washing machine pulled out, I added a short, three foot, bright orange extension cord to the outlet behind the machine and then draped the end of it up over the switchbox we use for the kitchen lights.

This worked, and worked well, but the aesthetics of it were less than desireable.  For the longest time I thought that perhaps I would change out the electrical box for a double gang box, and then put in a switch and receptacle.

Then it dawned on me that there were often combo switches, and a quick internet search revealed that they were indeed at Home Depot.  I was heading there ANYWAY to get some U channel for supporting my acrylic storm panes, so I added a combo switch to my list.

The next day, I tried to accomplish a few things to get out of my recent mental funk, and installing the switch seemed to be a good thing to fit the bill.

It was very uneventful. I shut off the power, pulled the old switch, scratched my head at the wiring inside to try to understand what I had done previously, realized that it wasn't as challenging as it looked, and so hooked up the switch easily, and even better yet - it fit without having to REALLY cram the wire nuts and wiring and device itself into place.

You can still see the old extension cord present in this photo.
I put it back in place and waited for the fireworks that never came.  Donna mentioned that the switch felt funny.  I also am noticing that it will take a week or two before we are used to a side to side rocker in that location.

The outlet is handy, although it is too close to the switch for me to easily plug in our AA/AAA battery charger, which will have to continue to get plugged in behind the television or under the counter.  But I'm sure that the slow cooker and the panini press will be perfect for the new outlet - oh and the HEPA vacuum I use for cleaning out the stove!

Funny how little five minute projects like this often have huge benefits to life.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Adding a Calendar to the Aikihomestead Blog

Not long ago while discussing with Donna about how it would be nice to record important events around the homestead either online or offline, it came to me that perhaps I could somehow do it using a Google Calendar and make it available to anyone who views the blog, if they were interested.

I have investigated it slightly, and think I have ciphered out a solution, but the proof will be in a combination of seeing if I keep up entries on it, as well as if both myself and you the reader utilize it.

At first I tried to have it as a sidebar gadget, but the only sensible arrangement there would have been an agenda view, and Google automagically removed entries older than the current date, so that made it very useless.

Currently I have compressed it vertically a fair bit and have just a week view at the top of the blog.  Hopefully it's unobtrusive, while still giving a bit of recent information.

If you get a chance, let me know if you have any interest in the data there.  I'll try to add more and more as I think of it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Harvesting Our Christmas Tree

Yesterday Kenny and decided to try to walk up for the mail.  It was sixteen below, so I insisted he wear his snow pants and a scarf.

About halfway there he declared that he would be unable to continue because he was way too hot!  I suggested that perhaps to make up for our reduced exercise time, we could fetch our Christmas tree instead - and he agreed!

We returned home, and while he removed his snow pants, I got out a tow rope and my pull saw.

My assistant is ready to go!
Once he was back outside, we strapped on our snowshoes and headed into the bush.

The forest was beautiful and peaceful.
We worked our way back to the spot where Mama had picked out the tree, and found that they looked remarkably different when covered in snow!

Now which one of these did Mama say looked best?!
I managed to cut it down and drag it to the trail, where I realized that it was probably a few feet too high, so I cut off a bit more from the base of the trunk, hooked it to the rope, and started dragging it home.

All yoked up.  You can sense the sincerity in my smile.
This was a good workout!  Let me assure you!  My glasses were completely fogged by the time I got it back home.  I removed a few more limbs from the base, and then ordered Kenny inside to handle the door.

It went through the door better than I expected, and immediately began to drip water everywhere.  I didn't have the tree stand ready, so Kenny steadied the tree while I assembled the bolts and tried to tighten them rapidly.

Are you SURE you have it?

We got it all set up, and then it tipped over.  I righted it, and then added a string from one rafter to another, wrapped around the crown, to ensure that it remained upright.

Well, it's a step up from a Charlie Brown tree!
Today we may try to start decorating!  Exciting times!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Burning the Brush Piles

In keeping with Grandpa's tradition, we store up the brush we cut around the cabin for a year or so to let it dry out, and then after the snow is in the forest but before it gets too deep, we burn the piles, sending those nutrients back to the soil and eliminating the untidy pile without having to drag it somewhere to rot out slowly.

