My Version Of A WETT Compliant Heat Shield

December 10, 2015

We’ve had our stove and chimney checked out twice by the local chimney sweeps/installers and they have been very helpful in pointing out shortcomings and possible improvements to our installation.

Just this past spring they were out to add a foot to the height of the chimney, as well as replace the original silicone roof boot with a metal one that would be WETT certified.

While we don’t currently intend to entertain house insurance, it is personally worth striving to be compliant with their safety standards.

One item that I was willing to tackle myself was replacing the heat shield behind our stove with something permanent and of proper sizing. Originally we had simply brought in the standup shield we were using in the yurts, and it has served us well for the past number of seasons. But, it was far too small and easily removeable shields are not able to qualify for WETT certification (and, by extension, insurance).

There were a few stipulations that I could recall – it had to be between 1 and 3 inches off the floor, extend 18 inches beyond each side of the stove, and extend a certain number of inches above the stovetop. I can’t at the moment remember this figure, but I know I’m way beyond that.

It’s very handy that the stove is almost exactly thirty-six inches wide. I ordered up some standard roof steel that is itself thirty six inches of coverage. Two of them side-by-side give me seventy-two inches of width. That gives me the eighteen inches on either side nearly perfectly!

It was also a requirement that the heat shield not be installed directly to the wall, but that it needs to be screwed to something else, that is in turn screwed to the wall. You can’t even use long screws to finish the install as they could conduct heat from the head of the screw directly into the wood of the wall.

So, I ordered four sheets of my steel.

I installed two of them directly to the wall, and then installed the remaining two to the first two with the coloured (black) side facing out. The ribs were oriented vertically, mostly because I thought that would look the nicest and collect the least dust, but another key consideration is that according to code, your air channels must be vertical and unobstructed.

Checking how things look.

A few pieces of scrap wood to space off the floor the three inches.

Extending out to both sides of the stove.

Three inch screws should give a solid mount.
While installing the second layer with the black facing out, I used small black screws (leftover from assembling my chimney) in the valleys and they disappeared from view, leaving a nice, consistent surface. All my holes I pre-drilled though, as this material only came in 26 gauge steel, which is pretty stiff to just lean a screw into.

To me it looks quite good and finished – but the real test will be what Donna thinks!

Looking okay for the first sheet.

The second sheet really finishes the look.

Good from this side.

Coming together from here.

A view through behind.

In Praise of Maier Hardware, Or How Dave Solved All My Water Tank Woes With One Insight

December 9, 2015

As outlined in my previous post, I was stressed and stumped about how to best deal with my overflow drain on the water tank.

I needed to find an easy way to introduce air into the top of the tank (especially when the overflow line is in use, but generally at all times to offset any water removed from the tank). At the same time, I didn’t want to use anything that might allow water to escape from the system. I was in a bind.

My two solutions were to either put check valves on top of both the tank and the sight hose, which would mean that any overflow situations would have the pump putting pressure on the tank – something I was reluctant to entertain, especially with the factory specifically telling me not to do that.

My other solution was to have the overflow pipe just drain out into my drainpipe via a non-physical connection. I would let the 1″ poly pipe hang into the 1 1/2″ abs drain pipe, and hope that it never backed up, and that fumes would be minimal if they travelled up the hose and hovered over our drinking water.

On Saturday I completed a few service calls, realized that I was going to be too late to attend the open mat time at the dojo I have recently been attending, and so headed directly to Maier Hardware to return my huge collection of poly pipe accessories (from previous complicated notions) and instead pick up the parts to allow me to install one of my above solutions.

Serendipidously, the owner Dave was there, and he was graciously willing to chat with me. I usually feel like I’m intruding on him, as we chat for ages – so it was with some guilt that I began to explain my woes to him.

He reiterated his first solution to my problem. A rather clever arrangement of an overflow drain that lined up with the kitchen sink and had some sort of brass bell that would ring when the water flowed by. While a fantastic idea, I didn’t think it had long term appeal to my wife, nor did I think that it would work as good in practice as it did in our minds eyes.

Then he told me about a valve designed for P traps to prevent negative pressure from draining them. This was nearly perfect! He showed it to me and I got sincerely and really excited – it was readily apparent that his experience and thoughts were absolutely invaluable! Then he pointed out that this valve still had a tiny spring loaded clip to close it, and as such, there was a decent chance that it would prevent the backflow of water from the tank to the well from completely emptying the pipe, and that perhaps a foot or so of water may remain in the pipe from the well. This wasn’t a good thing, as my heat cable only extends a few inches above the surface of the water from the well, and so if there was water in the pipe outside of the well, it would be very susceptible to freezing.

Then he told me about his “first choice” of solution – extending a pipe from the top of the tank straight up in the air until it was higher than the pump had the capacity to pump.

With shock, I realized that this was very possible – I could easily put a T on the overflow pipe, and put more pipe there that ran between my roof rafters until it was up in the attic. That would add on up to ten feet of stack – and the pump was probably already close to its limit of about thirty feet. I can’t describe the feelings of relief and excitment at his tremendously insightful solution.

I felt terrible walking away with only the purchase of a T coupler, instead of my other items, as it turned out a net loss for him – he ended up refunding me $20 for the other parts I returned. Then again, as if there was much doubt, he cemented in a dedicated customer (and some extra blog publicity).

Returning home, I boiled up a hot rag and wrapped it around the fittings on the top of the tank. This softened up the poly pipe and made it easier to switch out the ninety degree bend for the new T coupler.

Swapping a T coupler for a ninety degree bend.
I installed about forty feet of poly pipe on this fitting and then with Donna and Kenny’s help, snaked it up into the attic and just over the collar ties. This was a gain of about six or seven feet of head.

No shortage of pipe here!

And over the collar ties.
The remainder of the pipe I brought back downstairs and Kenny lined up the pipe outside into a bucket to catch any possible water that got that far.

Ready to catch any overflow – happily, he was disappointed!
I had a sip of bitters to settle my stomache, and then hit up the pump for five minutes, when clearly only four would be required to fill it.

My hands were shaking badly as I saw the water reach the top of the tank. I heard the change in pitch, and then the rush of water down the drain.

The water moved up the sight hose until it reached the final bracket holding it to the wall, and then it stuck there. It didn’t even rise to the sponge plug!

Donna reported that she could hear and feel water shaking the pipe, but none was able to come out.

I put the plugs in the sink drains just to be sure I tested it under all circumstances, and let it run for a full two minutes. Nothing bad happened, and when the pump shut off, the water level simply dropped back to a full tank.

Cut to length and screwed to a rafter. It will get boxed in when I finish the paneling.
Maier Hardware had saved the day with a simple, elegant solution that still has me smiling days later.

And thus, the water system is complete (until my low flow kitchen taps arrive, and other cosmetic issues are addressed).

Mind Numbing Terror In The Cabin

December 7, 2015

As I type this, my hands are still shaking. Kenny has left the cabin and is reluctant to return. I am having a small snifter to calm my nerves, and will likely just take the remainder of the day off after cleaning up and going deep into thought.

This was suppose to be a triumpant post about finishing up the drain pipes under the sink. I suppose that’s where I should begin…

I only took the one picture, and then the events precluded me from taking any others, and now, there’s not much to see – I’ll try to paint a picture for your mind’s eye.

The morning dawned a bit overcast. The sky looked like cream of mushroom soup, but lacking the mushrooms… The weather bureau suggested that things would clear up slightly around lunch; I felt the same sort of optimism about the skies clearing up as Jeremy Freedman getting his first tube of Clearasil.

Shortly after breakfast, I opted to head outside – as part of my “zone cleaning” routine, the outdoors represented the next zone to be tackled (preceeded by the sauna, followed by the entrance and woodstove). Kenny agreed to come with me and help out. He was in a mood to be of assistance today and I certainly didn’t want to deny him.

We started by hauling cardboard and trash to the garage to wait until such time as I could deliver them to the local waste transfer site. Kenny dragged his sleigh to the top of the driveway hill, but he was unable to get it to slide down, the ice on its bottom being rougher than a tramp steamer’s barnacle infested hull.

Returning to the cabin, Kenny assisted me in piling the last of this season’s burnable wood in the slab shed. I piled, and he used his shovel to pry apart the frozen logs and slabs. They were so tightly joined you couldn’t have gotten a ten penny nail between them with a sledge hammer!

I give him credit, he stuck it out and even when I moved on to filling the wood bins and cleaning off the front porch, he didn’t retreat inside to the sincere pleasures of his Lego or books.

We came inside where I prepared a lunch of yogurt and jam for him, and nacho chips that were as broken as Steven Harper’s dreams for myself. At least I had hummus to help me keep the fragments together. He’d probably be phoning me in to the RCMP for being the kind of person who enjoys hummus.

After lunch dishes were cleared (who am I kidding? They’re still on the table beside me…), Kenny headed upstairs to continue building the tallest Lego tower ever, and I proceeded to begin work on the drain under the sinks.

I at first had the rather pedestrian notion to directly connect the two drains together, with a T in between to connect to the overflow drain from the water tank. Then I had the revelation that I could switch up the T in such a fashion as to allow a more direct connection between the overflow drain, and have a bend in the drain from the sink. This would allow me to open up more space in the front of the corner cabinet – never a bad thing.

I cut, checked, rechecked, and did multiple dry fittings. In hindsight, it’s better to check, recheck and THEN cut, but at least I only made one or two little errors.

With trepidation, I glued the pipes together, careful to twist each connection to try to ensure ample coverage of the adhesive. At last, all was in readiness.

Looking good from this angle.

Maybe even looks like a real plumber installed this!
With Kenny observing carefully below the sinks, as well as checking occasionally on the floor, I poured out pitcher after pitcher of water down both drains. Like an amateur electrician checking to see if a wire was live, he nipped a few quick taps on the drain to see if water had leaked through anywhere.

He reported that his finger was both unshocked, and unwet (er, dry).

Then, with great fanfare and excitement, I said I would test the overflow drain.

Kenny climbed into an empty box that once held the sinfully sodium-soaked selection of beef flavoured ramen and said that in light of recent events, it would serve as his life raft.

I punched in five minutes on the timer, knowing full well that this would fill the tank fuller than Papa’s plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

We watched intently as the line in the hose climber higher. And higher. And higher.

It shot to the foam plug, and then did something different from the previous disaster.

It retreated.

I was slightly bemused and actually took on the demeanour of a fool who thinks he’s won just before he realizes that he’s already lost.

It retreated some more.

I smiled.

It moved below the level of the top of the tank and continued to drop.

My smile followed the movements of the sight line as it plummeted to the very bottom of the tank in less than a minute.

Good golly I said to myself – it’s set up some sort of weird siphon that is actually draining the entire tank if you happen to overpump it! I began to feel like I was sixteen years old again, trying to ride my tricycle down a hill and then realizing that the pedals were turning faster than my feet could keep up!

The sound of the rushing water was like the blood in your ears just as you are about to pass out, only this time, I didn’t have the bliss of unconsciousness to relieve me. Horrific gurgling noises groaned from the sink drains, and then slowly, terrifyingly, unable to be comprehended by even the stoutest of minds, the water level in the tank began to rise again.

In my lizard brain – the water leaving the tank had created a powerful enough vacuum within it that it had sucked a new volume all the way from the well and had begun the cycle again.

Kenny, sensing my panic instantly, backed away from the tank.

The tank, creaking and groaning from the immense negative pressure put on it collapsed like the 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs. I rushed up to the landing to see the top of the tank inverting like an upside down version of Cheops masterwork.

I ran downstairs, inadvisable at the best of times on alternating tread stairs, and rushed under the sink.

At first I tried to loosen the P trap, hoping that I could introduce more air into the line – why hadn’t the sight hose been enough? Curses it for having a diameter narrower than Hank Hill’s urethra!

I couldn’t budge the cap on the trap with my bare hands.

Begging Kenny for the recently purchased jar lid opener, I scrambled through our kitchen utensils to find it, but in my panic, I couldn’t get a grip on the incoming filter – I would have gladly accepted a gush of water from it, compared to the visions of the entire well having to pass through my tank and into our grey water system.

*** Intermission ***

Our well is 4′ wide. It also usually contains in excess of 6′ of water. This gives us a volume calculation of 75.6 cubic feet, or 565.5 gallons. Our tank is 31 gallons. We can fill 18.5 tanks before running the well dry. Also, the well will be recharging in the meantime.

*** End of Intermission ***

18.5 repetitions of this horror? I couldn’t imagine the greywater system handling 565.5 gallons without backing up completely. 565.5 gallons of water being pumped back into our cabin with no way to stop it.

I redoubled my efforts on the P trap and managed to get it off and a little water drained out into a bucket placed with absolutely no care. I hit the pump button to try to relieve some of the pressure on the water tank by replacing some of the water that was being sucked out.

At last, the water stopped gurgling, but not before Kenny had abandoned me without reservation.

Kenny’s new shelter.

He thinks he’d rather live here than in the stressful cabin.
I collapsed into my chair with relief at the glorious sound of silence – and the vision of the waterline in my sight hose holding steady only halfway up the tank.

*** 16 Hours Later ***

After a rather poor and interrupted sleep, I still find myself unable to think properly about the situation. But I feel like maybe I have some new insights.

Diagramme added for clarity.
It is inconceivable that the suction created by the water running out of the tank had enough power to pull water from the well. The grey water pit is at least a few feet above the level of the well, so it is a physical impossibility that the water could come from there.

Additionally the hoses on the top of the tank do not extend into the tank any distance – so unless the tank completely and totally collapsed, water couldn’t continue to reach the outflow pipe.

What I think must have been happening is that the water filled the overflow pipe completely, all the way down to the P trap under the sink. When the pressure from the pump stopped, that water still was being pulled down by the force of gravity. That water needed to be replaced by air in order for the pressure inside the tank to be equal to that outside the tank.

Unfortunately, there are only three ways for air to get back into the tank. The first is through the incoming line from the well – and that’s a dead end right off the bat. The end of that pipe is seventy five feet away and five or six feet under water.

The second path is from the overflow pipe. From the top of the tank to where it drained into my sink drain is probably a good ten feet, with three ninety degree bends, followed by a coupler that probably reduces the diameter of the hose from 1″ down to 3/4″. That’s quite a bit of water falling down for air to come back up through. I don’t think the sink drain plugs were in place, but if they were, then the air would have had to have been sucked up through the P trap too. In fact, if the drain plugs were in place, the nearest air would have been a further twenty feet under the cabin at the Y junction coming from the bathroom sink (where there is never a drain plug installed, although I suspect that we have one we could use if we wished).

The third and final path is the sight hose. This is only a 1/2″ hose, at the bottom of the tank, going through a coupler that probably reduces the diameter down to about 3/8″. It would have about seven feet of water in it when the pump was shut off. It would have taken a tremendous amount of suction to pull that water back into the tank.

Now that I’ve typed it out, I think I may understand it a bit better. So it seems that what I was witnessing was not the water draining completely from the tank, just the force of the water draining out due to gravity pulling the water out of the sight hose. The vacuum in the tank caused by that water running out caused it to buckle and creak. There just wasn’t an easy way for air to get back into the tank. I had thought that air would come up quickly through the sink drain, but obviously not as quickly as required to relieve the pressure on the system.

And for the solution?

I’m honestly not completely sure. During the night I lay awake with visions of one way valves and just allowing the pump to pump against pressure in the tank. I’m not sure how much pressure the pump generates at that height (not a whole lot I’d expect, it must be near its working limit) – but I don’t know if I’d want to have it pumping into a suddenly sealed tank. I’ll follow up with Dave at Maier and see what he thinks of that idea. I’d also have to put a valve on the sight hose to prevent it from being an outlet for the excess water.

The other option that seems to make some sense is to return to the system as it was when I first tested the overflow – simply have the overflow hose “dangle” into a 1 1/2″ ABS pipe. Exactly as the washing machine is currently working to drain. The only reason it failed the first time was because I hadn’t put a junction on the drainpipe further along to keep the water in the system.

This would remove one ninety degree bend, one coupling, about a foot of pipe and the very real possibility of the end of the pipe being under water from the equation. It would provide lots more air introduction into the hose as soon as the pressure is released. There wouldn’t be a seal around the drainage pipe and the overflow pipe. As soon as the pump shuts off, air would only have to head directly up the pipe and into the top of the tank, without being sucked through any other obstacles. I could still hopefully install this completely under the sink.

There must have been a similar pressure on the tank during the first dramatic test, but it couldn’t have been as bad because we didn’t notice it (then again, maybe the water on the floor distracted us).

Well, time to purchase more ABS fittings (and maybe pipe) and head under the sink to try another plan. I can’t express how frightened I will likely be to test this once again.

Installing The Ikea Emsen Sink In My “Custom” Countertop

December 6, 2015

With the counter in place, there wasn’t much left to do but to install the sink. Things were really coming together now – and in no way too soon! My friend J! and his wife L! were scheduled to arrive at the end of the week – and we still didn’t have the ability to easily wash dishes.

Consulting the Emsen installation manual (actually, a single sheet of paper), I flipped the sink upside down onto the counter and lined it up with where I wanted it to be installed.

Lining up the sink and trying to keep it close to the front edge.
I pulled the sink as far forward as possible – I had noted earlier that it seemed like it may be a bit awkward to wash dishes in the sink if it was set back much from the front edge of the counter – moving it back also moved it sideways (as it was a corner sink), so one would have to wash dishes while standing at an angle to the sink. This didn’t seem like a good plan to me, so I wanted to minimize the chance that this would happen.

