Friday, December 10, 2004

Two Drops Forward, One Drop Back

The roof is more than 3/4 complete, but it leaks in four places. One is the vent flashing. This should be fixed by installing a new one.

The second one is in the skylight that has been flashed, but the roofing above it has not been installed. Thus all the water from 66 square feet of roof runs right under the flashing. Still, it didn’t leak when it had only "paper" flashing. This should be fixed when the additional roof pieces go on.

Third is in the living room above where the aforementioned roofing is to be installed. Should likewise be fixed. Still, it’s incredible that the roof is leaking at all.

Fourth, and the most disturbing one, is in the living room in an already roofed section. This area has never leaked before. The only source for water has to be the very upper edge of the roof that won’t get capped until the whole thing is on. Let’s hope so. I don’t really want to contemplate the alternatives.

The roof is made up of only 8 giant, 10" thick panels. The seams have been glued, and foamed. Then they were foamed again, once in place, and self-adhesive flashing was laid over all the seams (only 4 seams). Atop all this is a 5/8" layer of plywood that is offset to every seam, and is glued and screwed in place. Over all of this is a layer of Tri-Flex 30 roofing "paper". A tough, hurricane rated, polyethyline roofing material. The curbs for the skylights is equally impressivelly flashed. Still...

Never underestimate the persistence of water.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Schedule 40

I loathe days like today. I spent it driving a hundred miles to make 3 stops. Worse than this, I was under a tight deadline to get to my last stop before they closed at 4:30pm. This was necessitated for wont of a vent pipe. The two feet of 4" vent pipe that will stick up above the roof. Often this is left as the 4" of black ABS, painted or covered by some metal roof jack. In my case this was to be, like everything else, stainless steel.

The Zs had volunteered to come up with a piece through their contacts, but suddenly on Wednesday they realized that they were about to cover that area of the roof, and they had no solution. I was in Astoria all day Thursday, and they agreed to solve the problem that day. When I returned home, I swung into the new driveway in the darkness and directed my headlights onto the roof. Little or no progress and no vent tube.

Thus I found myself this morning having to come up with a piece of pipe. Being Friday it was important to get something that day in case our spate of rain-free weather continued. The gods were dangling the good weather in front of us, and we were blowing it. In these past 3 days the roof could have been virtually finished.

I turned to Northwest Metal Products again. They were as responsive as usual, but if we were going to do something with what was on hand, I would have use "schedule 40" stainless steel pipe. I have seen and used the term often, but like so many things in life that we are familiar with, in truth we have no clue what they mean. In this case schedule 40 is the common minimum standard for DWV pipe, for example.

What I had originally wanted was a very thin piece of tubing as a mere cosmetic cover to the pipe or even to couple to the system via what is called a "hubless" coupler. In either case I had in mind something maybe 1/32 of an inch thick. I learned that pipe is really only specified by its outer dimension. I then made the wrongheaded logical jump to conclude in my own mind that surely schedule 40 4" stainless steel pipe would naturally be much thinner than 4" plastic pipe. This notion is further obscured to the novice because schedule 40 pipe is routinely referred to as "thin wall" pipe in the industry even though ABS DWV pipe is 1/8" thick.

In any case, although a c-note to acquire, I ordered it under a bit of duress, and then fled my house to make my own schedule

Boy was I surprised when North West presented me with a nicely polished hunk of tubing weighing in at a good 20 pounds. Remember, it is only 2 feet long. Turns out that schedule 40 is exactly that, a schedule. It's not a formula or a chart, but a schedule where one must look up the material, and nominal diameter and with this determine what schedule pipe to choose to meet one's other requirements. Turns out I really wanted was schedule 10S or even 5S stainless tubing.

One end of my vent pipe is precisely cut at 30 degrees to match the slope of the roof, and northwest had polished it up quite nicely. It is really too beautiful to mount on the roof, and I'm considering keeping it in the living room as a monument to how even the best intentioned modest projects can turn to folly and excess.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Metallica (Photos)

The stainless steel roof is starting to take shape. Today was the first of a few forecast clear days. The Zs got their first skylight sealed up and it is a thing of beauty. Thanks to the custom made stainless "saddle" I had made and some different side flashing there are up to 4 layers of water proofing with no silicon or caulking of any kind. This is waterproofing the old fashioned way, that is not trying to block water with high-tech sealents, but giving the water an easier path to ground. About 1/3 of the roof is complete, but it was too late to take pictures of it so here are some from earlier in the day. Click on the thumbs for larger images.

Workers in the mist

Working from the inside out

This doesn't work when it's raining

Doesn't look different from the south

In Oregon you can't have enough roofs

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Venting (Photo)

There are many things on this house that I'm doing for the first time. One of these is a complete drain-waste-vent (DWV). The drain-waste part isn't that difficult to understand conceptually. After all, as we all know shit flows downhill. But figuring out how to get the vents back to the main stack so that I didn't have to put another hole in the roof was a challenge.

