Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Finally, some visible progress.

When I have the rare opportunity to get out in public and converse with other humans, I usually get asked, "are you done with that barn/guesthouse/Bed & Breakfast thing yet?" Almost embarrassingly (because I've been working on it for a year and a half now), I have to reply "not yet." The other day somebody followed up my usual response with "...well, what's taking so long?!" Around the time of this most recent encounter, my days- and sometime nights- were being occupied with the sawmill and planer, turning the old timbers into useful lumber in below-zero weather. Even though there is a perfectly good lumber yard only 3 miles from home, I prefer to do it the hard, but meaningful way. Since construction has long since gone the route of mass-produced cookie cutter "houses", it is hard for most people to understand why the process should take longer than a few months anymore. I saw a quote once that read something like "houses shelter the body, but architecture shelters the soul." So we are aiming for good architecture, no matter how long it takes. In preparation for the interior trimwork, Lisa put the final coat of paint on the walls. We choose a soft, antique white Bioshield Clay Paint for the lower level of the barn. It's a zero-VOC, odorless finish that's probably safe enough to drink. After re-sawing the old barn timbers into fresh pieces, I trimmed out the milkhouse (the entryway into the barn, which has a coatroom, bathroom and utility closet).
I dropped the roof joists down from the high finished ceiling to give them a nice exposed look. I cut square holes in the drywall to slide the timbers through and attached them to the studs inside.
And the south-facing windows in the main barn are all trimmed out. Now it is time to start on that pile of timbers that we've been stepping around...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A New Tool!

In over a year of housebuilding, I finally got to purchase a new power tool- a Makita Beam Planer. That's the good news. However, the excitement of playing with a new tool quickly wore off as I spent the better part of three days trying to "pretty up" the already-installed ceiling joists. Normally, this job is done on the ground, prior to installing the beams. Since my original plan was to maintain a rustic look to the interior of the barn, I decided to leave the beams with their freshly-sawn finish. But plans change, and clearly they needed to be cleaned up to match the other woodwork I was installing. So I removed the second floor decking, setup the scaffolding, and created the new sport of Upside-down Blind Beam Planing.
The other reason this should be done prior to installation is the MESS- By the time I had finished the first few beams, the floor was covered in a layer of wood shavings and sawdust. But the look of the finished beams is dramatically better and I'm glad I took the time to do it.

Friday, December 05, 2008


After bringing in a load of fresh timbers to start the post-and-beam framing, the humidy inside the barn went off the charts. The building is so airtight, there is virtually zero natural air exchange and the moisture coming out of the drying timbers had no means of escape. So I hurried and got the Venmar HRV (which has been sitting in a box for over a year now!) hooked up and running. Here is the unit hanging from the ceiling in the utility closet. I connected some temporary ductwork through the wall, just to get the fresh air into the main area of the barn.
The HRV works by means of a counterflow heat exchanger, which maximizes the transfer of heat from the stale exhaust air to the fresh supply air from outside. With claims of 92% efficiency, it seemed to defy the laws of thermodynamics in my mind, so I was skeptical at first. But it works great! Inside the unit, the outgoing air flows one direction and the incoming air flows the opposite direction, so that the coolest outgoing air just barely warms the cold incoming air, and the warmest outgoing air warms the already-sorta-warm incoming air. By arranging the airflows in this way, the incoming air captures nearly all of the heat from the outgoing air before it leaves the house. Of course, I had to put a thermometer in the fresh air duct to see how well it was doing- On a day when the outside temp was around 10F, and the building was at 58F, the fresh incoming air was being 'preheated' to about 53 degrees. At this rate, the HRV will pay for itself in no time!