Lining up the outside edges of the sink so that they were flush with the inside edges of the walls of the corner cabinet, I took out my super trusty Staedler draughting pencil and traced out the sink.

Then I used my yardstick to reduce this outline by a half inch all around.

With nerves all jangling, I drilled a few pilot holes through the counter flush with the inner rings I had drawn, and then inserted my jig saw (complete with a brand new blade) and began working my way around the pattern.

At the front edge I hit some substantial resistance, so I skipped over that spot and came back to it later. It turned out I was hitting the metal bolt holding part of the two counters together – it was a redundant part according to the manual when you were installing a sink in that area, so I will try not to lose too much sleep over it.

Definitely no going back now!
I did a dry fit of the sink next, and it looked okay to me.

Dry fit makes it look good.
Then I installed the butyl tape around the edge of the sink. This was harder than the manual had shown – the tape was much wider than the space provided. I tried to keep it set back from the edge enough that none would show when the sink was installed. In hindsight, this was the wrong way to do it. I should have set the tape so it was flush with the long tabs under the sink, and some of the tape could or even should extend out beyond the edge of the metal.

Then I installed the clips for holding the sink down onto the countertop and flipped it over and set it in the hole.

It wasn’t a hardship to tuck the clips in as I sought to seat the sink in the hole again. They did catch in a few places, but it wasn’t a problem to push them in and then the sink quickly returned to its final position.

I ducked underneath and then realized my next problem – the clips were designed for an Ikea countertop that was over an inch thick. My “custom” laminate countertop was only about a half inch thick. The clips would tighten down fully long before they reached the countertop.

Along the back edge of the sink it wasn’t a big issue. I got out more of my strapping and screwed it to the countertop along the back edge and the two shorter sections extending out from there.

Just had to add my strapping to get the clips back to useable status.
The front edges proved a bit of a head scratcher. I had lined them up flush with the inner sides of the cabinets to minimize that setback – but now there was nothing for the clips to attach to!

Hmmm, nothing to gain purchase on here!
I contemplated trying to drive in some screws and leaving the heads sticking out for the clips to attach to, but I couldn’t get in there with my screwdriver, and the butyl tape had already stuck the sink in place so I couldn’t easily remove it.

Then I thought about replacing the clips altogether – that’s when I started to really make progress! I knew I had a scrap piece of galvanzed pipe strap just out on the front porch. I cut it into a bunch of smaller pieces, and used them to replace the clips. One end of the straps I screwed tightly into the sides of the cabinet, and then I tightened up the adjusting bolt and the sink snugged down nicely.

Ahhh! Clever lad! A makeshift clip!
One complaint I may make is that the “nut” portion of the clips is a plastic part – I felt lots of fear that it could easily strip if you overtightened the bolt. I tried to watch and feel carefully for the sink to come down to the countertop tightly but without overdoing it.

With the sink nice in place, Kenny grabbed a rubber and tried to erase the marks left around the sink from my pencil, and I went underneath to attach the “Atlant” drains.

A previous error in working on my plumbing meant I no longer had a P trap for the sink, so at this point I put a bucket under the drain, and washed another load of dishes. Every day the laundry and dishes get easier to do again!

A thing of beauty. Now if only I hadn’t already messed up this P trap, I could keep going.

Putting In Your Own Laminate Kitchen Counter

December 5, 2015

What with the walls not being exactly square and me being cheap, I decided it would be more economical and give me a better fit if I did the countertop myself.

First of all Donna and I measured what we thought the counter should be. We arrived at 66 inches along the east wall, and 57 inches along the south wall. Of course, this adds up to 123 inches, or ten feet, three inches. Sigh.

I hummed and hawed at the Home Depot, juggling the value in purchasing two six foot countertops, or a single ten foot countertop. I opted for the ten footer, feeling that I could shave off a couple of inches from each direction as we had generous overlaps at the edges of the cabinets.

Once at home though, it dawned on me that in the corner, I didn’t really need the counters to meet – I had three 1″ pipes heading through the cabinet and up to the water tank there, so I was already in need of that space.

In the end, I pulled the counters out about six inches from the corner in each direction, thus giving me almost nine inches of extra material – my decision to purchase the ten footer was optimal! Awesome!

To cut my teeth, I first cut off the 51″ section of counter. I carefully taped the laminate side, and then installed a 100 tooth sawblade in my circular saw.

100 Teeth! This should hopefully make a smooth cut.

Testing, will this work as a fence?
Working slowly and using a level clamped to the counter as a fence, I made what I thought was an awesome cut! No chips out of the laminate, and it looked pretty straight to me!

Next I cut the other length to 58″ – astute readers will realize that this doesn’t add up to my original 66″ when I add on the 6″ of space afforded me by not extending to the corner. This is because I decided to go 2″ less on the overhang on the east wall, as we are planning on replacing the Panda washing machine soon with a larger machine, and I didn’t want there to be a chance that the counter would overhang the lid of any future washing machines.

I taped up the two mitre angles and cut them very carefully.

Looking good so far!

Can hardly wait to see how it looks inside!
Bringing them inside and setting them down, I was shocked at how wavy they looked. I could have probably cut them straighter just by eyeballing it!

I took them both outside, reset the fence and cut carefully again. This time was better, but still not straight enough for my eye. So I trimmed the worst one down a third time, and then decided that because it met acceptably at the front and rear of the mitre, it would be acceptable. The gap in the middle would be of little consequence after I removed most of that area for the installation of the sink.

Actually, this time I cut from above with no consequences. I would suggest doing it this way in the future.
Now I wanted to install some mitre bolts – so I pressed my cordless “router” into service and routed out some clover shapes under the mitre cut to accomodate the bolts.

Checked the depth twice, and then really tightened down the nuts – this isn’t the time when you want to cut right through the whole counterop!

Need to fit this bolt in place.

And my freehand mitre bolt insets.
I schmutzed up the two halves of the joint with clear silicone, and pressed them together. Then I installed the bolts from underneath and worked hard at keeping them in the insets while tightening them up.

Once they were tight, I came up top and wiped off the excess silicone and tried to ensure a nice, flat seam.

It’ll have to do.
Then I went back underneath and drove in a number of screws to hold the countertop down onto the cabinets.

That was enough for the day, but it gave me a great work surface to set up to do a load of dishes in our basins.

That’s enough for today.

Installing The Last Of The Kitchen Cabinets

December 4, 2015

With the junction of the floor and walls finished around the kitchen corner, and the corner cabinet in place, it was a simple job to install the remaining two cabinets.

Levelling of course took a bit longer, and in fact, there is still one corner that is much higher than I’d like, but I can’t see how it can be properly adjusted, and so I have the support post there a tiny bit off the floor and hope that it settles over time.

Testing the fit of the drawers and door.
I next decided to install the drawers on the smallest cabinet to see just how high up the front of the cabinet they came. Of course, they came up nearly flush with the top. This was fine, but it did mean that I had to accomodate this situation before I could install the countertop. As with many laminate countertops, this one had a rounded over front edge, that extended downwards a half inch. You can imagine my disgust if I had installed it, only to find that it prevented my drawers and doors from opening!

It wasn’t a big challenge to install some 3/4″ strapping all around the key points of the counter. I had purchased a bundle of this strapping at a ridiculously low price and keep finding more and more uses for it.

Strapping to the rescue!
Now that the unit was all screwed together, and to the wall, it really began to feel sturdy and to give a good idea for where the kitchen was heading.

Really feeling solid now.

Integrating Child Labour Into My Work On The Kitchen

December 3, 2015

With the corner cabinet in place, the next logical step was to attach the two cabinets that were to reside on either side of it.

Before I wanted to get them settled into place though, I wanted to try to seal the junction between the walls and the floor with a bit of caulking, as well as a rough “baseboard” – it wouldn’t be visible really, under the cabinets and all, but I wanted something a bit more substantial than just the caulking.

First up was trimming off the foil and plastic air barrier that extended out below the wall boards and onto the floor. This would have been so much easier if I had done it before the cabinet was put in place, but I was so happy to have Grandpa’s help at that moment, that I didn’t think that far ahead.

Luckily my head JUST fit under the cabinet, but that still didn’t get me far enough under to reach the very corner.

Not quite close enough.
That’s when I had the bright idea of fitting someone smaller into that spot – Kenny was more than happy to take a break from his studies (still Minecraft!) and come over to help me out. With my direction, he did a fantastic job of trimming the air barrier to size, as well as helping to adjust the corner support post. I was so happy and impressed with his work.

The pro at work!

Trimming off the excess air barrier.
Once the hard stuff was done, I tried to caulk underneath. Unfortunately, the space didn’t permit the caulking gun to get the right angle, so I ended up spreading the caulk mostly with my finger and lots of grunting and groaning, and then a sticky cleanup.

Rats, the tip doesn’t quite line up.
I was able to fit the brad nailer though, and so the baseboard went on tickety-boo. I was happy with the result, and was able to proceed with the installation of the other two cabinets.

Limiting A Multiple Button Timer Switch

December 1, 2015

In the aftermath of the second great flood of our cabin, I had time to think about other ways in which I could try to head off future issues.

I had noted that with the size of the new water tank and the speed of the pump, it would be the rare time that anyone would ever need to run the pump for longer than five minutes.

The only switch I could find went two levels beyond this though, with a ten and fifteen minute option.

During our installation of the corner cabinet, we had bumped up against the head cable switch and pulled the buttons right off of it. I was able to find the buttons and snap them back in place, but now that memory came back to me.

These things just pop off!
With a fine screwdriver, I coaxed off the buttons for the pump switch and examined them more carefully. They had long plastic tabs on the back side that would press microswitches within the switch body itself.

I only really need those bottom three buttons.

The unadultrated switch from behind.
With side cutters, I removed the top two tabs for the ten and fifteen minute settings.

No more tabs!
I replaced the switch, and hit up the ten and fifteen minute buttons to no effect – a success!

You can see the little light at the bottom doesn’t change, even with the 15M button fully depressed!

Tweaking And Testing The Plumbing

November 30, 2015

I didn’t accomplish much the day following the installation of the water tank. I spent much of the morning doing a bit of laundry, and washing up the dishes that had accumulated while our water supplies were so diminished.

I did remove the water filter (after much cursing!) and re-wraped the threads of the connectors with much more teflon tape than previously. I did a bit of research, and the most sensible advice seemed to indicate that you should put only one or two wraps at the beginning of the threads, but then build up larger and larger amounts as you get further up the fitting, so that you can be sure that it is getting tighter, the further you are twisting it.

I did manage to also get the water sight line straightened and clamped up the wall, installed a bit of sponge in the end to keep dust or anything else out, and then Grandpa showed up with the mail.

I added a second strap about halfway down, just to be sure!
We observed the tank and I showed him that I had already pumped it a bit. I related that I was too scared to pump the tank completely full. This was irrational, as if it was going to fall off the wall, the sooner it happened, the better, as I was always adding stuff below it that I wouldn’t want crushed.

So, with Grandpa and myself watching, I punched in five minutes on the pump timer, knowing that the tank was already almost half full with two minutes of pumping in it.

The water level is almost at the critical spot! Tension is building!
Kenny came down to supervise, and Grandpa and I both watched the water climb higher, and higher.

Finally, it reached the top of the tank, and I could hear water start to gush through my emergency overflow pipe and down the drain. At the same moment, the water moved rapidly up the last few inches of the sight hose and stopped at the sponge.

I wanted to make sure that water wouldn’t actually rise above the sponge – that would negate the usefulness of the overflow pipe and would still be a terrible tragedy – I didn’t want squirts of water to be shooting into the cabin!

Craning our heads upward, Grandpa and I were both mesmerized by the sight of the water stopping at the sponge and holding there, listening to the water gurgling down the overflow pipe.

Suddenly Kenny broke the magical moment by asking “Why is there water all over the floor?”

(Photographic records of the next few minutes are unavailable due to the aiki photographer being pressed into emergency service…)

My eyes snapped down to the gushing flow around Grandpa’s boots, and for the second time in two days I found myself desperately mashing the off button on the pump while scrambling for towels (all of which are of course, in the sauna) or anything to dry up the mess.

I grabbed all the mats in the house and threw them down. Kenny got tremendously excited, and threw all our kitchen sponges on the floor to help soak up what he could.

Grandpa made himself scarce again as Kenny and I cleaned up the water and I put on an early fire to try to dry things out as quickly as possible.

The aftermath. All our mats are outside dripping and awaiting a good cleaning and drying session.
What could have allowed all that water onto the floor? I was going to have to CSI the heck out of this!

Working my way down the system, I knew that the overflow hose was in my drain. I looked under the counter at my drainpipe system, and that’s when I saw it…

Gosh, even the arc of the side of the T was working against me in this case. Kids, don’t half-finish your jobs before testing them!
I hadn’t completed the other half of the drain system – the part where the washing machine hose would ultimately be placed in a P trap. Instead, I had decided to just jam the hose down my drainpipe and leave the T open. Water coming in from the emergency overflow to the right of the picture just ran right across the T and out the left side, around the washing machine hose.

The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes again.

Plumbing In The Kitchen With Our Gravity Fed Tank

November 29, 2015

After completing the electrical work and seeing that the pump and everything seemed to be working just fine, it was now time to press on with getting the cabinets and plumbing aligned.

With Kenny’s assistance, I dismantled some of the old plumbing arrangements, and realigned them for the new system. I had to drill three holes through the base of my corner cabinet. One for the water line coming from under the cabin, up through the cabinet and into the water storage tank up above.

Another tapping into the feed line coming down from the storage tank to the sinks.

And a final, larger one for the drainpipe. Under the cabinets I have mounted a T fitting into this drain so that I can also extend it out beyond the counter and up to the washing machine. I will install a P trap for the washing machine, as well as for the sink – something I hadn’t previously done, but now can see some value in, either to keep any possible fumes from the greywater system from coming up through the sink, or to help retreive any tiny but important items that may inadvertently go down the drain.

As easy as these things sound, they still took us into the early afternoon. Grandpa showed up with the mail and I immediately had him take off his boots and assist me.

Kenny made himself a hard hat out of paper, and then with Grandpa and I holding up the corner cabinet high, he crawled underneath and tried to guide the pipes into their proper holes.

Part way through the process, the cabinet got hung up on the switches for the water system. Idly I wondered if the cabinet was close enough to actually press the switches, and a moment later, Kenny hollered and scrambled out from under the cabinet as I heard water gushing onto the floor – ACK! We had actually pressed the pump switch and the hose was just fountaining out into the cabinet!

Scrambling madly with one hand, mashing desperately on the off switch, I managed to hit it just as the cabinet pulled the buttons off the other switch. In hindsight, it would have been a real smozzle if the buttons on the pump switch had come off before I had a chance to stop it! Next time (there will be a next time?!) I would try to switch off the power here – but then again, I wanted the lights.

With Kenny walking off the project and refusing to return, I had to try to support the cabinet and still get the pipes to align underneath. It wasn’t easy, but at last we did manage to get it down. I covered the floor in mats to soak up the water, and Grandpa returned to his nice, dry, finished home.

Working quickly now, I installed the last of the plumping up to the storage tank above and tightened all my fittings as best I could.

Still worried that I didn’t put on enough brackets.

Particulate filter ready to do its thing!

Please no leaks, please no leaks, please no leaks….

I’ll have to trim that down in editing.

Criminey! I couldn’t find a normal tap to hook up a temporary system, so I had to dust off one of our old bathroom taps. Looks pretty professional eh?
With the supper hour rapidly approaching, I pulled Kenny away from Minecraft long enough to get him to press the pump switch.

It took a surprising amount of coaxing to convince him that this was safe.
I allowed a little bit to go into the storage tank, then realized that there was a pretty big leak coming from the particulate filter. This filter was a new addition to the system. It was a fine mesh screen that was washable that hopefully would keep larger pieces of grit from getting into the tank and my pipes.

I’m a blur of motion trying to wipe up the leaks.

Maybe if I just leave a rag under the filter, that could be a permanent solution?
I dismantled this filter, and saw that there was some hard blue smutz on the sealing ring. I scraped this off with my fingernail, and then greased the ring with some peanut oil.

Reassembling it, I could see no new water leaking from that spot. Of course, then it started to drip from the threaded fittings. I will try to re-wrap those fittings with the plumbing tape later today and see if I can take care of the problem that way. Otherwise, nothing else leaked noticeably.

As expected, I could see that the water line from the tank started to form condensation. I had a number of lengths of pipe insulation already prepared for this – for once something was expected, and I had a possible solution! Amazing!

I wrapped the feed line from the tank in insulation, and now the problem is either solved, or at least, out of sight. I also decided to wrap the incoming lines from the well pump. I’m not sure how much of a problem they will be. The pump shouldn’t run more than five minutes at a time according to my guestimate (two minutes of pumping filled the tank to about 35-40%.) With water in those lines for such a short period of time, I’m not sure that condensation will be a real issue. Same for the emergency overflow line – it theoretically should NEVER have water in it.

Took a little finagling to get the foam up between the tank and the wall, but it wasn’t horrendous.

Foamed up the pipes down here too.

How does he know that the tank was 40% full? It’s in a plywood box! Does he have x-ray vision? Some sort of electronic water level detector? Ultrasound? Radar? Infrared?

No, I just can fake smarts… I installed a small T connector coming out of the tank, and then boiled the end of a 10′ clear nylon hose until it was nice and soft. I pushed this onto the side junction of the T fitting, and then ran the hose up the wall. The water flows into the hose and rises along it until it matches the level in the tank. You can see the level just by looking up at the hose now.