We also wanted to give Grandpa the chance to supervise the activity.  Both as an excuse to invite them out for a nice meal (Donna made a roast with gravy, potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic bread.  It was fantastic!), and because I didn't feel completely comfortable setting such a large fire myself, in spite of knowing that it couldn't get out of hand with all the snow around.

Mummu and Grandpa arrived shortly after nine and Grandpa set to work immediately.  The food was actually ready to eat shortly after ten due to an early prep, so it was set to keep warm until after lunch, when Grandpa took a sauna, and then we broke bread together.

Proud of his fire lighting ability.
This punky old skid went up much faster than I expected!  Skids burn no matter how wet they seem to get!

Yup, we actually had three piles going at once here.  There is another green one further back, and a huge, long one in the ravine to burn next fall.  All the brush clearing I've been doing has really created a glut of brush!

Things are almost burned out after only a couple hours.  It got warm enough that Grandpa took off his jacket most of the time, and the trees overhead rained down all the snow still in them.

That evening it actually rained!  So for the first time that I can recall, the piles weren't even smoldering the following morning.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Quick Tip: How To Remove Your Ash Pan Without Making (As Much Of) A Mess

Here's another quick tip!

In the past while removing our ash pan to empty it outside, we had a real struggle with ash flying up inside the cabin, especially while removing it, and then again while opening the front door, and then again if there was ANY breeze at all outside.

Lately, I've been taking our cleaning caddy and using the spritzer from it to spray a fine mist on top of the ashes as I slide the pan out of the stove.  Not nearly enough to soak the whole pile, but it forms a very thin layer of misted ash on top and I cannot see any fine dust arising anymore until I finally dump the whole pan outside.

Generally the stove is still warm enough that the light misting down below is inconsequential, and I likely wouldn't be phased much by a little rust on the ash pan if that ever were an issue, but again, the pan is usually warm enough that it dries immediately anyway.

It's made a real improvement to our perception of how much dust the stove is producing - and makes emptying the ashes less of a dreadful chore, and now just a chore.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Followup To Boxing In The Stovepipe

After completing the boxing in of the stovepipe in the attic, I decided to wait until we had a nice hot fire to go up and check how things were working out up there.

A few nights ago Donna had it chugging merrily away and then remarked how according to our stovetop thermometer, we were well into the "overburn" zone, and had been for some time.

Always one to turn things to an advantage, I closed the vents a bit, grabbed our non-contact thermometer and headed up to the attic.

I was pleased as punch to find that while the attic space itself was still rather cool, the boxed in area of the stovepipe was slightly below our room temperature downstairs!  That makes me feel that it's probably not in the remotest amount of danger under anything approaching normal circumstances.

I'm putting this one just over the line into "successful idea" territory.

Establishing a base temperature of the attic outside the box.

Inside the box, with a merry fire chugging away - a comfortable but not nearly worrisome temperature.

A picture of how things look.  Nothing of concern that I can see.

And another reading of the stone wool insulation down in the base.

Another reference just outside the boxed in area, but still up high.

And at the opposite end of the attic.  Remarkably consistent!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

EcoFan Spins Through The Night!

Last year we seemed to have quite a few problems with the stove suddenly backpuffing or just smoke blowing back out sometimes while we were loading it or when it was closed air tight on a windy night.

To ameliorate this issue, we resorted to making short, quick fires to heat up the cabin, and then just letting the fire burn itself completely out and coasting until it was too cold to stand.

This fall we proceeded with the same plan, but as I sealed up the cabin better and better and better (hopefully), I began to recall that we were told that perhaps some of the problems were due to cabin air leaking out and thus sucking smoke from inside the stove.  I wondered if perhaps now that things are better sealed, we could start experimenting with different stove techniques to maintain a better comfort level.  As well, we're becoming more confident with our ability to regulate the burn of the stove, and with the wood being cut earlier and protected better, I feel that it's more consistently dry and we can get less "roller coasters" of burn temperatures.

Thus, the past few weeks, we've been willing to stoke the fire in the evening and then shut it up ALMOST completely air tight.  I close all vents except for the front upper vent, which I twist until it is just open a hair.  On the Baker's Choice, this means that you twist the bolt shut until you can just wiggle the washer and hear it ring, not until it is held tight.

