Tuesday, July 31, 2007


I have a vision. Not some heat-induced hallucination, but rather something that I came up with months ago while sitting in the house watching the snowflakes fall. The vision had to do with a 'circle theme' in the barn. It started with the idea of building an attached silo. Then it seemed like a great idea to install a curving pathway of bricks in the floor that would guide you through the building. Then, I wanted to incorporate curves into other architectural details like an arched roof, curved walls and countertops, etc. Very cool indeed. However, now I actually have to build these things that I've concocted in my head, and each un-straight element is going to present a new challenge. The current (and possibly most difficult) one is the brick pathway. I started by pounding in some reference stakes and tracing out the pathway in the compacted sand layer that I worked so hard to create. After a few changes to the shape, it looked pretty good, so I started digging (again!). After all that time spent putting dirt into the barn, now I'm shoveling it back out. Don't ask. But only a small amount had to be removed to provide a thickened slab under where the brick pathway would follow. After removing about 3" of fill from this area, I compacted everything one more time and it was DONE.

With Lisa's help, a layer of poly was put over the entire area to provide the vapor barrier once the slab is poured. You can vaguely see the outline of the pathway under the plastic, and next I will have to build special forms to contain the pathway while the slab is poured....

Monday, July 30, 2007

Heat acclimatization training.

Its hot. Really hot! But i'm not complaining, because there are no bugs, no rain, and I've got a nice sandy beach to cool off in anytime. However, temps in the 90s do slow progress somewhat, and it doesn't seem like getting up early helps much. As soon as you start shoveling, you also start sweating! With the silo formed up, the next task was to put in the last formboard for the barn wall and install the remaining insulation. Then the extra gravel that Keith piled up in and around the area was shoveled in... ...and then compacted.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Rectangles are for Squares...

Okay, now things started getting a little more tricky. The attached faux silo that I decided to build with the barn requires its own round section of concrete foundation, and it needs to be accurately formed so that the cylindrical silo walls will fit properly when the framing begins. So I started by building a 10 foot diameter disc by cutting, then gluing and screwing together radiused sections of plywood. It only took 2 sheets of plywood (green treated plywood for the bottom surface that would be in contact with the concrete, and standard plywood for the other) to build the whole thing. This will eventually be used as the sillplate for the wall framing, but for now it will act as the jig for getting the concrete forms built to the correct size. Shown below is the sillplate disc placed on the leveled silo site. After checking, double-checking, and then checking all my measurements again (and I'm still hoping I have calculated everything properly!), I pounded in stakes every 16" around the perimeter. After the stakes were trued up and braced, I attached pieces of Masonite siding which bend nicely to form the circle. I also had to form a short 'entryway' section of wall to connect the silo to the main barn.

Finally, I attached 2 layers of 1" thick extruded polystyrene insulation to the inside of the masonite, plus a base of 2" insulation to the floor, and taped all seams with Tyvek tape.

While this all looks pretty straightforward now, it actually took me a day and half just to complete the silo form!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Keith came back out with a couple of guys and we leveled the site, installed foamboard insulation, and started backfilling with more sand/gravel. A rainstorm forced an early quitting time, but Keith piled up enough extra gravel nearby so that I could finish the job the old fashioned way on my own- with a shovel.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

After a few days of digging trenches and laying pipe, I finished all the necessary under-slab drain plumbing (the white pipes), as well as the electrical service entrance (the gray pipe) and the water supply (black pipes). The top photo shows the Thermopex (insulated hydronic dual-PEX tubing) that was extended about 30 feet out from the barn, to eventually be connected to a central water storage heating system (this is part of the "master plan" to heat all buildings from one highly-efficient heat source). The bottom left photo is the main floor bathroom and utility room area, and in the bottom right photo you can see the drain line that will come from the master bathroom in the upper floor of the barn's silo. Today I covered all these lines with backfill. Keith is expected to return tomorrow so that we can reset the form boards and level out the site before the insulation is put down. Even though it is 90+ degrees outside, I want to celebrate by going out for a bike ride!

Like a kid again.

