Monday, January 24, 2011


The bedrooms are basically finished, and the guest house is at least 'sleepable' now! Here are the details:
We purchased a natural mattress from OMI for the slab wood bed, and topped it with organic
linens from Coyuchi. The comforter is organic wool from our friends at Prarie Glenn Wool in South Dakota (we'll be getting more of these shortly- they are great). The night stands are Box Elder slabs bracketed to the wall.

The dresser was saved from the landfill and is in the process of being refinished.

Bedroom #2 with similar linens.

I made night stands from salvaged lumber and antique sewing machine bases. The lamps (made from wagon wheel hubs) were found in an antique store and seemed appropriate for the barn:

My mom donated a really nice antique dresser as well:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Solar Sundays Part IX- Finishing up

We purchased Palram's twinwall polycarbonate panels from Farmtek to glaze the collectors. Since it is now the dead of winter, I brought them all inside to warm up before applying the gaskets. I sealed the top edge openings with Tyvek tape, and the bottom edge with a vapor-permeable tape supplied by Farmtek. Next, the perimeter was lined with adhesive-backed gasket strips. Back outside, I put the glazing panels up and covered the seams with cedar trim you can see, it has been a snowy winter so far. The finished solar array: The 'closet' at the far left end of the array houses the supply & return plumbing and wiring before it goes underground: The hot fluid exits the solar array at the top and connects to the 1" pex line below. The tee fitting at the top left leads to a schraeder valve for purging air from the high point of the system. The two valved tees midway down the closet are for a summer bypass loop- this is yet to be completed, but will likely lead to a heat exchanger in an outdoor shower system I'd like to build. The return water enters the array bottom right. Since I separated the 9-panel array into two 'banks', there are two separate supply lines. The two stubbed lines in the middle are for a spring/fall diverting loop which will dump excess heat into our garden beds to preheat the soil- this will be connected later. The diversion is controlled by the 3-way diverter valve at the first tee.
Inside the barn, I installed addition plumbing and controls to tie the solar system in to the existing hydronic system. My dad said it looks like "an organized Rube Goldberg project" and I can't really argue with that. I have managed to fit a 3-zone hydronic system, boiler and the solar hot water controls in about 4 square feet of floorspace...not bad. And it is actually quite simple- The solar heated fluid enters the barn through a pump (the pump is activated by a snap switch inside the first solar collector via a single-zone relay). The pump will send the hot fluid through the in-slab hydronic loops (2- 300 ft lengths of 7/8" pex tubing embedded in the concrete floor) then back to the collectors. Should the slab get too warm (say, spring and fall when not much heat is required), a thermocouple in the slab will signal an aquastat to switch a pair of 3-way diverter valves, thus bypassing the slab and sending the hot fluid to the diversion loop instead. The first diverter valve is located middle left in the photo below and the other in the closet at the collector array. Finally, the two stubbed lines at the top left are to send the hot fluid through a yet-to-be-installed DHW preheat tank. The photo below was taken as I charged the system with glycol, so the temp hoses and bucket-o-glycol are shown as well. Again, there are a lot of dangling wires since the controls for the diversion system are not yet connected, but you get the idea.Here is a shot from inside the utility room (actually just a 2 foot deep closet). The existing hydronic system is on the facing wall, and the solar branch controls are on the left wall.
SOOOO, I'm ready to flip the switch- all we need now is some sun!

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Eccorok'd all over again.

Despite my previous not-so-wonderful experience using Eccorok for the kitchen countertops, I thought I'd have another go at it. This time the project was smaller- making a curved vanity to fit in the silo bathroom. Since I had enough Eccorok left over from the countertop job, and my labor is still free, I could fabricate a $1000 vanity (yes, I got bids) for nearly nothing. Here is the form, made from leftover panels of Skyblend particleboard and other materials I had on hand. The sidewalls are strips of 1/4" plywood bent to the desired radius and held to the form with wood blocks. I cut a piece of XPS foam board for the under mount sink opening and glued it to the base with caulk. The three stubs of PVC pipe, also caulked to the form base, are for the faucet plumbing penetrations. The interior surfaces of the form were given several coats of shellac, then caulked around the perimeter.
I mixed the Eccorok using a cement mixer in the yard, and tinted it with carbon black to match the slate flooring in the bathroom. There are no photos of the mixing and casting process because it was done in EXTREME HASTE- unlike the countertop job (done in the winter) where the Eccorok was very slow to harden, this vanity (done during late summer) set up so fast that I ran out of time trying to pack the material into the mold before it hardened. Within 35 minutes, the Eccorok was rock-hard, and I got to spend a couple hours with hammer and chisel trying to clean the chunks out of the cement mixer that afternoon...apparently, ambient temperature is very critical when working with this stuff! Anyway, here is the rough cast vanity after it cured for a few days and was stripped from the form:

I "wet" polished the vanity using diamond sanding pads and a small amount of water from a spray bottle- just enough to keep the surface wet, but not so much as to make a mess in the barn. Then it was coated with the same Ecotuff Clear Coat used for the countertops. I used smaller pieces of Eccorok (randomly cut from larger squares that I cast along with the vanity), to make my own backsplash tiles. Here's the install:

I'm done with Eccorok for awhile.