Close up of the T connection

And halfway up the tube, you can see the water level line!
I’ll mount it fancy once I get some proper sized screws to attach the brackets. Serendipidously, the hose I purchased was 1/2″. Same as the electrical conduit I purchased. I only just noticed that, but now I realize that I can use the same brackets to mount both the conduit AND the hose! Nice!

The spice, er, water must flow!

I put everything in place to see how it was fitting. Looks good!
Of course, having this part of things finished allowed me to get started on doing the laundry.

Adding Surface Mount Electrical Boxes To Our Log Cabin

November 28, 2015

I am not often a smart man. This is another tale to illustrate my point.

In the kitchen, which is an outside wall, I had previously just put up my electrical very ramshackle with the intent of hiding it behind the cabinets and eventually some sort of wood panel “cover” to bridge over any exposed areas. Oh, need I remind you that on outside walls, which are log, I don’t have any space to hide the wiring within the wall? (Notwithstanding people who do pre-drill metres long holes for wiring as they assemble their homes, or companies that have pre-prepared (is the first pre redundant in the word pre-prepared?) spaces for wiring…)

On this go though, I realized that it would be more convenient to have the boxes located where they were – you guess it – most convenient! Less important became how I could hide the wires. So I started to prepare myself and Donna for the notion of surface mounting the electrical work there. First I talked about the almond coloured conduit boxes I grew up with in my public and secondary schools. Those passed her approval quite easily.

Then I realized that I was going to need a fair number of conductors in the conduits, and had to go back to her seeking permission to go with the more “industrial, loft-type, reclaimed factory” look of galvanized conduits. This too met approval (it’s all in how you sell it perhaps? Then again, she’s a tremendously understanding person!). So that’s what I purchased, and the other day layed out and mounted.

Looking good from this angle.

Working my way around the corner.

Timers for the pump and well heater.

GFCI outlet for kitchen appliances

Outlet for the washing machine, and light switch for the kitchen and stove.

Now it’s coming together!
The next day, bright and early, I added in the switches and recepticals, and headed back down under the cabin to wire it in. With Donna up above, and me down below, I called out instructions for her to flip various switches and report back with the results.

Ugh, It’s a challenge not to be crabby coming out of here.
The good news – the breaker never popped!

The bad news – the GFCI outlet would pop whenever it was hooked up to the well pump. I suspect that the very humid conditions there are allowing a few mA of current to seep out. When I get a chance, I will revisit the connection between the wiring and the pump itself, and maybe spray some plasti-dip over the whole thing to really try to make a nice dry connection.

I removed the well pump as a “load” from the GFCI outlet, and everything worked just fine!

Yes, the Naked Electrician is available to rewire your next party!
Later in the day, with Kenny helping on my next project, I asked him what he thought of my conduit wiring. As children often can do, he cut right to the heart of things. “It’s okay, but I think you should have put the wires in the walls”. I took a breath to explain about the outside walls being solid and not realistic for me running wiring in, when I realized that I had only recently finished strapping and adding paneling to these walls. It would have been quite manageable to have hidden the wiring in behind that layer! Oh hindsight…

As a consolation, I proceeded to add an extra LED “work light” over the stove for extra lighting there when we are cooking or working on the fire. That has always been a challenge in the dark. At the moment though, I’m thinking of switching out the work light for puck lights again, as I wouldn’t mind having the light spread out a bit more over there, rather than all focused right on the stovetop itself. I’ll run it by my ideas girl later and see what she thinks.

Sandy, please don’t let George see this! (My excuse is that it isn’t finished yet…)

Ugh. Plumbing In The Crawlspace

November 27, 2015

I headed to Home Depot first thing in the morning and dropped more money than I care to admit on plumbing supplies, electrical supplies, and a countertop. It took me two trips through the checkout and then another trip to Maier Hardware to finally get everything I was going to need. Basically blew out the morning!

I arrived home to literally pass Donna on our driveway as she left to take Kenny to a homeschooling meetup at the Makerspace at the Waverly Library.

I had a quick cup of tea to gather my thoughts, then began the hard work that was going to be needed to get things done under the floor of the kitchen.

Let me assure you that I was not looking forward to returning to the crawlspace. It is not a pleasant place to be. Thankfully, I didn’t listen when someone suggested that I could get away with half the cost of the foundation for the cabin by only putting in a single layer of cinder blocks. Even the double layer I insisted on makes for a very tight fit to get any work done.

Not to mention the dust. And gravel just calling out to destroy my knees and back.

Anyway, I pulled out the existing drain connection from the kitchen. It was a hacked together frankenstein where I had the sink draining into 1″ poly pipe, and then an adapter down below where the poly pipe drained into a regular 1 1/2″ ABS drainpipe. I replaced this with standard ABS – but I did have to drill a new, larger hole through my floor. Yuck!

My first chore under the cabin was to add the final pieces of foam insulation along the outer walls. This was not too bad really, and it’s nice to know it’s finished.

Next I used some screws to put up a piece of veneer that had come loose and was exposing the insulation in the floor.

Then I cut off the main water line from the sauna. The Rubicon had been crossed – we were no longer going to be getting water from the tanks in the sauna – we had to fend for ourselves!

I did take the time to cut that line shorter, fold it over and clamp it, so that if or when sauna water returned, it wouldn’t drain out into our cabin crawlspace. At some point in the future I can go down under the floor of the sauna and cut the line there as well. I’ll probably even try to pull out that line at the same time, but we’ll see.

I drilled a new hole for the new waterline in the corner of the cabin, carefully arranging it so that there would be room for it to pass through my particulate filter before continuing on up to the holding tank above. I also took this opportunity to drill another hole by the south wall close to the patio door to feed the electrical line up to the receptical that we’ve opted to place there.

Getting dark outside.
Back under the cabin I cut the water line from the new well a bit shorter, and with Donna’s help, pushed the off-cut up from the crawlspace and into the cabin. She pinched her finger but managed to stick with a challenging job – kudos!

See that light far off over there? Yeah, that’s me!
I then threaded the new water line through the stiff grey pipe I had bought to lend more support to the poly pipe. This proved a challenge as the grey pipe was a ten foot length and there are lots of obstacles down there. I ended up cutting the second piece of grey pipe down to about 7 feet, but everything looks well aligned.

In a burst of energy, I connected the feed line from the well to the line we had just put in through the floor. And then in a moment of inspiration, I connected the power for the kitchen directly to the well pump (when I removed the wiring in the kitchen, I turned off its breaker.)

So, upstairs, I made a systemic loop by pushing the end of my poly pipe from the well into the open drainpipe. Then, with fingers crossed, I asked Donna to flip the breaker for the kitchen circuit.

Wow! I could feel and hear water flowing! Something worked!

I then pulled out a bucket and Kenny photographed proof of my concept!

We have water!

Yes, that’s just how filthy my butt gets from scootching around in the crawlspace.
That was enough for one day… A submarine sandwich and a trip to sauna rounded things out.

Assembling Ikea Cabinets

November 26, 2015

In an effort to streamline the kitchen, we opted to purchase presized and made cabinets from Ikea. This was also facilitated because Ikea had the best deal on a corner sink that we were able to find.

Our existing sink was placed directly under the kitchen window, which at first made sense to us, but as it turns out, the driveway runs away from the front of the cabin at an angle, and so standing at the sink put us in the wrong position to look out and down the driveway, which feels like the more interesting and important view.

With a sunny day dawning, I began unpacking the boxes. I even opted to follow the instructions as carefully as possible!

First up was the small cabinet on the south wall. This was to cut my teeth on the process. It went just fine!

Kenny? Can you take a break from Minecraft to help me?

Kenny? (…crickets…)

This doesn’t look like an allen key!
Then I did the larger cabinet for the east wall. I found it curious that while this was an identical cabinet sizing notwithstanding, putting one set of brackets in place was in a different order from the previous cabinet.

Yeah! My favourite assistant appears!
Finally, with Donna’s help at certain key points, I assembled the corner cabinet.

We flipped the sink upside down and placed it on the corner cabinet to get a feel for positioning. I fear that the sink may be set in too far, but only using it will really tell us for sure how it is.

Won’t fit this way, time to flip it!
Next I removed the existing sink and counter that Grandpa had so nicely built for us two years ago. It has found a new home on the porch, but I’m sure that’s not the last we’ve seen of it.

Hrm, that wiring doesn’t look like it meets code.
Donna helped me to push the units close to their final positions just to get an overall feel for how tiny the kitchen would be. And yes, it will be tiny! But still will have far more space than what we’ve been use to.

I can already imagine the delicious meals that will be prepared here!
Now it’s time to move on to the plumbing and wiring… Not to mention trying to cut my teeth on a countertop!

Installing A Bit More Paneling, Reminded Of The Law Of Unintended Consequences

November 25, 2015

The arrival of the kitchen cabinets from Ikea the other day prompted even more pressure on me to find space in an already overwhelmed cabin.

Luckily the way Ikea flat packs all their products certainly takes up far less space than one would even expect. 22 boxes and a sink prompted me to bring the truck to pick it all up, and then it was with bemusement that I realized that even our little Echo could have easily handled the entire load.

Even with the pressure to get the kitchen installed, I decided that perhaps my time would be better spent trying to slightly reduce the pile of siding that had been sitting in the middle of the cabin floor for a few weeks now.

I worked my way up higher on the west wall of the cabin, eventually matching the height of the panelling I had installed on the wall beside the stairs. This made me realize that the boards on the staircase wall should be installed before the ones on the west wall, as the strapping in the corner was arranged with that order in mind (If I installed the west wall first, then the staircase wall wouldn’t reach the strap in the corner for nailing or support).

And so I decided to put up a few boards on the staircase wall, leading up past the loft floor and one or two boards up the outer wall of the guest bedroom in the loft.

This had the side effect of covering up the gap between the loft floor and the top of our bedroom wall. Donna had been complaining gently for some time that at night the gap was allowing light from the staircase light to come into our bedroom, disturbing her sleep.

You can see the gap about to disappear forever!
It was also easy to see how the existing paneling had darkened over the years, compared to the new paneling I was installing.

A whiter shade of pale for these boards!
One thing I have been doing as I panel interior walls is to add insulation between the studs. This has the hopeful effect of reducing sound from room to room, as well as allowing us to better regulate the temperature by simply shutting doors.

As I started to put down boards over the studs of the loft wall, I was annoyed to discover large gaps along the sides of the batts. I was taken back to when I was first building the wall and succumbed to the suggestion to space my studs out slightly wider than normal so that I could save myself the milling or purchase of any extras. Sigh. Unintended consequence. It has put me of a mind to stop skimping or trying to do things non-standard (entire lifestyle notwithstanding :).

Ugh, these gaps are annoying!
Readers know that I seem to have lots of extra insulation from other projects, so I packed the gaps with closed cell foam, and will do so up to the top of the wall, so it shouldn’t be a huge problem, although I have to admit that it is a challenge to get the batts to stand up without a friction fit.

I managed to get enough boards on to keep the batts in place, and then repiled the remaining pile against the shelf under the television. Now I had enough space to move on to assembling the kitchen cabinets! But that, is another story…

Boxing In And Mounting The Water Tank

November 21, 2015

A day or two ago I got the telephone call letting me know that our kitchen cabinets (courtesy Ikea) had arrived in Thunder Bay. I arranged to take delivery this Friday when I am scheduled to be close to the city anyway, and then figured that I needed to keep up my pace on getting the plumbing ready to go.

The next logical step was to finish getting the water tank operational.

I had already managed to sheath the tank in 1/2″ foam on all four sides and double on the bottom. Now I wanted to protect that insulation and give the tank some support. From experience, the tank, while very rigid, still tended to bulge when full of water. This would be a bit unwieldy when it was up on the wall, so I needed something more structurally sound.

I measured the sides carefully and began cutting my plywood.

A snowy day, but still quite comfortable to be outdoors.
With Kenny’s help and some green Robertson screws, we managed to get the sides assembled. I also enlisted the help of some sliding bar clamps, as the fit was really tight and I wanted to minimize any air spaces if possible. I think that keeping things nice and tight should help with the condensation situation.

Accompanied by huge trepidation, I sanded the end of my T fitting and covered it with soap to get it to fit into the end of the tank. Employing my deadfall mallet, I tamped it completely into the molded fitting on the tank and tightened down a pipe clamp on it. I don’t think I really needed the clamp, it was VERY tight going into the tank, but thankfully, the LDPE of the tank didn’t split.

Due to the fact that I had used a T fitting, I wasn’t able to fit the bottom plywood plate onto the box, and had to cut a slot into it. The fitting should allow me to attach a length of nylon hose to the outflow of the tank that theoretically will be able to act as a visual cue as to the actual water level inside of the tank. We’ll have to see how this works in the real world.

Tightening up the bottom plate finished off the box and the only thing left was to get it up on the wall.

Measuring twice to ensure that I wouldn’t have to drill unneeded holes in my walls, I first checked the height of the box. Then I measured down from the corner of the wall that distance. Since the ceiling at that spot is sloped upwards at 45 degrees, I figured that I would have sufficient room to get above the tank for installing the overflow and inflow fittings.

It may be hard to see my pencil lines in this picture.
In addition to this, the line I used at this level became the line where I actually installed the lag bolts of the brackets – and the holes for those were already an inch above where the bracket curved out to support its load. This meant that the tank was dropped a further inch down from the corner of the ceiling. I really felt that should be enough room for me to access the fittings – additionally, it looks like it will also let me install my corner trim above the tank (something I felt was somewhat optional – it wouldn’t be visible from the main room of the cabin).

Before proceeding, I decided to remove the drying dishes that were directly underneath the tank. While I knew that nothing could have gone wrong, it’s best to be sure. It actually made installation easier, as Grandpa showed up as I was removing the dishes and it gave me a surface to stand on during the final phases of installation.

Nothing could go wrong – could it?
Next I installed three brackets along the long edge of the tank, and then a fourth on the short edge perpendicular to the others. I also spaced the tank out 3″ from the east wall of the cabin to allow me to run my overflow and inflow pipes right in the corner of the cabin. This still allowed me to have 4″ of bracket under that side.

Up towards the top of the tank I installed two small wall brackets to hold it against the wall. I’m confident that this should be sufficient to ensure that the tank can’t tip off the base, but this morning I’m of a mind to install a strap up there that goes right from the south wall to the east wall. This strap would be hidden when I panel the tank, and would completely eliminate any chance of the tank tipping away from the wall. It would be cheap insurance.

Underneath the tank, I used 1″ lag bolts to fasten the tank to the brackets. With the plywood only being 3/4″ thick, I added two washers between the plywood and brackets. While I’m quite sure that it would be impossible for the double layer of insulation under the tank to be completely compressed and expose the base of the tank to the tips of the bolts, I figured it didn’t hurt to be sure that it couldn’t be subjected to those points under ANY circumstances. From my observations, the bolts come flush with the plywood once they are tightened.

Now it’s time to hook up some water lines, but that may wait a bit until I have the new cabinets installed underneath and can see how they are to proceed.

In Which I Begin Work On Our Indoor Water Tank

November 20, 2015

So now that I have the paneling complete in the kitchen corner right up to the top edge of our log wall, plus three runs above that, I feel like I can begin construction and mounting of the water tank.

I was ready to start on it a day ago actually, but then realized that perhaps I should test the factory installed plugs to be sure they didn’t leak. It would be a real tragedy to discover that they didn’t hold water AFTER I had sealed the tank up and mounted it.

Kenny assisted with buckets of water, and I poured about four or five of them into the tank. I admit that we didn’t take the time or water to fill it, but I suspected if they were destined to leak, they’d leak already at such a small amount of water.

I propped the tank up on some scrap paneling, to ensure that the molded fitting wasn’t subjected to any undue pressure. Then I proceeded to dry the tank off so that I wouldn’t be fooled by errant water drops.

We left it overnight, and I checked on it again this afternoon – it was nice and dry! Yeah!

Awesome job by Larry and his son at Surecraft!
In this picture, you can see where Surecraft Plastics welded on a panel with my bulkhead fittings pre-installed. They did a fabulous job, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back there for future needs, or recommend them to others.

So today I began cutting up some 1/2″ closed cell foam sheets to attach to the tank for insulation purposes. Seeing how much condensation forms in the sauna in wintertime was a real eye-opener. I knew I couldn’t deal with that much concentrated moisture in the cabin!

As per my idea, and Larry at Surecraft’s reinforcing confirmation, I attached the sheets to the tank using Tuck Tape – the same tape I have been using to seal up my plastic air barrier throughout the rest of the cabin.

A double layer on the bottom to also cover those three white and blue plugs that I won’t be using

And the finished product! Ready for a plywood box to give it more support and protection.
You can see in the photographs that it turned out rather neatly. My one disappointment is that on the narrow side, the tank was actually 12 1/8″ – so I had to cut those sheets out of a 24″ piece of material with large amounts of leftover “waste”.

It wasn’t waste though – not when Kenny turned it into a Fort/Wall that he could hide behind!

Now I have to figure out how to easily attach a fitting to the molded one on the tank, and build a plywood box to give it more support and protection. Stay tuned!

An Inexpensive Well Skimmer/Cleaner

November 19, 2015

While I still haven’t finished all the other projects that will lead up to us actually using the new well, I haven’t forgotten it either.

After observing that some scum from my concrete patching and the clay soil still on the rock face was floating on top of what would soon be our drinking water, I took it into my head that we needed to do a bit of rudimentary cleaning before I’d be comfortable pumping that stuff through all my nice, new system.

I added to my shopping list a butterfly net, and have kept my eyes open for one the past week or two, but alas, November isn’t prime butterfly catching time (hmmm, with the trouble that Monarchs are in nowadays, is it even ethical to make a pasttime out of catching butterflies?)