It's worked very well so far (no jinx!).  It seems to hold coals and fire for many hours, often into the next morning even without throwing lots of wood on.  In fact, last Sunday I awoke to this:

The Eco fan was still turning (maybe spinning was overselling it...) over eight hours later!  What a delightful sight!

Even this morning I awoke to an inside temperature of eighteen degrees!

Of course, it's still only twelve below outside.  Once it is bumping forty below, then we'll see how well this system keeps up.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Workhorse on the Homestead

This past Saturday after spending a long, lazy morning at the keyboard and sipping tea with Kenny and Donna, they got cabin fever enough to leave the cabin for an early afternoon walk up and down the road.  I opted to finish my last tea, as well as to complete the research that I had been doing.

In four moments of weakness during the half hour I stayed behind, I scarfed down cookies in batches of at least two at a time.

Finally the cookies helped me build up my reserve strengths of guilt (and an increasingly upset stomach), until I had enough remorse to head outside myself.

As it was sauna night, I had it in my head to get a bit of wood for the sauna stove.  We had never put up more than a couple of weeks worth in the sauna shed by fall, and it emptied quickly.  I still believe we have lots in the regular woodshed to feed both the sauna AND the cabin, but it doesn't hurt to have a buffer.

I knew there were several dead but standing (smaller) trees lining the driveway that were unavailable during our other seasons, as the marsh is not easily navigable.  I had also brought in my chainsaw batteries and charged them up in anticipation of doing some more cutting.

I worked my way up and down the driveway felling perhaps a half dozen good candidates, as well as three green trees that needed to come down for various reasons (well, one I didn't notice it still had a few needles on it, and two others that were legit falling onto the driveway).

Donna and Kenny returned from their walk, but decided to head inside to warm up a bit before coming back out.  As I recall, mittens and hats were not complete parts of the gear they took with them on their impulsive walk.

As I carried the smallest of the trees up close to the sauna to buck, Kenny said he wanted to help by dragging the larger trees himself.  I had planned on hooking them to the ATV and pulling them up, but decided to humour him.  He couldn't budge the first one, but the second one he was able to lift the end, and declared that he would drag it.

I suggested I could tie a rope to it and he may have an easier time of it.  We grabbed two ropes, and he hooked himself up to the smaller tree and began dragging it in about ten centimetre increments.  He insisted on no help, and over the course of a half hour or more, actually managed to drag it from the front entrance of the property, all the way up the driveway (including a significant incline) to the sauna!

It reminded me of the time in my childhood when my father created a series of harnesses on our toboggan to haul firewood through Schneider's bush.  Except in this case the pack animal had the  distinct advantage of an eager will.

My own tractor!
In the end, I put together almost ten crates of firewood, and three small trees to add to next years wood supply.  My stomach recovered, and I assuaged my guilt to a tiny degree.

Admiring next year's wood.
The final few metres!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

One Working Acrylic Storm Window

Our front door was a bit of a poser for putting on a storm window.  The molded handgrips for sliding the bottom pane up and down in summer projected just far enough beyond the lip of the window frame that a solid piece of acrylic wouldn't fit flush to the frame.

In a thunderbolt of inspiration while waiting patiently on the deck the other night for Kenny and Donna get take off their boots and jackets and make way for me, I realized that I didn't HAVE to install my acrylic on the inside of the windows!  I could also try the outside!

I took a picture of the window one morning showing all the condensation that had built up.

And condensation where the two panes meet as well.

You can see a fair bit along the bottom edge here.  Note the molded handles that caused some grief.
Then I took another picture the next morning, showing no condensation, even though the mercury was bumping against ten below!

No condensation today!
Yeah!  A win!  Why was it still 14 degrees inside though?

I like the funky green frame!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Boxing in the Attic Stovepipe Revisited

While foaming under the kitchen cabinets and all around the last few spots with outside corners, I found myself with a part can of foam that I didn't want to waste.  Expanding foam canisters must always be thought of as "single use" items.

And so it was; I headed up to the attic without really having planned to do so.