Back when I was 4 years old, all I needed was a pile of dirt and my arsenal of Tonka trucks to keep me in a perpetual state of bliss. After several birthday parties, I had acquired a pretty respectable fleet of kid-sized excavating equipment. The bulk of the earthmoving jobs were done with my front end loader, dumptruck, and the bulldozer- my pride-and-joy (I think I slept with it at night!). I must've pushed that dozer a thousand miles, converting seemingly useless piles of dirt into butter-smooth 14" wide super-highways. NOTHING else mattered. Three decades and 8 years of higher education later, here I am back in the sandbox. The work is a little harder. The weather feels alot harsher. And ironically, even though I'm building a house, a dream, and a future, it all seems less significant than it did 30 years ago. Funny.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Here we go...

Keith came over with his skidsteer the day after I got the permit and we removed the concrete footings from the old barn. It only took a couple of hours. The next day, he returned with his crew of 4 guys to level the site and put up the formboards. Now its up to me to install all the under-slab utilities (plumbing, electrical, hydronics) before they can return to finish the forming. Finally some progress! -shawn

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Happy Anniversary

I finally got the Golden Ticket- A building permit is now in my custody. But it didn't come as you would have expected. I've had countless conversations with the Building Official and answered dozens of questions about every conceivable detail of the plan. I even learned how to calculate the maximum loads on the foundation and structural members of the framing just to prove my point...you'd think I was building a space shuttle! But still no permit was delivered, despite promises that it was coming. So on the 2 month anniversary of my application, I called on the Biwabik City Administrator and described the situation. The reply was something like, "if the Building Official told you it was okay, then go ahead." With that, he signed a permit and handed it to me! So after 60 days of fighting the good fight, all it apparantly took was a trip to city hall and some second-hand information. I should've thought of this weeks ago. -Shawn

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Seems like if it could go wrong, it did this week! First, it was the critter invasion around the Homestead. It all started with our until-now benign pet woodchuck who suddenly decided to make a buffet line out of our gardens one night. We no longer have a pet woodchuck. Lisa replanted the garden. Next was the discovery that a mouse (hopefully just one!) made its home inside the blower housing of my truck. Apparently my turning on the fan killed the mouse (imagine a really high RPM gerbil wheel and you get the picture). A couple days later my truck smelled like some disgusting combination of urine and decaying flesh. I took apart the blower housing and removed the corpse while wearing surgical gloves and a respirator. I think the only thing worse would be having to do this procedure twice, which is exactly what happen next. Seems the little rodents also shacked up in the venting of Lisa's old car, which has been parked in the garage unused for quite awhile. Yeah, that was a good day. I won't even begin about the bats that were sleeping under the soffits or the hornet nest that I found the hard way under one of the Adirondack chairs in the yard...what, are we living in the WILDERNESS or something!? Fortunately, I had a chance to clean up from all this fun before our water system failed. It started with pressure loss when we were taking showers. Then the water slowly turned black and smelled like sulfur. At this point I realized the pump was running continuously and something was very wrong. Anybody heard of dielectric corrosion? Apparently I skipped chemistry class the day it was presented, because neither had I. It is believed that using dissimilar metals in plumbing connections can in certain cases cause an electrochemical reaction in which one of the components corrodes away. I still don't know if I believe it, but something has caused a section of galvanized pipe to corrode completely in half in the 3 years since I installed the well. We pulled up the pump and its 85 feet of pipe on the 4th of July with the help of my parents. Replaced the corroded part with a new coupling on the 5th and lowered everything back into the well with the help of my brother-in-law. For two days, the water looked like black mud from all the disruption, but it is clearing up finally. Today, I had to take apart and clean out the clogged lines in the water softener and the clothes washer, as they were both completely stopped. But at least I could take a nice shower when the work was done. But all this aside, the GOOD NEWS is that the Building Official has granted the verbal "go-ahead" on building the foundation for the barn!!! After considerable deliberation, I guess I finally convinced him that everything was okay. I don't actually have the golden ticket (a.k.a the building permit) in my possession yet, but we will proceed anyway. Hopefully, things will pick up from here on out.