So it was with some necessity and some invention that when Mama offered up a pair of hose with a run in them, I outlined a quick plan to attach them to a coat hanger and go to town. This must have sunk in on Kenny more than I, as it was his suggestion in the middle of the day that we should try to assemble my described contraption and test it out.

I’m happy to accept motivation from wherever it may present itself, so I immediately agreed and we quickly snapped the nylons over a plastic rod, and with the help of some pipe clamps, had it attached to the leftovers of last year’s solar panel sweeping rods.

Kenny was excited to try it out, and managed to collect the two pine needles that he could obviously see. I took over and got the rest to my satisfaction.

I spy with my little eye – a pine needle!
Of course, with this system I also plan on adding in a particulate filter in the pumping line. I’m hoping that this will keep the tank cleaner than the existing system.

After that, we’ll test the water and see if we need to add in a whole house ceramic filter and pump. I’ll be sure to keep everyone posted.

I hope that CW! enjoyed his meal with my parents the other day – we’ll keep him in our thoughts for the next while :).

And the harvest!

Homemade Christmas Gifts?

November 11, 2015

It seems we have an unusual child – at least, he isn’t always what I would have expected.

It has been getting progressively harder to find gifts for Kenny as he matures and develops more and more specific tastes and interests. This year is proving no exception.

In spite of asking him if there is anything he wants, and letting him leaf through toy catalogues, when pressed, he doesn’t want anything, or, if he says he is willing to accept something, he suggests that he would prefer something homemade to something purchased.

Oh what a strange and delightful dilemma!

I’m not sure why he is like this, but I’m not complaining at all. I wonder if it is the lack of commercial television, or perhaps the homeschooling environment where he isn’t really exposed to cartoons or peers promoting different toys or gadgets? Or are we just blessed with a unique boy?

In any case, to step up, I decided to try to build him something that he can genuinely use – a bed. Since moving out of the yurts, he has simply been parked on a mattress on the floor. Not the worst thing ever, but it isn’t exactly a super situation either.

I picked up a sheet of plywood, as well as a number of pieces of project pine. This is teaching me that perhaps a planer wouldn’t be such a bad investment after all. If I could be planing my own wood, it would soon start to save me some good money I think.

Getting good use from my Ryobi tools

In any case, I built a simple box with the plywood and boards, and included a small subdivider where he can store his nightlight, books, water bottle, ipod and things of that nature right alongside his bed.

I still have to sand and oil the project, and then attach some casters underneath to make it easy to roll out for making the bed, but hopefully he will appreciate the effort come next month when I finally surprise him with it.

The Law of Unintended Consequences Reveals Unknown Gaps in my Log Walls

November 9, 2015

Not much to report. Still plugging away on the paneling around the cabin. Trying to train myself not to put two “l”s in the word paneling when I type about it.

The other day it was very windy, and from the east side of the cabin, which isn’t nearly as common. Most all of our weather comes out of the west.

In any case, large gusts of wind were blowing up against the side of the cabin where I have finished the critical paneling – it was the location where I had installed the foil with the thin veneer board over the top.

After a little while listening to the wind blowing outside, I realized that I could faintly, faintly hear the sound of foil waving in the breeze. I shuffled closer to the wall and then it dawned on me – I could hear the foil moving ever so slightly between the veneer and the log walls as the wind outside blew through the cracks that were not evident on visual inspection.

This was a real winter wonderland of snow!
This makes me feel much, MUCH better about my whole plan to put up the air barrier and paneling. If there were enough cracks that the wind could still move my foil, imagine how much heat was escaping unknown through them!

Trying to really lean into it to make sure the boards are nice and tight.
I continue putting up air barrier and paneling with more gusto now, having some real evidence that it must be making a difference to our comfort level.

Of course, when I got up this morning, it was down to 15 degrees inside the cabin. Less than my target of 16 – but there is still the ceiling to be paneled, as well as most of the other interior walls with their barriers. I’m sure those things will also make quite a difference.

Getting a phenomenal amount of use out of this brad nailer!

Using Polystyrene to Insulate the Crawlspace Walls

November 4, 2015

The crawlspace walls are only two cinder blocks high. I measured them carefully and was delighted to see that they were 16″ on the button. This would allow me to purchase 48×96 sheets and cut them up without any waste.

I bought three sheets (at $45+ each) and figured that would be a good start.

They have sat on the front porch for a few weeks now, but with the recent delay in paneling the kitchen area, I figured now would be a good time to go down into the crawlspace and deal with this situation.

First I spent an hour or two listening to the latest Canadaland podcast while using my circular saw to cut the foam into strips. I’m really enjoying Jesse Brown’s critique of Canadian media, although he sometimes uses salty language that I’m personally not hip enough to feel comfortable with.

Bringing them inside, I realized that there was going to be a long-term issue with tiny foam balls sticking to everything in the cabin. Oh well, I prepared as best I could. I wore coveralls and lay down some carpets and blankets and tried to get the sheets of insulation down into the crawlspace as directly as possible.

Sheets all cut perfectly to size!

Mmmm, roasted peanuts on the table to give me the energy I need to complete this task!
Of course, once under the cabin, I realized that where I had measured was the only spot where the height was 16 inches. Everywhere else was about 15 and 5/8. Sigh.

Does anyone need a stack of 48″ x 1/2″ foam strips?
I brought the saw down into the crawlspace with me and proceeded to rip about a half inch off of all the sheets. This made a huge mess in the crawlspace, which in turn stuck to me (thank you static electricity!), which in turn came unstuck just long enough to find other homes throughout the cabin.

Finding this stuff everywhere now!
In any case, I was able to friction fit the foam around the outer perimeter of the cabin. I took the time to cut smaller pieces where they fit over the vents. I will pull those out in the spring and replace them in the fall. At least, that’s my plan.

I also had to skip spots (for now) where my water lines and electrical lines entered the floor out close to the cinder blocks. Once I have more of the electrical and water line work finished in the kitchen, I intend to use expanding spray foam to cover up those sorts of gaps.

It’s a bit off-putting to not be able to put an exact degree figure on just how much difference insulating an area like this will make – but I have to convince myself that it must make SOME difference!

Now that I’m back upstairs and my lovely family has returned from a homeschooling trip to the city, I’m enjoying a chance to sit quietly and enter this latest update. But in an attempt to play the sympathy card – here’s the conditions I had to work under, and the (nearly) finished project (I still need another half sheet or so to complete the perimeter, and of course, do the spray foaming…)

Crawling over and around these pipes and wires really challenges my patience and flexibility!

Dark over on that side of the cabin – but I have almost 3′ of height there – a real luxury!

Observations from Paneling

November 3, 2015

Like many things in life, there’s always opportunities for learning.

When I first started installing my own v-joint boards, I really didn’t have any experience. I pretty much looked at how they fit together, and puzzled it out for myself. Since then, I have learned a couple of valuable lessons, and today was no exception (I believe).

On of the biggest things I have come to realize and understand is that butt joints on the ends don’t have to look as crappy as my first ones did – simply beveling the ends before butting them together makes a world of difference to their appearance! I never thought of that, or noticed it, previous to my having already done the sauna, and the upstairs bedroom ceilings. Then I saw another carpenter starting on his own v-joint project, and mentioning that he had only JUST been taught to bevel the ends to make them look slick – by a more experienced carpenter than himself. Gosh that really clicked for me.

So, I did that upstairs and it turned out looking really much improved.

Downstairs I began to think I had things down pat. I still am a bit wondering about how things will work with me nailing through the 1/8″ board, but I remind myself that I’m using 2″ brad nails, so they really should be getting good purchase in my logs.

It wasn’t until today when I went to continue on the wall after a few days break that I noticed something that took me back to my first paneling upstairs and an unresolved question I had.

I noticed after doing the upstairs, that between my boards some rather large gaps had grown. They weren’t completely open, but I could see the tongue portion of the boards between the bevels along their long edges. It disappointed me a bit, but I chalked it up to my own inability to tighten up the joints, even though in the back of my head, I felt I had done a good job on that when I first installed things.

Eagle eyes can see the 1/16″ gaps between the beveled edges.
Anyway, looking at my wall from only a few days ago, I could see the tongue again in places where I was quite certain I had installed it tight. That’s when it dawned on me. The boards upstairs, as well as the ones I am currently putting on in the kitchen, were both stored outside the cabin and brought in as they were being installed – I’m assuming that they are more humid outside (at least at the moment), and so they are drying a bit once brought in. The ones upstairs are perhaps more pronounced, as they were installed in December. Hopefully the ones I’m installing right now won’t have much more drying to do. In any case, I decided to take a break at that point, and bring in the whole lift so it has a chance to dry out and better match the expected indoor humidity.

Didn’t even look up from his lessons while this was happening – such focus!

He’s excited to have a good excuse to watch tv while eating now – perfect orientation!
It’s a good lesson. I’ll likely have to remember this for future – and ensure that raw wood is brought into the cabin right away with a chance to match the temperature and humidity of the cabin for a week or two before installation.

Instead, I hit up the shovel again and piled more sand along the water line – which has its own interesting issue, but that, as they say, is another story…

Vapour/Air Barrier Going Up

November 2, 2015

Continuing with my project of paneling the interior of the main part of the cabin, I have started to put up some 6mm plastic over the 1/2″ insulation that has been there since the spring.

While I don’t have too many illusions about the cabin being completely sealed up, I thought that putting a vapour barrier up would help to prevent any errant breezes from being able to blow between the logs, around the insulation, through the paneling, and onto my feet or head or basically any body part.

A fiddly area above the main beam.

Wrapped past the corner a bit.
Late morning yesterday I managed to put up about half of the wall in plastic. Enough that I can proceed with some more paneling (hopefully now that it has been inside for a few days and drying/warming by the fire, shrinkage will be reduced.)

Tuck Tape to ensure the overlaps were breeze tight!
After lunch I headed to the dump right away with my largest load ever – ten bags of garbage, plus enough recycling that I also filled the cab! It was mostly a consequence of cleaning out the dojo tent.

Then I rushed to the city for jodo class.

It wasn’t until I returned home that I took the time to record photographically the evidence that I had accomplished something – can my astute observers see what we were watching on television last night?

Something, something, sweet babboo…

First Sticky Snow!

November 1, 2015

I woke early, glanced out the front window at the vehicles, and noticed that there was something a bit amiss about the profile of the Echo.

On further reflection, I could tell that it had a layer of something white draped across the top of it.

As the sun finally rose, we all were excited to see that there was a blanket of snow everywhere!

Always an interesting and sobering event here.

The novelty of the snow overcomes the discomfort of the cold 🙂

Well, maybe it was the 29th…
I incorrectly guessed that the date today was the 28th, and Donna traced it into the car for posterity. Of course, I could try to argue that the snow probably started on the 28th, even if we didn’t notice it until today, the 29th.

This is also of note, because it comes over three weeks later than last year!

And a year ago it was much earlier!

Panelling the Interior of the Cabin

October 24, 2015

Inside the cabin, the decision was made early on that we would panel the walls. It was obvious that the logs used, although they were rustically attractive, were not really suitable for being left bare.

As good as our construction technique was, there were still spots where hairline gaps remained that allowed our precious heat to escape, as well as the fact that they were rough and not even enough for most purposes.

By making the decision to panel the inside walls, we were also immediately opening up the opportunity to add a bit of insulation. Something I began already last winter, but it’s been a slow process, and I must confess that really only the bathroom can claim to have the insulation and outside wall paneling completed.

Interior walls are for the more part fully paneled, to ensure privacy. Exterior walls though only have the insulation installed. At least, all but the “east” side.

During the construction phase, I hadn’t planned for the possibility of panelling or insulation, so when we installed the cookstove, I opted to use the minimal clearance between the stovepipe and the wall, plus an inch just for a margin of error.

As such, an inch isn’t enough space to add the panelling as well as a half inch of insulation.

Instead, I’ve opted to cover that wall entirely in aluminum foil (thank you Dollarama!) with the joints taped with foil tape.

Starting by the door.

Working around the fiddly sink and wires.
Over top of that, I have added 1/8″ white panel board to help “smooth” out the waves and imperfections in the wall.

Around the door.

And whiteboard halfway behind the stove. Still working on it!
My plan now is to add on top of that some 11/16″ v-joint panelling, and that will take up up to 15/16″ of my allowable inch. Perfection!

I still have a bit more panel board to do in the kitchen, but the tricky bits around the sink and electrical wiring have been completed, so hopefully it shouldn’t take too long to get past that phase.

The other driver for this particular portion of the project is the new water system – I plan on putting in the water tank above the kitchen sink, and I don’t want to install it until I have the wall behind it complete. The tank is being modified at the moment, so I have a bit of time to work on this before diving into a major overhaul of our plumbing.

Laying in the Water Line

October 23, 2015

Unlike the current water line from the sauna to the original well, I have opted for the new water line from the cabin to the new well to be hidden and buried.

To facilitate this, I had the excavator carve out a shallow trench from the side of the well, all the way to the corner of the cabin where our greywater line had exited into the greywater pit.

With a surprisingly blessed sunny, almost warm day here, Grandpa, Kenny and I all grabbed our shovels and proceeded to take a huge chunk out of the leftover sand pile.

First we organized the electrical cables that needed to also be included in this operation. I have decided to run a new cable into the cabin for charging the batteries from the generator – the existing one that ran over to the far side of the sauna was undersized really – and additionally to that, I could see a spot where the cord had rested against a hot part of the generator for some time and become partially melted. Not something I wanted to rely on for the winter. Also, it was just an inconvenient location for the generator to have to slog through the drifts of snow to reach it on the far side of the sauna. Now I can move the generator around better and have a choice as to where I would like to place it, which can change depending on the needs and circumstances that may arise.

I also opted to run a line out to the deck to have an outdoor outlet there. Occasionally I have run a cable through the window – but that’s a less than elegant solution. I think it will be useful to have access to A/C power from outdoors without having to go through a door or window.

Then there was a line to power the pump in the well, and another line to power the heating cable in the well. Four in total – plus the water line itself.

We had snaked the water line, pump wire and heating wire through a number of lengths of stiffer pipe to help protect and support it, and now we carefully pulled them into a long arc and began feeding the four cables and water line through the hole in the footing of the cabin and underneath.

I went down into the crawlspace while Grandpa fed the lines from outside. It was a rather simple matter to pull them in and then head back outside.

With my level and a number of pieces of scrap wood, we ensured a good, consistent slope from the corner of the cabin down to the well. Then we all pitched in piling sand underneath the line. Once it was supported, we continued with our work until we had a good mound of sand over the entire length of the line.

Looking good from the cabin!
Grandpa then switched priorities to digging a trench from the greywater pit closer to the pond. Donna and he had observed a few days ago that when she was doing laundry, the ground over the pit had gotten very wet – it appeared that perhaps the extreme compaction caused by the excavator driving over the pit area was causing the greywater to stop draining, or to drain rather poorly.
In spite of a long trench and a concerted effort with Kenny, Grandpa was unable to locate the original greywater pit. He decided he would take up this cause again later in the week, but for now, I’m very pleased with all the work that we accomplished!

Raiders of the Lost Greywater Pit.

Adding Water to my Surrette Batteries

October 21, 2015

While I’ve never had to do it to a vehicle, I suppose it should be theoretically important to check the water levels of the batteries (assuming that they are standard Lead-Acid) on occasion.

Incidentally, last winter when the Echo refused to start on a cold day early in the season, I made the executive decision to swap out the battery for a more expensive, but hopefully better performing glass mat battery – one that should be much better able to handle extreme low temperatures, as well as not requiring water.

In any case, for our cabin, we are utilitizing the very old, very proven technology of FLA batteries, or “Flooded Lead Acid” – batteries that are essentially made up of thick plates of lead, submerged in sulphuric acid.

During the end of the absorption cycle, and throughout the equalization cycle of charging, the electrolyte (i.e. acid) begins to boil and churn inside the batteries. This has the effect of stirring up the liquid, helping to prevent sulphation, but it also causes evaporation of the water in the electrolyte. (I suppose it may technically be electrolysis – the water is broken down into hydrogen and oxygen, which then escape into the air?)

This has the overall effect of causing the acid levels in the batteries to be reduced and concentrated. There’s nought to be done for it really, aside from purchasing much more expensive sealed batteries. Instead, one just has to do a routine maintenance chore of topping up the water levels from time to time with distilled water.

The new bottle really helps!

But the floor makes an even bigger difference to this chore!
I used to try to do this with a turkey baster, but over the summer found a purpose-built bottle for filling batteries at the local ToolTown store. This has helped greatly with the adding of water, which I try to do every month or two. I’ve not found it to be a hardship at all, although in winter it was less palatable than it is now. This year should be even easier now that I actually have a deck to stand on when I do this, rather than slogging through the snow to perch on the floor joists.

Putting in a New Well

October 12, 2015

As I surely don’t need to remind anyone who’s been following our blog, water issues have been following us since the very beginning.

Our first well was installed quite a noticeable distance from the cabin – namely on the far side of the sauna, about 200′ from the cabin, with the sauna housing our reservoir tanks. Normally we have been pumping the sauna tanks full, and then they go on to feed another underground line to the cabin. This works not too badly in the summer time when the water doesn’t freeze up, but come winter, it has not been possible to keep the water line thawed between the sauna and the cabin, where water sits without moving for hours at a time, and it rests only two to three feet below the surface, on bedrock.

Another issue with that well is that because of its location, it was difficult to pack much sand around it, and as such, it perhaps doesn’t have the best of natural filtration. We have not yet been able to fulfill the basic test requirements to drink the water from it without filtering or treatment.