I noted that the DAP foam that applied so dubiously earlier seemed to still be in the last position I had seen it, which was nice.  I added some new foam above it, and now delight in seeing four different colours of expanding foam, plus the blue of the closed cell foam, up in the attic.  It feels like I'm part of an experiment in testing the attributes of each manufacturer!

Blue, orange, white, yellow, a different orange - a real rainbow of foams!
I squirted a bit of foam in any crevice that I was unsure of, to help assuage my fears that things weren't completely sealed up there.

I did note that the temperature in the attic was quite cool actually.  I am thinking that this is a good thing?  It certainly wasn't freezing, but I am interpreting this as meaning that the stone wool I installed between the main cabin and the attic is slowing down the flow of heat upwards.  Also, sealing all these spots around the cabin is preventing cold air from convecting through so dramatically.  Last season the clear plastic I installed on the patio doors bowed in severely and was as turgid as some sort of tumescent dome!

While up there, I took the opportunity to remove my access foam and take some pictures from around the stovepipe.  Everything in there looks just fine.  I was really scared that I'd see scorch marks everywhere, but I could see nothing at all worrying.  Next time we have a really good fire chugging along, I think I should head up there with my non-contact thermometer and see how warm that cubby actually gets.

Whew!  Nothing scorched here, especially high up and close to the stovepipe.  Looking good!

And a view down makes me feel good too.  Everything looks fine here too.
That night we were burning some medium size logs that were performing much better than I am use to.  Instead of letting it burn out hotly and shutting things down for the night, I threw on an extra log and then shut down the air intake to just a crack (I'm still reluctant to go completely air-tight after last seasons troubles with back-puffing).

The next morning just after five a.m., I woke to a 16.5 degree cabin, and a few coals in the bottom of the stove!  That was quite exciting.  I am feeling much more comfortable about the stove so far this year.  As long as the wood supply lasts...

I still built a fire as normal, but it caught and got up to temperature in only a few minutes.  I feel that having a still-warm flue and firebox may have aided in the process.

At my age, after a loving wife and son, a warm cabin is one of the greatest things in life.

Friday, November 24, 2017

A Major New Draught Found!

The other afternoon while fritzing around in our bedroom, trying to figure out why it was so deathly cold, I cleared out some of the flotsam that had built up below the solar charger and inverter.  It was all part of my overall plan to run some expanding foam along the edges of the floor where it meets the walls, as well as in the corners of rooms where I suspect the air/vapour barrier is less than complete.

Once I got down to the hole in my wall where the battery cables and data cables pass through to the outside of the cabin, I could feel a dramatic breeze blowing through.  Previously I had packed this area with a combination of stone wool and sticky-tack, but I suppose it had broken down and disappeared over the past year or two.  In any case, I grabbed my can of expanding foam and hit it up hard.  I know I'll have to chip it all away when I want to move these cables, but for now, knowing that there isn't an actual hole in my wall is worth it!

That should stop the breeze!
As part of the process, I worked my way around the entire bedroom, foaming the crevices anywhere they touched an outside wall.

Right up to the ceiling and across!

While moving the bed, we got to see how the natural wood has faded to show the ghost of our headboard.  Interesting!

This helped to make sure the bed got back in exactly the right spot to put our tables on either side without issue.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Expanding Foam in the Kitchen Cabinet Kickspace

While trying to find the coldest place in the cabin last week, Kenny noted that the corner of the kitchen under the cabinets was bumping against zero.  Both Donna and I commiserated that in the mornings if we weren't wearing socks, we could feel a breeze coming from beneath them.

As such, I grabbed two cans of "gap filler" foam and attempted to dislocate my shoulder and get the cans in underneath the cabinets to foam against the juncture of the wall and floor.

I think I didn't do half bad if I do say so myself.  I used up two whole cans just for this band, but now the temperature under the cabinets seems to be high single digits, and no more breeze!  This area isn't visible normally, and whenever I get around to adding the face boards to it, it will be enclosed and out of sight, out of mind.

The coldest corner of all.  This was also the hardest to reach!

Good steady stream here, even with obstacles.

And against the south wall.  I'm pretty happy with how this turned out.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Fly Sucker 2000

Bringing in the wood bins also brings in the flies that have hidden in the logs for the winter.  As they enjoy the (relative?) warmth of the cabin, they come out of hibernation, and inevitably head for the upstairs windows to escape.