So it was after this past winter with us schlepping buckets from the sauna to the cabin for drinking, doing dishes and laundry, I decided we had to take a new tack.

Knowing that the pond had been dug out to a depth of six feet, I was certain that that area had definite possibilities for finding a suitable spot to put in another well, which was much closer to the cabin. I wandered to some low areas, and noticed that all summer long there were locations with open water in amongst the trees there.

I called up B.J. Kapush, the fellow who had originally dug the well and beefed up our driveway, and asked him to come out for another crack at a well in that location. He arrived shortly afterwards and agreed that there was a decent chance for us to get something useful in there. Just for confirmation, he plucked a nearby willow branch and witched the area. As he crossed open water, the branch clearly dropped straight down. I’ll leave my readers to satisfy their own opinions of the value of witching water. In Lappe, I think it’s taken rather seriously. I’m happy to have my own biases confirmed in any manner.

After finishing up another big job he had been working on, he arrived with his large excavator, two well tiles, and a culvert to help with drainage on the front driveway.

Who doesn’t love these big machines?
First up, he expanded the parking area directly in front of the cabin. This was something I hadn’t really discussed or thought of, but could immediately see the value of. Now we can park two or three vehicles at the cabin without crowding – very nice!

In seconds he can accomplish what would take me days.
After that, he quickly came around to the north side of the cabin and tore out some unsightly stumps that I had previously been zig zagging around with the ATV. This should also improve drainage on that side.

More housekeeping!
With these preliminaries out of the way, it was time for the main event. He came around on the south side of the cabin and quickly lifted off the huge stump of the tree I had cut that was right where I most expected success. You can imagine my delight when a pond appeared beneath it almost immediately.

An instant pond underneath!
He lifted out more and more soil in the area until he finally hit bedrock, I’d estimate at between six and seven feet of depth. Water was running (I almost said gushing – but I don’t want to oversell my excitement) in all around and he worked quickly here.

Nice and deep!
Scraping the bedrock cleaner than I would have thought possible with such a large implement, he brought down the first tile and set it into place.

First tile going in!
Quickly he added nice, clean sand all around and then with the help of his assistant and a level, tapped it until she declared it to be “perfect”.

Racing back with a second tile, he placed this and packed more and more sand around. Once the sand was up most of the way along the sides of the second tile, he again had his assistant check for level and made some fine adjustments to get it too to rate “perfect”.

Tile number two being carefully adjusted!
Pumping it out and then scraping out a few buckets of the muck in the bottom, we were really feeling good about the way things had been turning out.

He added the lid and then proceeded to fill in and slope the sand around the well.

Capping it off!
As requested, he also scraped a shallow trench from the well to the corner of the cabin where the water line would be entering through the foundation in the same spot that the greywater system drained out.

Trenching to the cabin.
Working backwards, he landscaped his way back to the driveway, where he also proceeded to give me a “push out” about halfway down the front drive – a spot where I could push snow in the winter time to relieve the banks hopefully.

He also added a culvert and built up the area where the driveway had settled the most and was beginning to flood in the spring and after heavy rains.

As a final help, he graded the area where the dojo tent formerly stood before I moved it on, and left a pile of gravel there for me to use as I saw fit whenever I needed to fill in any areas. I am thinking of using it to really improve the bush trail, although Grandpa seems to already have his own thoughts about where it really belongs.

As soon as they left, I headed back to the city to visit Maier Hardware and pick up a new pump, piping and pick Dave’s huge brain for more confirmation that I’m on the correct track, or to see if he has any unique insights about better ways to solve some of my conundrums.

While I was gone, Donna started the sauna and supper, so when I arrived it was a great chance to wash up and then enjoy a delicious meal and the company of my loving family.

Today was a good day. (Even if the ATV mysteriously died – but that, as they say, is another story…)

Putting up Winter Wood

September 26, 2015

As the summer winds down and we find ourselves at the Equinox, my thoughts turn to the winter ahead.

The past three winters we have spent here in Thunder Bay have certainly been different than we expected. After what seemed to us to have been a continuing stream of mild winters, we moved here to encounter three very long, very cold winters in a row. It was a real struggle to keep up with our firewood needs, and each year I have hoped that we’d have more of a margin ahead of the curve than we seem to wind up with.

This year, again, I am hoping that with further improving the airtight features of the cabin we can help to retain more of our heat. Of course, I don’t want to rely on that, so I plan on filling all the woodsheds again.

Currently we have been burning up loads of slabs that filled our original woodshed. They burn up fast and not nearly as hot as I would have expected. They have been good for the sauna, but I don’t know if they would be nearly as fun to try to use in the cabin on a regular basis. They are a valuable and bountiful resource at the moment, but I also want to be able to throw on the occasional log to see if I can keep a fire overnight.

In any case, in the bush there were some definite dead but standing trees that I had noted already last fall and winter, so I was quite ready to begin bringing them in for this year’s burning.

The first one I dropped and dragged in went well, but with no snow on the ground, dragging the bare log through the bush ensured much soil ground into the bark. This dulled my chainsaw blade extremely rapidly, and got me rethinking a log arch.

For the next one, I decided that it wouldn’t be too bad to cut it up into four or five foot lengths and simply load them into my trailer. This went much better, and part way through the exercise, Donna and Kenny showed up to bring me some refreshing water, and to photograph the endeavour.

Still not too heavy.

Nice day to take your chainsaw for a walk!
At this point I had cut up a fair bit of wood back at the cabin and both my chainsaw batteries were run down, so I brought back the wood and switched over to doing more interior work at the cabin.

Our $175.00 Apple

September 17, 2015

No, it wasn’t a used iPhone or something like that. It was literally a crabapple that we invested over $175.00 in growing.

As you remember, we planted two apple trees about four months ago.

One of them produced a lovely little crabapple, and with Aunt A! visiting us last weekend, we decided to finally taste the fruit of our labours.

To my mind, it was delicious. Very tart! I’m looking forward to more in the future to help amortize the initial costing better.

A New Experiment in Drying Clothes

September 16, 2015

As part of the repercussions of moving the washing machine from the sauna to the cabin, we no longer are as encouraged to hang the laundry at the sauna to dry. It is, and will continue to be, far more convenient to be able to deal with the damp clothes close to where they are washed.

Up until now, we have been hanging the clothes on a twenty five foot line I had strung up under the porch of the cabin. It ran along the west side, but even so, it was under the porch roof, and didn’t receive much sunlight or breeze.

It also ran past our living room window and so our view was often blocked by the sight of my tidy whities enhancing our supper meal.

This past weekend I obtained the last few rough cut boards to complete the porch floor completely around the cabin. This opened up that side for better access, and as such I mounted a new drying line to see how well it fit in with our lifestyle.

So nice to have these last boards down!
Normally it would be a no-brainer to put up a standard two reel line heading out to a far off, tall tree. In our case though, I couldn’t come up with a very acceptable way of mounting the line so that it didn’t interfere with our ability to fully enjoy the porch. With the initial setup, we still had a clothesline that was hanging down at face height all along that back edge, and I didn’t like the effect it was having on our feng shui.

So, this time I put up a wall mounted umbrella type drying on one of the support posts. The caveat was that if I mounted it out from under the porch, we wouldn’t be able to reach it to hang the clothes. If I mounted it under the porch, we couldn’t take advantage of the increased sun and breeze that clothes could get from being mounted away from the cabin. There was also the added disadvantage that a mount under the porch would again disturb our ability to access that space.

It even has a nice cover when it folds up.

Lots of space when opened.
The solution I came up with – mounting the drying rack on a small piece of 4×4 cedar to match the porch post, and in turn mounting that on a pair of sturdy hinges so that the entire thing could be swung from inside the porch (for loading or in rainy weather) to outside the porch (for drying or to open up a walkway on that side of the cabin.)

The hinges let me swing it in and out with ease.
Two sets of latches ensured that the dryer would stay either in our out, in spite of breezes. So far it has performed quite well and holds a very surprising amount of laundry.

The latch keeps it from swinging about.
For bedsheets and really heavy mats, we will likely continue to use the large, standard line out at the sauna or the folding stand we have used in the past. But for our day to day laundry, I’m eager to see how the new mount works out.

Ahhh, air dried laundry!

Artisanal Bread In Our Rice Cooker

September 2, 2015

Well, I have been big on making sure we don’t have too many unitaskers in our lives. The rice cooker, in spite of its’ name, surely isn’t one of these! I have prepared a number of interesting meals in it. Recently, we were out of bread and so Kenny and I decided to see if it was up to this task.

The recipe we used was based in basic bread, but we also decided to go off script and make a few of our own changes. I’ll also give my suggestions for how I would modify it in future.

First up, wash hands thoroughly, no cooties in our kitchen!

Then, a nice apron to help keep us clean as we work with sticky, greasy and dusty ingredients.

Our kit all laid out nice and neat. Including the rice cooker bowl, which doubled (tripled?) as the mixing bowl, rising bowl and baking dish.

First we add in the flour. It was a half pint/250mL jar overflowing until there was no more chance of even a single grain of flour to be added. Next time I should use a 500mL about 3/4 full I think. I added a bunch of Brule Creek flour to the mix, which is pretty heavy. The balance was straight up all purpose flour.

Next add about 2/3 of a 250mL jar of my homemade hard cider. Whatever is left in your bottle is the head baker’s prerogative to drink.

A big tablespoon of butter needs to be scraped in. Now we have greasy fingers! Oh well…

A teaspoon of kosher salt. It can be any salt I guess, I just found the kosher salt first.

How about a splash of milk? I had a 125mL jar that I only filled up about a quarter full.

Sugar. We used brown. I think maybe another heaping tablespoon.

Yeast. I used instant yeast, about a tablespoon or heaping tablespoon. Next time I would probably proof it in a bit of warm water first to give it a big head start. This time I was lazy. I bet quick yeast would also be super-effective.

Now mix. Kenny really kneaded it well, but it was still shaggy and sticky. I added about four or five more tablespoons of all purpose flour until it became more “loaf”y.

Cover with a damp cloth and allow it to rise. In the old days I would have put it in the oven with the oven light on for warmth. This particular day was sunny so I sat it outside to see if it could rise much.

After the first hour, not much had happened, but I flipped it over and set it back outside.

After the second hour I flipped it again, and put it in the rice cooker with a prayer. Not much rising had happened – curse that delicious but heavy flour and my impatience with the yeast… Turn on the rice cooker and hit up an hour on your timer.

After hour the first, flip it again, and go for another hour.

After the second hour, flip again and go for another hour.

Okay, we’re five hours in… But at least it’s pretty easy to deal with. Flipping once an hour only takes a second.

Enjoy with a big glass of milk and some cinnamon cream cheese!

Didn’t snap a picture before it was already set upon…

Adding Solar Power to my Workshop

August 30, 2015

As long time readers will probably realize by now, I have pretty much replaced every component of our original solar power system over the past two or three years.

I have no regrets at all about this. It was a great learning experience, and as our lifestyle has returned closer to “conventional” our power needs have also changed.

In fact, now it has proved to be a bit of a bonus that we grew the way we did. With the construction of the workshop now far enough along that I can begin moving items inside, I also realized that I’m ripe for adding a second, backup power system there.

Note the installation of the panels – I agree that they are low, but the roof exposure was east/west, and I like the south mounting for maximum winter solar gain. Also, I mounted the panels vertically one on top of the next, rather than side by side. I did this so that as the shadows grew taller, I would still have one or two panels fully unshaded.

Looks like modern art with them offset like this, maybe I should keep it?

Hmmm, some wires are a bit short here.

Kenny learning about volts, amps, and how to use a multimeter.
Where the cables pass through the steel, I cut off the top of a pop bottle and screwed it into an access hole. This should prevent any chaffing.

Orange Crush, if you must know. (No overt political statement intended).

Finishing the Garage/Workshop Gables

August 20, 2015

Grandpa dropped by the other morning and figured it was a good day to work on the last bit of tricky steel to get the gable ends of the workshop finished. I wolfed the remains my breakfast and headed out to join him.

With careful measuring and a screeching circular saw, we first used up the last of my coffee brown steel to finish the front above the door.

Lots of head scratching about which direction the angles should run.

Switching to shears helped cut down on noise and frustration, but I still have the blisters a few days later!
A break for lunch, and then we completed the back. I was out of brown at this point, so we switched to green (same as the roof). On the back it looks like it was always meant to be that way anyway.

Instead of j-trim for the top edges, I just used up base and drip edge that I had to spare. It looks just fine and nobody but a pro would even notice.

Nothing like dancing with himself!
A pair of antlers from Grandpa’s private stash, and things really started to come together! Just need to figure out a door for it.

Kenny taking a page from classic Batman camera positioning.

Pizza on a Panini Press – Guilty Pleasures

August 19, 2015

Kenny wanted an early lunch today. I acquiesced, as I had been hoping to try out a thought experiment I have been mulling for a little while.

With the nice sunny summer we have been having, I have been pressing the panini press into service to cook up all sorts of meals. Tater tots come out excellent. As do fish sticks. Last night we did bacon wrapped chicken, which, while good, was overdone by the time we felt the chicken was cooked through and the bacon was well done enough.

I almost always try to put the food on parchement paper to assist with cleanup. Things like the chicken though are very juicy and tend to overwhelm the paper.

Anyway, as you have guessed based on the title, I opened up a package of the cheap-o personal sized pizzas I remember so fondly from my university days.

Comfort food for higher education.
I put them on some parchment and headed over to the press.

Siamese Pizza!

Still conjoined – if I was on my own, this would count as one serving that way.
I often put a bowl or plate on the top element of the press to help push down even harder and ensure better heat contact.

Note the ceramic plate to add more pressure.
After ten minutes, Kenny noticed “a really good smell” so I slid the parchment containing the pizzas onto a cutting board, and from there, transferred them to plates.

Don’t peek!
The toppings stuck slightly but not at all tragically to the parchment paper. Next time I would put them on for longer, but try to prop the lid up off of the cheesy toppings.

In spite of the so-so appearance, he said it was good and we should do it again sometime!
Based on Kenny’s approval, this will go into the repertoire of things to keep on hand for super quick, super easy meals. Come winter of course, we’ll likely go back to making our own pizzas on homemade or tortilla crusts.


As per my friend Jeff’s inspired suggestion, I have simply been stacking these pizzas with the top one upside down. Now it is only the pizza crust exposed to the panini press and the toppings are kept warm and smushy inside. Much cleaner, and a good excuse to eat two pizza’s at once!

Aikihomestead Open

August 19, 2015

When prompted to name his favourite sport, Kenny invariably answers “golf!”. While he’s never been able to play on a regular course, he has been playing mini-golf off and on for many years – starting back in Kitchener-Waterloo. One of the things that he likes about golf (and games in general) is that he can take his time to think about and plan his actions, rather than feeling pressured to act quickly.

In any case, last week we were in the midst of a heat wave, so what better thing to do than to head off to the local garden centre – Vanderwees and enjoy spending an hour or two standing on the shade free course. (I exaggerate – there were two spots that I was able to stand in the shade while Kenny made his shots.)

A hazard on the first hole!

Lining up the shot.

Just a slight, “within the rules” adjustment.

Preparing for the long drive.

“Did I remember to yell ‘four’?”

At last, back to my short game.
On the final hole, you simply hit your ball up a ramp, and then collected it to return to the office when it came out of the side of the outhouse at the top of the ramp. Mine disappeared somewhere in the outhouse and never came out the side. Gleefully Kenny declared that to be “infinite strokes” and won by an infinite margin.

Building a Workshop

July 28, 2015

Sorry I haven’t written for awhile dear readers.

Under Grandpa’s tutelage I have been building a workshop/garage that is shaping up quite nicely.

Already last year Grandpa had marked out and cleared the site, and with the spring giving me the opportunity to cut up the large log pile by the sawmill, we had the materials to get cracking. Grandpa laid out the heavy beams for the base and leveled and squared them up. We put up the walls and roof, and I ordered up the steel for the roof.

Taking shape.
In the course of a morning we managed to get the roof on, with only the final panel being screwed in completely crooked and needing to be reset.

A few days later I added the ridge cap, and then it was off to Killbear Provincial Park to meet with my family for an awesome camping session.

Kenny got up to many antics, and Aunt V! let me try out the standup paddleboard that she had rented. I must point out that I did not fall off.

Steady as she goes.
Back in Waterloo it was awesome to spend time with Nana and Papa and see their award-winning garden. They really set the bar high for everyone around them. Sigh.

In Waterloo I did also try to fill in a few computer calls. As with most things in life, these turned out to be far more involved than I would have expected! Oh well, I managed to struggle through them and still enjoy my time with my parents and see my Grandma.

Kenny has to write larger for Great Grandma 8)
Towards the end of our time there I started to feel sick all the time. This was a bit of a disappointment because one of the highlights of returning to Waterloo is enjoying the foods that I came to love there. I didn’t get a real chance to enjoy Mr. Doner Kebab at all. It breaks my heart.

No Pizza Pizza after 8pm in Cochrane?! Even on the weekends! Luckily you can pickup at Greco’s Pizza, and it was awesome :).
The illness persisted the entire trip back home, and even a week after we were back in Thunder Bay. I finally went to see my very nice Nurse Practitioner, and she has given me some medicine that seems to have helped very much. While I don’t always refer to it, I have an ongoing health situation that causes me noticeable issues. It remains to be seen if this is related or not. My NP is going to consult with a gastroenterologist and get back to me. In the meantime, I’m still due for lots of pokes and prods and a little surgery over the next little while, so please be patient (pardon the pun) with my posts.

A few days ago with the thermometer pushing thirty degrees again, Mummu and Grandpa and our family all piled into his new car and headed down to camp. I set up the cool hammock my friend J! gave us from Paraguay, and Kenny entertained us with his acrobatics.

A future Olympian?
Yesterday was another crazy hot day. I did a bit of straightening up in the Tardis, and then decided to walk over to Mummu and Grandpa’s house to load up some episodes of Coronation Street on a flash drive for their viewing pleasure.

As I passed the property line, I heard some twigs snapping a few feet to my right.

You can imagine my surprise as I looked up to see this fellow chowing down on the bounty of blueberries we are all enjoying.

Hide yo blueberries!
Gathering my thoughts, I decided the best course of action was to continue on to Mummu’s house, but perhaps at a more brisk pace. My friend looked up and took off towards our cabin.

I got to Mummu’s and phoned Donna to give her a head’s up. She called Kenny inside and managed to snap the above photo looking down the path to Mummu’s house.

Another Crack at a Solar Shower – Using a Pesticide Sprayer as a Pressurized Shower

July 3, 2015

It’s getting hot and humid occasionally here now that we approach Canada Day. I started to crave even the old bag solar shower I first used while we were still in the yurts.
Then, as happens so often, I remembered that I had come up with a solution years ago already.
Back when I worked for ProMark-Shankman (now ProMark Window Film and Blinds) I often used a large, black pump sprayer to install window films, and the water would get noticeably warm when the sprayer was left in the sun.
At the time I had a sailboat, and declared that if I ever was heading out into deep water, I would buy one of the pump sprayers to use just for showering.
The remembrance of that idea struck me the other day in the city and so I opted to purchase the cheapest pump sprayer I could find to test my concept out.

The cheapest I could find
It worked well the first sauna – but Kenny and I found that we did have to use the “pesticide” spray attachment, otherwise the water and pressure ran out much too quickly.
Next up, I painted the whole thing black so that it could better absorb the solar energy pelting us.

Thank you Plasti-Dip

All ready to heat up!
Of course, the next two days were overcast, and so last night I put two kettles of hot water into the sprayer and Donna and I both had mini showers in that manner.
I like the convenience, although having a more powerful shower, in the cabin would be even better, I don’t see how that’s realistically possible yet.
Donna *seemed* to think it was okay, she neither criticized it, nor praised it. We’ll see how much we come to use it in the future.

Tripling Our Power Production

June 9, 2015

The weather lately has been pretty good. Of course, within the past week we did get another evening with the temperature dipping down to around zero. That was pretty hard on our SECOND batch of tomato plants. It’s a good thing I don’t like tomatoes anyway!

We’re down to just one – but it seems to be doing okay. My sister gave us an upside down tomato planter and so I gave it a try – it must have the advantage of being slightly more frost tolerant in that position.

But I, I will survive – as long as I know how to hang I know I’ll be alright! (You can see the less hardy members of this family on the table in the background. Hint: They’re brown.)
On one of our sunnier and warmer days, Ryan and Kyle Ranta from Ranta Construction showed up to repeat their previous performance of installing my solar panels. I purchased six new panels that were rated for 250 watts each. 1500 watts of extra power – exciting to me! We have been doing well on 690 watts for the past year or two, although in November and December it was challenging and annoying to run the generator every day or two. I was hoping to be able to reduce this as much as possible.

Tight vertical tolerances! Note the new panels are actually slightly smaller even though they are more efficient! Also, you can see that the frames are black, not silver. Grandpa also pointed out that they are more reflective – perhaps the original glass has faded slightly?

Room for nine more! (Don’t even think about it!)
The addition of the 1500 watts of power brings us up to a total of 2190 watts. If I did achieve this possible output it would actually be more than my 60 amp charge controller would permit. I am not going to be obsessing about this theoretical loss of my peak output. It will almost certainly only occur at times when the batteries are already nearly fully charged and I start using some sort of heavy load.

Oh yeah! This is only a short time after I threw breaker. Almost double the highest production we’ve previously had. 1.2kW coming down :).
Besides, the reason I over supplied the charge controller wasn’t to give me tonnes of power during the theoretical summer glut, but to be able to harvest more during the much darker and shorter days of November and December. The past two days have been overcast and rainy (although not DARK dark), and both days the batteries have managed to get to float by late afternoon, in spite of me doing laundry and pumping water. Last night we even ran our panini press to make pizza in hot dog buns (which was awesome, by the way.)
So far I’m extremely pleased. I have seen maximum production of 54 amps the first day of installation when it was sunny outside, and I ran the microwave oven to heat my leftovers.
The REAL test will come in October, November and December as we attempt to diminish our reliance on the noisy, fussy and carbon producing generator.
Donna made the pizza last night. It was awesome. Here is how I saw her do it so that you can try for yourself:
She took parchment paper and put some frozen asparagus spears in it and grilled that first.
Then she used a mix of hot dog buns (whole wheat for her, white for Kenny and myself) with sweet chili sauce, pepperoni and mozzarella cheese as the basic pizza. Then on mine I also got mushrooms, pickled peppers and the asparagus. She skipped the pickled peppers – her loss! Just to be clear, the hot dog buns were CLOSED, so they grilled top and bottom and the messy sauce and cheese wasn’t directly against the grill.
Using parchment paper on your grill is awesome. You can just take a sheet that fits under and over your sandwich and that makes cleanup a snap. It’s totally a great idea! I’ve previously used it for PB and J sandwiches, as well as grilled cheese. Next up will be perhaps trying it on chicken breasts or something similar.

Trying Some Apple Trees

May 21, 2015

One thing it seems our property suffers from is a distinct lack of diversity in trees. Everywhere we look we see spruce, balsam, tamarack and pine, with the occasional birch or poplar thrown in for a tiny splash of “colour”. We would very much like to see a bit more variety if possible.

At the same time, we also would like to someday see our property begin to produce more food for us to enjoy.

With those things in mind, we decided this spring to see if we could get some apple trees to survive down where the pond had been dredged out.

Apple trees like acidic, well drained soil, and that spot seemed to fit the bill fairly well. Grandpa and I had worked some compost into that area almost two years ago, so it was probably the best area on the property to have a chance at supporting something different.

We headed down to Vanderwees Garden Centre and looked through their selection. Of course, the pricing was higher than we would have liked, but they did have two different species that were hardy to zone 2. A Norkent and a Kerr. We picked the most vigorous examples of both, along with some specialized additives to help trees to thrive.

While there we also grabbed a couple of vegetables to experiment with my container gardening concept.

Back home I did a bit of research into how to plant these trees before I commenced with digging their holes. Grandpa dropped by and we went outside to start on the process. Mummu arrived shortly after to size up the situation, but both her and Grandpa headed home before we actually got the trees settled in.

Kenny and I tried to dig out the holes fairly larger than the root ball. I removed all the rocks and roots I encountered, and then poured in some fresh soil, along with the other “Myke” supplement. I carefully and gently set the trees in place, and then mounded up more of our purchased soil around the outside of the root ball.

20L of soil? No problem!

Making sure she’s settled in.
Finally I smoothed out the area around each tree, trying to keep a small depression near the trees and then soaked the ground around them with our watering can.

Making sure they aren’t thirsty during their first night in a new home.
Now all we can do is hope for the best! I’ll be sure to post when we see anything significant.

Some seed, some seedlings.
In the meantime, I’ve also planted up a number of our containers, and we’ll see how well that experiment works out. Donna went beyond helping with the trees and containers by planting a few of the extra zucchinis along the edge of our new “orchard”.

Interesting to see where these guys go.

A (Very) Raised Bed

May 3, 2015

Donna headed off to town clothes shopping last week. She was interviewing for a job and felt that she needed a new outfit to look professional. Of course, Kenny and I think she looks beautiful no matter what she wears.

While she was gone, Kenny and I reverted back to our old ways from Kitchener. I gave him some free time, then a quick lesson (some geometry – find the centre of a circle, bisecting an angle, etc.) Then we did a “zone clean”. I found that it was easiest to keep the house in order by dividing it into sensible “zones”. Each room is usually a zone, same with hallways and such. Anyway, we began with the master bedroom, which while clean, was certainly cluttered. I removed everything that made sense, and then did the floors. While I had everything out, I decided that we should try to do a temporary mock-up of an idea we had floated for some time – raising the bed so that there was more storage beneath it.

I put some sawhorses under the head, and then slid the dresser under the feet. Then I cut off the existing legs of the bed so that it could rest perfectly on the dresser.

Got the old legs off – now to add a brace.
Next I built some replacement legs out of pairs of two by six poplar boards left from the sauna renovations.

Bit better view of one side.

And a support post under the centre.

The view from the other side.
When I was satisfied that they were stable enough, I replaced the mattress and sheets, stored a few items underneath, and reorganized my clothes rack so it lay parallel to the bed, instead of perpendicular to it. This way the clothes weren’t hanging in my face.

It was high. Very high. It is slightly more than a metre (yes, more than a yard!) to the top of the mattress. This means we need a step stool at the very least to get in and out of the bed.


It has much more storage underneath. I am thinking that I will probably put some shelves or something under my side to store off season clothes and personal items. On Donna’s side we discussed last night that she could even put in a small rolling desk for doing her professional work.
It is far easier to make the bed. Having it up at sternum height means no more bending over to tuck sheets in or fluff pillows or any of that stuff.
I am guessing that it will be at least marginally warmer. I have repeatedly heard that this is why royal beds always appear so high, and why people use ottomans to raise their feet off the floor.

Higher stakes if you fall off the bed. Hopefully we won’t have to worry about this. I was concerned the first few nights if one of us forgot while getting out of bed in the dark to go to the bathroom, but we’ve adapted right away.
All things considered, Donna says she is really happy with the height. I am thinking that perhaps what would be best would be to build up a one or two step platform on each side of the bed to ease getting in and out in the long term.

Kenny was nervous at first, but now he doesn’t hesitate to go mountain climbing into our bed whenever the mood strikes him.

Just a blur of activity!

Now holding still long enough for a picture.

Beginning The Porch Floor

April 27, 2015

Well, even though I haven’t completed the floor of the sauna porch, and have about a quarter of it covered with some sheets of chipboard, I decided it was time to make a start on the main cabin’s deckboards.

I had a few already assigned to the main cabin, and so on a sunny day, I headed outside to get a few put down.

It didn’t take long for me to burn through the pile, but I have to say that they look good, and sure to make the space feel much nicer to use.

Another Kenny tested project.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I moved the bins of wood to another portion of the porch, seeing as we don’t go through the wood nearly as quickly as we have been.

A Garden Table For Kenny And Mama

April 26, 2015

Last year’s garden was a nice start, but it was a challenge to get down there to weed and water on a regular basis, and then when it did get wet, it didn’t drain so well.

In the fall when we visited the nearby garden centre, I noticed how well their plants did (albeit inside of a greenhouse!) growing in containers raised up on super convenient tables. I mentally filed the tables for later thought, and lately it has come back to me.

When Kenny and I were at the hardware store picking up a few more supplies, I included some fence staples and a small roll of 1/2″ cage/fence/netting.

Unique form I suspect.
It was easy work to find some scrap wood around here to rig up a table. While I cut the wood in the background, Kenny brushed up on his short game. I cut it short when he started chipping in the mud and I could hear pebbles hitting the patio door. (Surprisingly, Donna didn’t put an end to it when he did the same thing, splattering her lightly.)

Kenny was more than happy to assist in the hammering portion of the project.
I found some legs already conveniently cut to two feet long on my woodpile, so I requisitioned them for this project. At first I was worried that it would be too low, but was happy to find that once I put some bins on top, the height came out just about right.

Kenny tested it for comfort and stability, and now it just remains to get it loaded with soil and plants!

Meets the Kenny Standards Council.
At the moment, I am thinking that the existing garden could be the start of our orchard… We’ll have to try shopping for some apple or plum trees next month.

Finally Tiling Around The Stove

April 24, 2015

It’s taken a year and a half, but I finally managed to align the stars and do something about the floor around the woodstove.

Over the course of the past two winters in the cabin I have mulled over a few different solutions. The original floor was a pair of sheets of concrete board. This was approved of by the chimney inspector who said it would meet WETT code (although other parts of my setup need to be changed if I want that certification).

This was okay as a base layer, but it became apparent that it wasn’t a permanent solution. It was dusty and challenging to clean. Spider cracks appeared as we walked over it, and it absorbed water.

It did have the fortunate positioning to be able to dry out quickly, as it was right under the hot, dry stove.

I headed to the hardware store thinking that my easiest solution would be to lather on multiple layers of concrete paint. As often happens though, my arrival there caused me to start mulling other options. I finally settled on the idea of simply dry laying floor tiles in the space. I had a raised border around the stove, so that locked in the tiles for me.

I purchased three boxes of on-sale tiles for cheap. I made sure they were a standard 12″x12″ tile so that they could easily be replaced if any broke. My assumption is that with them layed dry, any dust that does get between them will actually assist in levelling them for me in the long term. They should still be okay with getting wet and then drying out on their own due to the nearby stove. We will see how it goes in the long term.

Trying to cheap out, I purchased “nippers” to try to break off small bits of tile and shape them to the space I wanted to put them in. Unfortunately, these only worked for the smallest of adjustments, and were unusable for cutting an entire tile. I hoped to do that with a scoring tool I had bought, but this also proved impossible to do properly.

Finally I opted to just buy a wet tile saw online that was less than the cost of a rental. I figured it was good for a single use in the worst case scenario.

Uncut tiles go down quick!

My first challenging piece.
The saw worked a charm, but it must be said that it is a messy affair. Be prepared to be coated in sticky, wet dust. Thankfully it was a sauna night that night.

Now things are coming together!
I did all the cutting outdoors, taking advantage of unseasonably warm and sunny weather.

Messy work!
In the background, you can see Nana and Kenny having some quality one on one time. Kenny loves his Nana very much and you could tell he was getting more and more excited to have her coming as the date arrived. He would even love to have her around if she didn’t have more fun games on her iPad than he does. Already he is counting the days until he sees her and Papa again this summer.

Loving one another’s company 🙂
And finally, the finished project. I’ll keep you posted how the dry lay tiles end up working. I couldn’t find too many links to other people trying to do it this way.

I wouldn’t go back there when it’s running!

Looking good!

A Deluxe Upgrade to our (Humanure) Composting Toilet

April 23, 2015

My parents came to visit us this month! It was just amazingly wonderful to have them here. There wasn’t a moment that went by that I wasn’t totally appreciating their love and help around the homestead.

Disappointingly, for a few days leading up to their arrival my stomach was acting a bit dodgy. This culminated in me becoming completely ill by the end of their first day here. It was a physically miserable evening and night, but I was a bit better the next day and able to get myself more vertical than horizontal. Fortunately Nana and Papa were very understanding, and both pitched in to help us out tremendously, even with me dragging myself around for most of their time here.

Papa took up residence in our bathroom again and finished doing much of the trim work – very appreciated where it finally sealed up the door gaps when someone was seeking privacy there.

I outlined some of my thoughts about upgrades to our toilet box, and he set to it right away.

It’s so nice to see Papa again!
First off he covered the whole area on that side of the bathroom, rather than just having a seat centred in the space.

Now marking off the seat.
Then he installed the seat with an extra hinge so that we could also easily access the bucket and lift it out.

Loads of space now!
It was a real improvement to have the height set exactly the same as the height of the bucket. This had the effect of lowering our overall seat height, which had been uncomfortably high for Donna and especially Kenny. Up until now I had built up under the buckets with a few pieces of scrap wood. As well, the top of the old bucket was butted up against the top of my old box. This had the unfortunate side effect of it occasionally getting hosed down by “accidents”.

And with the bucket in place.
Papa solved all these issues by lowering the seat until it rested directly on the rim of the bucket. Now there is a vanishingly small space between the seat and the sides of the bucket.

Additionally, he cut a custom inset in the top of the seat to put our sawdust containers in. These are some waste baskets I picked up at Wal-Mart that have good dimensions that allow us to put them in a narrow space, but still get a scoop in there to lift out the sawdust.

Just begging for someone to have a seat!
It turned out amazing! Papa’s work has already made us more comfortable and improved the aesthetics of the cabin tremendously.

I still have to do a bit of work to finish it off, but it has been a real pleasure to use. I get excited to have an excuse to use it – so much cleaner and more comfortable and better organized than before.

Spring Cleaning The Yurts

April 21, 2015

With the sun and warmer weather, I can finally entertain the thought of cleaning up the yurts, which had become a catchall shelter and storage space over the course of the winter. I look forward to a more permanent workshop coming hopefully this summer!

I pulled out the extra insulation we had added to the yurts the first fall. Now they are back to the original wool walls and look really cozy again. They won’t be warm in the winter, but now they look more like they belong on earth, rather than in interplanetary space :).

This is where Papa’s magic was made!

And restoring the big yurts walls!
Kenny and Donna came over to see how things looked. There is still lots to straighten up, but at least the environment is brighter and airier.

You can see the insect damage on the screen here.
Of interesting note – it appears that pine beetles got trapped between the wool and the canvas. As they climbed towards the light (from the windows) they were directed to the upper left corners of each window. Once they ran out of space, they actually chewed right through the bug screens! About half of our screens have been breached, all in this spot. Something to think about.

New Record for the Sauna!

April 21, 2015

Kenny and I headed out to sauna the other day and were treated to a new high for steam!

Isn’t that over the boiling point?
No wonder my eyeballs were steaming!