In an effort to control the incessant buzzing and build-up of dessicated remains, I have invented the flysucker 2000.  It cost all of $7 from Home Depot.  A piece of ten foot electrical conduit jammed onto the end of the vacuum hose.  It doesn't have much power, you have to get right on top of the fly to trap it, but it is satisfying, and I suspect a little painters tape to seal the hose to the vacuum for better suction would only improve matters.

The mad genius at work.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Boxing in the Stovepipe

When my stovepipe collar was first installed properly by Dan VanLenthe's crew, I was really surprised to find that the stovepipe itself was not in any way fastened, let alone sealed, to the collar itself!  That explained the purpose of the storm collar - it was to actually keep rain and such out of that gap betwixt the pipe and the rim of the collar.

My issue with that situation was that with a cathedral ceiling (essentially - the floor of the attic is not vapour sealed from the rest of the cabin), I essentially had a hole in my roof where the stovepipe stuck through!

Thinking myself somewhat clever, I packed the upper roof cone full of stone wool insulation and then sealed it all up with loads of foil tape.

The next time I was talking with the good fellows at Thunder Bay Fireplaces though, I was warned that this was not appropriate, and it was suggested to even be a fire hazard.  I'm not certain how though; I'd love to have someone enlighten me...

In any case, they suggested all sorts of schemes for dealing with this situation, but the one that made the most sense was to simply build a small "room" around the stovepipe in the attic and seal it off from the rest of the cabin.

I began this project last spring, but as the weather warmed up, it moved from a priority to a "maƱana" situation.

Of course, it hung over my head all summer, and with nothing particularly planned for a recent day, I steeled myself with a warm mug of tea, and slipped into my overalls.  I promised myself to just cut "one board" and then I could quit if it was too annoying or discouraging.  Of course, one board led to another and I pretty much would have finished the entire deal if I hadn't run out of expanding spray foam.

I put in sheets of closed cell foam on the floor and walls of the attic "room" around the stovepipe, and then sealed it with spray foam.  Then I piled more stone wool insulation on top of the floors until it was about four to six inches below the "no insulation above this line" mark on the stovepipe thimble.

Once more into the breech after six months of avoidance.
Hard to make out - this is a small crevice packed solid with a mass of dead flies.  Not the way I'd want to go!
Here's the final wall with most of the plywood installed.  I opted not to bother with a stud for extra support in the centre, as it's simply a barrier, and not at all structural.
The final wall in position.
I packed the outside top edge of the walls with stone wool to support the spray foam on the inside.  Note the transition to the latex foam at the top edge of the wall - it allowed me to install it with the can held upright in this tight space.
A view through the peephole.  Things look messy but functional.  I removed all the stone wool from the cavity above just before sealing in the stovepipe.
And on the floor, a deep covering of stone wool.  Just beneath the collar, you can see the red tape marking the maxium height of insulation.
Heading back downstairs.  The top piece of foam is just pressure-fit to allow me to reopen and inspect for the next month or two before I seal it up.  You can see the latex foam is looking even more sad that usual.  I will return soon with a fresh can to see if it works any better.
I was impressed that the fireproof spray foam still worked as if it was newly purchased.  The latex DAP foam seemed to have degraded significantly over the summer on the other hand, and at first simply ran out of the nozzle as a liquid.  I gave it a very vigorous shaking, and then it came out more like melted marshmallow.  I put it where I could, but as I was finishing up, several large areas "glooped" out of where they were suppose to be.  I will purchase more and see if I can't convince it to stay in place a bit better for me.

Ugh, the latex foam is clearly past its best before date.
Sadly, it was still 14 degrees Celsius inside the cabin when we woke up the next morning, after being 24 degrees around 3 p.m. when we put on the fire.  I'm not sure if dropping 10 degrees in 12 hours is considered good or bad in a conventional home - I don't know anyone who would let it get that cold.  I'd love to hear some comments about the struggles of other people in keeping their family warm in a cold environment.  I suspect that many of my readers are in the enviable position of only being a dial or button (or app?) away from quickly and efficiently warming their home.