First Trip Down the Well of the Year

April 5, 2015

This year has been our best for water yet. We managed to keep it flowing into the sauna through the entire winter, even if it did take quite a bit of effort with pouring many kettles of hot water onto the pipe to thaw it before we could turn on the pump.

As we all know, the line between the sauna and the cabin froze early and only recently thawed. It actually refroze since I initially reported it flowing again, but then a few days ago we managed to run the generator for a day and get it thawed again. I am very hopeful and optimistic that it will remain flowing this time around though, as we are not to have daytime high temperatures below zero again for the foreseeable future.

At the beginning of this day I noticed that as the pump put water into our tanks, it was very dark coloured and silty. We ended up having to just dispose of the contents of both tanks as they were too dirty to use. I went up into the sauna loft and scrubbed the insides of the tanks and then tried to lift them to drain as much of the yucky water as possible. Later that day was when the line finally opened to the cabin.

Hide yo dirt! I’m up in yo loft, scrubbin’ yo tanks!

These things are remarkably challenging to lift and drain!
Towards the end of the day we did get it flowing again. We pumped into the tanks until no more water flowed. This has not been an unknown event as the water level in the well has been insufficient to completely fill the tanks from empty. We chalked it up to an empty well and called it a day, content that the water at least could move from the tanks to the cabin once the well recharged.

The next day though, it became obvious that the pump still wasn’t producing water. I opened up the well and turned on the pump. While I could see that it was consuming the usual amount of power, there was no sound or movement in the water. Sigh.

I grabbed the hook from the sauna I normally use for hanging laundry and took it down to poke at the pump and hose. This did nothing.

Calling Maier Hardware, I had them set aside a replacement pump for the next morning. I dutifully arrived to purchase it, as well as discuss future plans with Dave Green. He’s always super helpful!

I brought the new pump home and Grandpa arrived soon afterwards to assist in me heading down into the well to replace the old one.

We had previously chipped through the ice with his ice breaker, and this time after I was down the well he helpfully pulled the ladder out. I was a little bit nervous standing on the ice in the well, worried that if it gave way I would be in for a miserable time, but to save any tension I can report now that it held fine throughout.

Assessing the situation.

Kenny and Grandpa prepare the insulation.

The old pump looking a bit dirty.

Not that experienced putting on panty hose.

Closing up the waist.

Back into the briny deep for you!

That smug look that comes from a completed job!
First up I pulled up the old pump and cut away the heat cable and power cable. I then disconnected the old pump, as well as the secondary heat cable we had installed in the fall that appeared to have had no benefit. No sense in having an extra load there if it wasn’t needed.

The old pump was lifted away, and then I installed the new one. I applied cable ties along the length of the pipe to remount the heat cable and power cables, and then this time I added in a length of pipe insulation to try to increase the efficiency of the heating cable.

I pulled up the small tub that the pump normally rested in and Grandpa rinsed it out with snow to try to clean off some of the silt that coated the sides of it.

As an added attempt to keep the more gritty silt to a minimum, I managed to jam the tub and pump into a pair of women’s pantyhose – size “queen plus”.

I cable tied the waist shut around the pipe and put the tub back into the hole in the ice. Bubbling gently, the pump sank beneath the surface and came to rest fully submerged.

Grandpa lowered the ladder back into the well and I climbed out and headed up to the sauna to turn on power to the pump. I only had to walk partway back to the well head to hear from Donna that she could in turn hear the pump running. Grandpa said he was pretty sure that he could see the water level dropping and when I got a good look for myself it was obvious that we were pumping water!

So Donna spent the next day washing load after load of laundry, interspersed with trying to keep Kenny’s creative juices flowing and taking the occasional picture of me bringing in the last of the winter wood before the bush trail gets too sloppy.

It’s an awesome feeling to have empty laundry baskets and clean underwear again! And brushing my teeth in the bathroom rather than the kitchen sink is a real treat.

Adding the Last of the Cedar Panelling to the Sauna

March 24, 2015

With warmer weather came a more open attitude towards doing work in unheated areas. The first one that came to my mind was the sauna – yes it was warm when we had spent a few hours heating it but, in the meantime, it was generally only a few degrees warmer than the ambient forest.
I had managed to put up the vapour barrier in the form of aluminum foil in the fall, but then we had spent the winter sitting in a plastic chair in the steam room while waiting for me to finish off the remainder.
Another factor contributing to the slow pace of work was the lack of available cedar paneling. I had managed to get some 4″ v-joint, but because I had already done half the sauna in 6″, I was reluctant to change part way through. (The 4″ my father put up in our bathroom, making it look fantabulous.)
Finally some 6″ was available and I picked up 43 pieces. I had guesstimated that I would need 36.
Grandpa dropped by that morning shortly after I had set up the cutting table and offered to help out. I gave him the required lengths and he cut up the nicest looking pieces as required. We managed to bang out the first wall before lunch! The second wall was slightly trickier, as this was the wall with the stove and my new-fangled metal shield around it.

The first wall looks good!
We loosened the nuts on the bolts as we went, and I slipped about an inch or so of the panelling in behind the edges of the steel transition.

The transition around the stove looking good!
This turned out better than I expected, and looks really good. When I tightened down the nuts again, the transition came on nice and tight to the wall. It looks better on the inside AND outside now. We worked our way up and had the entire steam room panelled by midafternoon.
On a roll, I proceeded to light the stove, and then put up our benches. No more sitting in a chair by ourselves! Kenny and I could go back to our extensive conversations about Minecraft and the other video games that he was imagining should exist.

I decide to install the benches right away.

Much more conducive to real sauna conversation
In the end, through Grandpa’s judicious cutting techniques around the stove and windows, we only needed 29 pieces, so I returned 14 to Howie’s.
Slowly but surely little things get finished around here. As summer approaches the hope is that the pace will increase, but we take life as it comes.

Water is Flowing!

March 22, 2015

Sorry it’s been awhile between updates – I’ve been having lots of trouble with my ankles for a few weeks now, and it has held me back from accomplishing much more than treading water here at the homestead.
Things had warmed up considerably in March, with temperatures beginning to bump against 0 and I think even surpass it a few times!
A few days ago we had two overcast days in a row, so I chose to run the generator – what a difference it makes to run the generator when it isn’t almost 20 below. It starts up on the third pull, and runs nice and smooth.
Anyway, having made the decision to run the generator for a few hours, I also opted to switch on the heating cable between the cabin and sauna tanks – it was mostly as a lark, but lo and behold, after about an hour, suddenly water began to pour out of the kitchen faucet!

Donna was in the city working on a personal project, so Kenny and I did our happy dance, tested the bathroom to confirm, and then enjoyed an afternoon of doing load after load of previously procrastinated laundry.

All winter we had schlepped water from the sauna to fill the washing machine, then for the rinse. Not to mention washing dishes, cooking and drinking (hmmm, I guess I just DID mention it…)
Anyway, it is so totally thrilling to have water flowing here again. The simple things in life I guess!

Salad Bowl / Mixing Bowl Sink Revisted – With Quick and Easy Vanity

March 1, 2015

Ever since Papa renovated our bathroom walls, I have been slow in putting back our bathroom sink. I knew that it would require a bit of work and I still wasn’t convinced of just what we wanted to incorporate into the design that would give us the best of all worlds.

Then, the work in our pantry to move the fridge, and the consequential reorganizing and decluttering of our kitchen area started putting strange and unusual ideas into my head. I have been in love with our chrome shelves. They require no dusting, are very flexible and adjustable, look nice and the appearance of wood and chrome is one that is pleasing to (my) eye anyway. We have large chrome shelves, small chrome shelves and a chrome and wood kitchen cart. It should have been only natural that I began seeing a strange love-child between our kitchen cart and a bathroom sink.

And that’s what happened. I started contemplating the kitchen cart and imagining a sink bowl installed in it, complete with a tap and backsplash.

Quick consultations revealed that it would be too deep and not wide enough for the bathroom. I began looking online and could only find one that fit the bill dimension-wise, but it was somewhat expensive, and I could see that the wood top was actually just pressboard.

I had already purchased a piece of project pine for the vanity top – so it occurred to me that perhaps I could still use it with just a small chrome shelf could for the support? Some measurements made it seem plausible, and shockingly to me, Donna green-lit this venture.

A trip to Wal-Mart and I had their $25 shelf in hand. Some assembly was required, but I did get it wedged into the bathroom on a trial basis. I could see that the water inlet pipe was quite close to where one of the shelf supports would go. I started to plan the chrome shelf to be off-centre, so that we could store a humanure bucket and sawdust pail side by side. Donna mused whether we could hang a tasteful curtain in front, or if I could try to attach some sort of doors.

Test run of a chrome shelf for a vanity.
The water pipe and extra bucket dictates that it needs to be off-centre.
It immediately looked much more organized and clean than when everything had its home on the floor. It has the added advantage of circulating more warm(ish) air into the corner, where we could see that frost had built up on the cedar panelling, in spite of Papa’s work with insulation and a vapour barrier. I’m hoping that with the new airflow, combined with a future baseboard and perhaps some extra caulking, the frosting will be minimized or eliminated. Donna also reminded me that I’m considering insulating the crawl space underneath the cabin, which should contribute to warmer floors and baseboard areas.

Next up was the assembly of the vanity top.

Screwing AND gluing the joints.

Checking the old sink diameter.
Then checking on the clearances for the sink.

Already cut into the shelves. The Rubicon has been crossed.
A return trip to Wal-Mart for a 5 quart mixing bowl, and we had our sink. There is still the issue of a small amount of standing water in the bottom of the bowl. Not sure how that can be addressed really, we’ll see if it becomes a big issue. In our previous incarnation, the bowl actually had a recessed ring around the outside of the base that was really annoying. This time the base of the bowl is at least flat all around – so hopefully that will make a difference. I installed the drain off centre in the bottom of the bowl too, as I will put a slight tilt on the vanity towards the back wall, to ensure that things roll or drain towards the back of the structure, and not towards the front edge.

Four coats of Varathane – when using cheapo Dollarama foam brushes, it pays to sand between coats, lest you leave lots of foam flecks on the surface you are treating. Luckily I learned that lesson quickly, and on the bottom of the counter top.

Sanding between coats.

Always nice when Kenny shows an interest!
I popped the rubber caps off the top of each chrome post, and then simply put screws into the bottom of the counter top where they lined up with the posts, leaving a good half centimetre sticking out. This gave the counter top some stability from sliding around on top of the posts.

I had to cut out some parts of the chrome shelves to make room for the fixtures. Then to install them, I positioned them so that one was down near the base, where we can set the pails on. Then one at the very top, where the counter very nearly rests on it. And finally one down about ten centimetres from the top – just below the bottom of the bowl, but with enough space to store a few rolls of toilet paper, or in our case, a basket that we can put a few toiletries in.

Hot cloth on the pipe softens it up before inserting into the adapter.

Things are looking good.
Firm up the plumbing connections, and there you have it. An attractive vanity that really fits the decor, cost me about $100 if you include all the fixtures, and can be easily disassembled and re-arranged if the need ever arises.

Pretty sharp!

And the first test run!

Update to the Outlander Gear Shifter Break

February 16, 2015

As you may know, the shifter arm on my Outlander ATV snapped off a few days ago.

After having a small section of threaded rod welded alongside the round stock of the shifter, it was a relatively simple task to reinstall it on the Outlander. I took the opportunity presented by having the side panel off to adjust the linkage arm so that the positions of the shifter accurately corresponded to the gear that the transmission was in.

You can just see the tip of the threaded rod reinforcement here.

A better view of the threaded rod laid in front of the existing shifter.
At first it was a very challenging shift, but that quickly calmed down as the newly reinforced shifter wore the plastic slot away at key friction points.

Between the adjusted linkages and the stiffened shifter arm, I have to declare that at least while I cleared up our latest snowfall from the driveway, things were performing better than they ever have.

How Much Solar Electricity we Have Generated

February 15, 2015

Given the chance, I do like to remind people hooked up to the grid just how incredibly cheap their hydro is. A brief mental calculation about how much power an appliance requires for its operation, multiplied by the current cost of electricity, usually reveals it to only be pennies per use.

Strangely, I have never looked at how much we are generating or consuming and seeing what the actual value of it would be. It’s a simple calculation, and here it is…

Our 690W of solar panels generated 466 kWh over 437 days (my charge controller has a small server built in which tells me these sorts of statistics). Current peak residential charge for Ontario is thirteen and a half cents per kilowatt per hour. Thus:

466 kWh * $0.135 = $62.91.

After spending many thousands of dollars on the panels and batteries and controllers and such, that $62 is money in my pocket!

Truth be told, we actually consumed probably twice that amount, the other half being created by the generator.

I at least can take solace in wondering how many people have a have a hydro bill of less than $10 per month.

Our Generating Station
I still believe it makes sense for *us* to be off grid – it would likely have cost us more up front to hook up to the traditional grid than it did to install our renewable energy system. Now we are no longer subject to arbitrary outages, and worse, price increases. More importantly, we philosophically wish to promote the use of renewables.

A Big Snowfall / My Outlander ATV Gear Shift Finally Breaks

February 12, 2015

The day before yesterday we began to see weather reports calling for up to 25cm (10 inches) of snowfall overnight. I suited up and used my roof rake (great product, by the way…) to clean off the yurts, sauna, cabin and dojo tent.

In the morning, it looked like we had clearly gotten a fair amount of snow, but it didn’t look that crazy at first.

Doesn’t look too bad from here.
I trudged out to the dojo tent and started up the ATV (I think I should name her – she’s earned it!) and after a few moments eased into some light ploughing.

Quickly I realized that we had had close to 20cm. The ATV could barely push her way to the entrance of our driveway, and then got stuck as soon as I hit the combination of an uphill climb and the snow that the road plough had deposited on the surface. With a little back and forth and raising the blade, I was able to get to the road surface where I attacked the entrance at a more oblique angle.

Returning to the cabin I managed to push away enough snow from the dojo tent to the cabin to ensure that we could still get vehicles right up to the cabin.

Oh to be young again!
After a break for lunch, Donna and Kenny came out to help clear around the vehicles and I spent the afternoon taking short trips back and forth in a herringbone pattern up the driveway betwixt the entrance and the dojo tent. The banks needed to be pushed back significantly to allow our vehicles to continue getting in and out the remainder of the season.

Stuck in reverse?!
Fortune smiled on me, as once the bare minimum was complete, and I was about to really start clearing the surface, the shifter on the ATV suddenly became extremely sloppy and refused to move out of reverse.

Careful examination revealed that the stress of all my back and forth had finally caused the shifter to fail. I believe this is a known weakness of the early Outlander models, I can’t speak to if Bombardier has addressed this or not. It’s a pretty weak shifter to begin with, and the transmission is also very sticky and often requires extra effort to switch gears.

I was facing away from the dojo tent, and stuck in reverse, so I simply backed into the tent and retrieved my wrenches.

The side panel had already shook loose, so I moved it aside and with my wrench set, removed the pieces of the shifter.

No real surprise that this thing failed.
They’ll be off to get welded (and hopefully reinforced at the same time) and we’ll hopefully have the ATV back in action soon.

Just happy to be out in the sun.

Fixing a Surging or Pulsing Generator in Cold Weather

February 10, 2015

I wish I knew more about engines, large and small. I like to believe that I know a bit more than average, but that’s probably not saying much. I suspect that most people treat their cars and other internal combustion devices as “black boxes” in which gas (and occasionally oil) go in, and then they go now.

In any case, homesteading has slowly ramped up my store of tips and tricks and knowledge, even if part of me wishes it wasn’t necessary.

In the past I have had a bit of trouble with my old generator beginning to surge or pulse while charging the batteries. At first I had chalked it up to something not being properly adjusted, and so I turned the only screw I could find – the idle adjust. This didn’t have much of a noticeable effect, period, so I ended up taking it to KC Automotive to see if they could find anything wrong with it, which of course, they couldn’t.

This problem seemed to come and go randomly, so I let it slide, and currently that generator has given up, there seems to be a problem with the fuel line, and as I have a second generator, I haven’t been really motivated to try to fix it. I also really don’t want to take it back to get it looked at again, as it has been in the shop many times in the past year and I think perhaps it too just needs to be replaced.

The new generator is smaller and has some quirks of its own (surprising how quickly a kW of charging and then a kW of fridge compressor can both add up to 2kW, which plays havoc with a 1.5kW maximum surge rated machine). But it so far has been rather reliable.

Lately though it too has begun surging. At first I thought it was perhaps an interplay between the generator charging, and the charge controller, as I noticed it mainly when the sun began to shine on the solar panels. As such, I would usually shut off the generator anyway because that indicated that I was getting enough power from the sun.

Then it changed, and even when the charge controller was disconnected the generator still insisted on pulsing. I didn’t like this development. I didn’t like this at all!

So, I started with the few things I could do easily. I removed the air filter to see if perhaps something was amiss there. I was a bit surprised to find it nearly frozen in place. Further investigation revealed that there was a small tube from the cylinder head going into the air filter compartment, and it had frost all around it, blocking it out.

I had no idea what this tube was, or its purpose, but I cleaned off the ice, cleaned it out, and replaced everything. The generator ran about an hour or so and I was tickled before it began surging again.

Asking Google for answers was unsatisfying, but instructive. It seems this tube is a breather to release pressure on the top of the cylinder head. It’s somewhat important, as an ongoing blockage puts quite a bit of stress on the cylinder and lubrication system. Annoyingly though, few people reported this issue except in page after page of warnings about aeroplane engines.

The consensus was that there is usually lots of moisture blown out of that tube, and in extreme cold, it condenses and freezes until there is a blockage.

I tried running the generator with the air filter completely removed to see if that would stop trapping the moisture (in winter, it seems that air filters aren’t quite as important because there are far fewer particulates in the environment). This really helped me to confirm this issue because once it began to surge again, I was able to see actual chunks of ice being burped out of the breather tube.

I began to think perhaps I had to wrap a small “hot pocket” type thing around the breather tube, or keep spraying some sort of water displacer into it or adding it to my fuel. I was headed to town to purchase those items when I decided to stop in at KC Automotive and ask K! for his opinion.

As always, it was a really rewarding errand. K! had encountered this issue before already and immediately suggested insulating the breather pipe as a solution. He was thinking of regular pipe insulation, when I realized that I still had some scrap pieces of closed cell insulation laying about in the yurts.

I ran my other errands in town, picked up Donna and Kenny from Willow Springs, and returned home. Although my trip to town is always draining, it was overcast and I wanted to try to pump up the batteries a bit more.

I used my knife and a drill bit to form a shell for the breather, and realized that it wouldn’t be possible to insert the breather into the air filter with the insulation in place. Luckily I had purchased a wrench set JUST for the generator and left it there, and it fit the bill for removing the whole air filter assembly. This made it much easier to align the tube and replace the air filter assembly with my new “winterized” breather tube in place.

Air filter assembly completely removed.

Note the latex gloves. Not nice in sub zero temperatures, but better than gas and oil all over your hands.
I even replaced the actual foam filter inside and put the cover back on, to make this a fully fair test.

Also careful that no little bits of foam were hanging around inside the air filter.

All done!
The foam insulation interfered slightly with the choke arm, but it quickly aquired a gouge where the lever pressed into it, and I was able to start up the engine with a few pulls.

Inside I unplugged the fridge and adjusted the inverter/charger to ensure a good charge without issues, and the generator ran great for about three hours. I’m not sure if it began to pulse towards the end. The charger showed a fluctuation of between 7 and 10 amps, but I really didn’t hear anything that would normally bother me in the sounds from the genny. I shut it off anyway though as it was getting late and I didn’t want to have to go out to shut it off in my pj’s.

One factor that tempers my enthusiasm though is that it was warmer than it’s been for a long time – only 9 degrees below zero. I will have to try it out again when we get back closer to -20 and see what happens then.

In the meantime, I am giving this “generator hack” a pass. I will try to report back after it has had some more extensive testing.

A New Cider Brewing Experiment

February 4, 2015

With my first cider brewing post being so popular, I decided to post an update to my super simple recipe for generating hard cider here on the homestead.

Finding good Wellesley Brand Apple Cider here in Thunder Bay has proved to be a challenge, so now I’m content with just buying Allen’s Rougemont brand in plastic bottles, removing a half a cup, and adding a few grains of yeast.

Sitting on the warming closet for a week or two is all it takes to go to 5% alcohol by volume (based on my hydrometer).

Note the bulging bottles on the left – make sure you keep the caps loose when you put them back on!

Bottle it in some Grolsch gurdles with a quarter teaspoon of white sugar, and then sit it on the shelf until just before drinking, when you pop it in the fridge, and you’re golden!

Continuing to Insulate the Cabin

February 3, 2015

Things are continuing to tick along here in the middle of winter at the homestead.
We have been treated to a return to the colder weather. Yesterday we woke up to almost 31 below (grandpa’s thermometer read 34). This morning I am up early, and reading the outdoor thermometer I see it is 27.6 below, and sure to drop before the sun rises.

One silver lining to these temperatures is that they usually go lock step with clear skies. That’s nice for generating solar power. Of course, it also means that the batteries are very cold, and don’t hold much charge. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another…
Mind you, yesterday the batteries spent over three hours in absorption, and yet we still pumped water and did laundry. Yes, we officially had at least one day in February where we could get water from the well to the sauna! Joy of joys – I only had to schlep buckets from the sauna to the cabin, not from the neighbours like last year.
I did have to pour a stock pot of hot water into the well to precipitate this event, but I’m still happy to do that. Again, this summer, a second well nearer that cabin may be in the cards, budget permitting.

Hang on a second while I pour myself a cup of tea – twenty minutes ago when I first got up, it was 16.8 degrees in here, now it has risen to 17.1 after throwing on a few logs and opening the stove vents.
Sorry for all the temperature heavy statistics right off the bat. If you were here to see me in my track suit with our “butter blanket” (so named by my sister and a very well received Christmas gift) draped over me like a toga, you’d understand. Perhaps you’d snuggle under our second blanket on the Chesterfield, grab your own huge, steaming mug of tea and enjoy listening to the soundtrack from “O Brother, Where Are Thou?” by lantern light.

So, getting back to the title of this post – I have been plugging away at continuing the insulation project here indoors. I have managed to finish the last of the walls that I intend to actually insulate.

Of course, there was some disruption in proper television viewing while the main floor was being addressed.

I did both loft rooms upstairs, and then returned to the main floor to do the pantry.

The pantry we have reorganized somewhat, which is remarkable considering how small it is and how everything fit just so the first time around.
Initially we had the refrigerator against the bedroom wall where the outlet was conveniently located, with the shelves against the bathroom wall side of the room. Donna began to point out that having the buzz of the inverter on one side and the intermittent hum of the fridge on the other was not conducive to her having a restful sleep.
So, with a short utility cord in hand, we switched the two items around. This worked remarkably well. There was slightly more room between the wall and door on the bedroom side, so the shelves aren’t quite so tight to the door opening. There isn’t an issue with the fridge being on one side or the other, and the small window is still easily accessible if we want to open or shut it as the season dictates.

It was reassuring to continue to find cold draughts as I worked my way across all these walls. I would caulk or chink them shut, and then put up solid core foam over top. This HAD to be improving things dramatically, didn’t it?
Of course, this optimism was tempered by the cabin still coming up rather chilly many mornings in spite of us going to bed with quite comfortable nighttime indoor temperatures.

Well, there is still the east wall to complete, which will only receive a vapour barrier and then pine paneling. Why no insulation you ask? It was not designed with the inkling of insulation ever being in the cards, and so I made the fireplace clearances exactly enough for just a panel and nothing else.
I like to convince myself that even the air barrier and paneling will make a large difference – and I should point out that this is the south east exposure, so it does receive a fair bit of sunlight on its own.
I’m sure you’ll find out after the paneling goes on over there how it ultimately works out.

The finished wall with the shelves and contents replaced.

Insulating our Bedroom

January 18, 2015

In the sauna we quickly noticed that in spite of our best efforts, it was hardly weather tight. This observation, combined with the very rough (rustic?) appearance of my cabin beams, quickly led us to decide to panel the inside of both buildings. This also presented an ideal opportunity to add a thin layer of insulation and an air barrier.

This project proceeded well in the sauna, halting mostly when my supply of 6″ cedar panelling ran out.

My father repeated the same process in our bathroom when they came to visit, and recently I’ve had the time and inclination to begin applying this to our entire cabin (extended periods of -30 degrees has also gotten me into an insulating frame of mind).

I did a quick test run at the bottom of the stairs to the loft, which also gave me an opportunity to straighten out that wall, which had begun to twist inwards towards the bedroom.

I put up a single sheet, admired my handiwork, and then after a brief discussion with Donna, decided to cut my teeth on finishing our bedroom, a part of the cabin that had been getting progressively colder and colder as time went on.

When I got to the trim around the patio door in our bedroom, I was actually pleasantly surprised to discover that there were large gaps between the logs and the framing of the patio doors! I had forgotten that my father had only added foam to the outside of that perimeter before having to return home, and that the perimeter still had much work to be done before it could be considered “finished” or weatherized.

Luckily I had a few cans of window and door spray foam on hand, and I proceeded to use it in combination with sill gasket to seal up the door essentially air tight. This put me in mind to check the other doors in the cabin, and again I was happily surprised to realize that they too only had a bit of foam on the outside, and there were still large and numerous gaps visible from the inside which I could repair. Having a half can of expanding foam really motivates one to try to find locations to use it up, as it can be challenging to revive a can after it has been started.

With the doors suitably foamed up, I returned to the bedroom and pressed hard to complete it. Which shockingly, I was able to do!

Of course, that night was amazingly warm, with the temperature dropping only to -5, so it wasn’t really a fair test. I think my ambition would be for the cabin to be insulated enough that it only loses about a half or third of a degree each hour that the stove is not running. By my rough calculations, this should let us permit the fire to go out and us go to bed at 20 degrees, and wake up to 16 degrees, which is a manageable temperature to put on a fire and have our first coffee of the day (or tea for non-coffee drinkers like myself…)

I have purchased ten more sheets of 1/2″ foam and still have loads of straps, so I will continue with this project and report back with how much of a difference it truly makes to the overall cabin. Of course, once it is finished, I will cover it with an air/vapour barrier, and then paneling to complete the aesthetic appeal.

Yes Virginia, We Still Have Water (With a Caveat)

January 17, 2015

As anyone who has been subjected to my blog for the past little while knows, we have had constant trials and tribulations getting water from the well and into our lives. Mostly during the winter due to the extreme cold, and lack of ability to place our water lines in an insulated environment or to be able to supply them with enough electricity to run a heating cable on them.

Our system has been working better than last year when we lost water in late December just before we headed off for Christmas. At the time, I was fairly sure that the water had frozen in the pipe where it passed through the well casing.

I updated the heating cable arrangement and repositioned the water pipe to try to ensure that there was the option to heat that section of the pipe, as well as to prevent water from settling there.

I would have to say that repositioning the pipe has been a real success. The heating cables, not so much.

The last time I had them on for a few hours, I checked in the well and could see no evidence of even a little bit of melting. I admit that I foolishly did NOT insulate them, but I expected that they could at least melt a tiny bit of water around themselves, so I question if they are even functioning at this point.

As an alternative to the heating cable, I have been going with the low tech approach of simply pouring kettles and pots of hot water from the stove back down the well onto the spot where the pipe passes through the frozen surface of the well water. An interesting side effect is that after closing the well cover, amazing crystals develop on the inside of the well casing as the steam condenses.

This has worked a charm. So far it has thawed the pipe each and every time, although sometimes it does take a few heartstopping and stressful minutes after my last kettle goes down before the well pump manages to get some water up to the sauna.

Of course, within the sauna the pipes from the water tanks to the taps have frozen as well, but they thaw after a few hours of heating the sauna, so we tend to draw lots of water on the days when we take steam anyway.

If things change, I may let you know, but so far we are ahead of last years game, only schlepping buckets from the sauna to the cabin, instead of from the neighbours!

Adjusting the Centre Jack Post

January 15, 2015

In the very centre of the cabin I installed an adjustable jack post to allow me to lower the loft (and middle of the roof peak, by extension) as the outer walls of the cabin settled.

While I can tell that the outer walls have settled a bit more than an inch, my monitoring with my level kept insisting that the main support beam and the floor joists attached to it were still true.

This really shouldn’t have been possible I think, and so the recent appearance of the stress fractures in my insulation gave me the impetous to make my first adjustment to the jack post.

It was a devil of a time just getting started. My 1″ wrench was too sloppy, and my 7/8″ wrench was too tight.

Grandpa brought over two of his antique adjustable wrenches, but neither one of them were able to fit. They could open the right amount, but the grips were wider than the flattened portion of my jack post, so I was unable to gain any purchase on the post.

I added a 15/16″ wrench to the shopping list and left it at that.

The next day, while in the yurts fumbling for an unrelated tool, what should I uncover? You guessed it! My 15/16″ wrench!

I brought it in, and it was a VERY tight fit. I actually pounded it on with my deadfall mallet, and then used the mallet to turn the post once around (about an eighth of an inch drop). The next day I repeated the process and then decided that I had had enough for awhile. I did hear a number of creaks and bangs from the cabin over the next day or two, but I don’t know if I should ascribe that to the adjustments I made, or the frigid temperatures we continued to experience.

The next time I was at the hardware store, I opted to purchase a 25mm wrench, assuming that the jack post was metric and that would be the best compromise. It bemused me to later find the packaging for the post which marked the suggested wrench as a regular 1″ – the first one I tried! I’m not sure why it was so loose in my case, but I’m happy with the 25mm wrench.

In keeping with my new wrench philosophy, I hung the new wrench right on the jack post.

My new philosophy, created in the wake of searching for the proper wrench size and location EVERY generator oil change (12mm in case you are curious) is that it is more economical to simply purchase a wrench for each location where it is needed on a recurring basis, and leaving it there, rather than trying to record and/or search out the wrenches from a toolbox as needed.

I’ll still keep a full selection in my tools, but for things that I use the same size for over and over again, I’ll have a primary copy right on-site.

As for the jack post, I will perhaps take another look at adjusting it in the spring. The settling of the cabin seems to have slowed based on the progress of the outer walls, and I have begun work on the panelling that requires some long-term stability from them.

Post Script: CW! from church – tell my Dad I say hello!

A Positive Experience with a Spray Foam Installation

January 13, 2015

When Ranta Contracting quoted us on our cabin roof, I accepted the significantly increased price tag and had the roof and gables insulated with spray foam. It doesn’t take much research to realize that it is probably the best product one can install in their building. The cost is more up front, but it saves so much on work and future heating costs, that it must be seriously considered in any construction endeavour.

The insulation was installed by Thunder Bay Insulations and has performed great for the past year, keeping the loft of the cabin constantly toasty warm.

I was surprised and bemused to discover on our return from the tropical heat of southern Ontario that a few long, but thin cracks had appeared in the south side of the roof.

A quick conversation with Kyle at Ranta, and we had an appointment in short order with the owner of the insulation company.

He was quite surprised and overly apologetic when he saw the cracks. We are using the working theory that the cabin has settled slightly unevenly, causing the dramatic stress fractures on the foam.

In short order he personally set up his ladder and repaired the cracks. I am more than satisfied with my experience with him, and would happily recommend his company to anyone else, as I’m sure standard construction techniques are free from these sorts of dangers.

Thank goodness that’s one less thing I have to obsess or worry

A Quick, Temporary Repair to a Broken Car Window

January 12, 2015

Over the holiday break, Kenny and my parents took in The Penguins of Madagascar at the theatre in Waterloo.

You can imagine my concern when I realized that although the movie had ended about an hour earlier, they still weren’t home.
This was compounded when their home phone rang, and upon answering, I was informed by the local police that there had been a 911 call placed by my Mom’s cellphone and they were following up on it.
As it turns out, when they left the theatre, they discovered that their passenger window had been broken and a pair of $10 binoculars and some small change had been stolen. I found it interesting that their GPS was left unmolested. I suppose the advent of cellphone GPS applications has made single purpose GPS units rather less attractive.
Mom had called 911 first, before being directed to call a more local, non-emergency number. I suppose they still follow up regardless. It was a relief to know that they were safe.
I think at first that made Kenny a bit subdued. It was likely a cold, windy drive back from the theatre, and he was quiet when he first returned. It wasn’t until a little later that he opened up a bit more about the movie.
In the meantime, it was New Year’s Eve, and Nana and Papa needed a solution until a glass place opened up to do the repair.
Papa found a sheet of plastic that would fit the bill, and had his roll of duct tape in hand ready to enact a typical repair. I wanted to see if there was some way that we could improve on the standard fix for this situation. I didn’t think that duct tape would be the nicest to his paint and interior trim, at the very least, leaving an icky mess to clean up after the window was repaired.
My solution was to take a length of nylon hose that he could spare, and insert it like a spline all the way around the window opening.

This actually worked a charm, although eventually the pressure of the wind on the plastic did lift the bottom edge and required it to be reset or reinforced with a small piece of tape.

He was able to hold on until Saturday, when Star Auto Glass opened and was able to do the repair for them.
It was a hassle though, cancelling our plans to go out to the family activities on New Year’s Eve. It has gotten me into the frame of mind that perhaps I will not bother locking my vehicles unless there is something of value in them – the thought being that theft of the entire vehicle is very unlikely, while the odds of a broken window in the search for something of value is small, but significant (I have had my vehicles broken into on three occasions in the past fifteen years or so).
Feel free to use the hose as a spline idea – I haven’t patented it yet!

Thinking About the Upcoming Year

January 10, 2015

After a brief hiatus for the holiday season, we are now back at the homestead, and raring to continue our ongoing process of Kaizen.
Some of the projects that are on our minds for the upcoming year are:

Break ground on a workshop
Return to gardening and hopefully make modest expansion there
Improve (move?) the well
Expand the solar system
Continue finishing the cabin
Find time to write more (both of us)
Continue expanding our fiscal inputs (Garstin Computer Services, and Donna monetizing her enthusiasm for writing)
I can’t speak to the success we will have with these projects, but they are most on our minds of late.
It will be interesting to see just how all these things pan out. It seems that one of the first rules of homesteading is that it’s incredibly difficult to predict where you will be required to spend your resources, and just how many resources you will be required to spend :).
Reflecting on the holidays briefly, it was nice to have a celebration this year where our families focused more on simplicity and time with one another, rather than gifts and more material things. We certainly appreciate the thoughtful items we received! But our love of our families flows from who they are, and not what they can give us.
I was a bit disappointed that I was unable to get to church over the holidays. We have many friends there who we miss and would have liked to have given personal best wishes to. Weather seemed to conspire against us.
It was nice to visit my Grandmother again, and have Kenny get another opportunity to see her. I always feel blessed to have had a chance to get to know Grandparents and Great-Grandparents a bit before they left us. I’m sure Kenny will understand how fantastically blessed he is to have such amazing and wonderful Grandparents in his life and so accessible.
I hope that everyone had a nice holiday break, and can find something to look forward to this upcoming year!
Best wishes!