I called for a preliminary inspection before I glued the whole thing together. Matt was nice enough to come out even though it's not routine to inspect unfinished work. He told me my "wet vent" plan wasn't going to fly even though my piping is all well oversized.

It is one of the advantages of a small house. Using the largest possible piping doesn't cost much when the run is only 7'.

I redid the venting, but I didn't like the result after I glued it up. 4" pipe turns out to be tricky because when it is dry-fit it will often not fully seat in the fitting. Even so, it's really hard to take apart. However, once glued, the unset glue acts like a lubricant letting the parts fully engage. Unfortunately this tight fit means that the dimensions shrink. It's easy to lose a half inch or more once the glue goes in. This caused me no end of problems.

Likewise getting all the angles right. It's not so easy in 3D. Understanding that a 45 degree angle pipe needs another 45 degrees to change direction to 90 degrees isn't hard. But what if that 45 degrees is dropping out of the cieling pointing NNE mating to a pipe running east with a 45 degree bend to the south but canted 45 degrees up? The best answer I found is to buy a whole lot of 22, 45, and 90 degree bends and return the ones you don't use.

My first DWV

The photo shows the completed and entire DWV for the house. The bath was deliberately backed up against the kitchen sink to minimize plumbing and to make the hot water run as short as possible.

I did have to redo the water closet (WC a.k.a. toilet, crapper, shitter, can, head, etc.) and sink portion for the reasons cited above and because I wasn't satisfied that it was an elegant enough solution.

Next hot and cold water.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Solar Story

Part of the plan for the house is a small solar array (1500 W). You might think, as I did, that with the solar industry over 25 years old, that getting the exact product one wants would be easy. It is not. There are few vendors of small systems (sub 2500W) that will sell power back to the utility (grid-tie) and at the same time offer battery backup. I had placed an order for such a product from Xantrex (yet another Canadian company). The grid-tie part was to ship in August, but August brought only an announcement that they had decided not to make the product after all.

This left Outback Power Systems of Washington with the right products. They are a private and relatively new company. There website is horribly out of date, and they seem like the kind of garage company that could fold any minute.

I held off waiting to see if any new products or mergers would be announced. So yesterday I placed the order for an Outback system. I only need the inverter and some mounting equipment. I have had the solar panels for nearly two years now.

Night Shift

By 6pm it is pitch black outside. Clouds or mist routinely obscure the moon. It is dark, cold and quiet in the house. Through the plumbing that I'm working on I can hear the haunting drips in the septic tank. Like listening to the bowels of a cavern from its entrance. I have set a tarp out to collect rainwater and direct it into the empty tank. Even though the tank is concrete I got conflicting reports as to whether or not it would pop up out of the ground: a boat floating in a sea of mud. To be safe I'm directing water into the 1000 gallon tank.

Now that the house is essentially water tight, I thought I would be working late into the night on various aspects of the interior. This as proven not to be the case. By 7 or 8 pm I am done for the night. 500 watts of light (actually a 65W fluourescent) is just not enough to keep me from wanting to hibernate. By contrast, I could stay up to the wee hours working on this computer. When it comes to physical labor, I am definitely diurnal.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

First Light (Photos)

Seven of the eleven windows are now installed. Along with the four skylights, it makes the interior light and open even on a gray day. This is just as I expected based on my obseration that it's not so dark and gloomy even on a rainy day in Oregon, it's only dark and gloomy inside homes where the windows are small and/or shaded by deep eaves. Once the large clerestory windows go in, it should be even more compelling.

Work on the roof is paused while I have some custom made flashing made up for the skylights. The flashing that we received from the metal roof company was not adequate. These parts might be ready at the end of this week.

The chimney is poking up above the roof line. Soon there may be heat, something I have not experienced in the past two years except in brief visits to other's homes.

I have settled on the tile for the house, having found an exdellent supplier in Portland called Pratt and Larson. Great showroom, nice people, excellent products, and some products that are close to affordable. But tiling is only in my dreams right now.

In the meanwhile, with the number one priority on hold, the subs have begun on the porch. I'm gluing up the drain-waste-vent line into its final tentacular configuration. We have been blessed with dry weather for over two weeks now. This can only mean that when the roof is ready to be applied it will rain cats and dogs for several months.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

A Farmer Is...

A farmer is many things, but often a mechanic. I got the parts for my tractor back. A rebuilt steering valve and one new fuel injector (of three that were cleaned and tested). My compact little tractor is compact in every way including how every aspect of this bulldog of a machine is crammed together. His name is "Tommy," so dubbed by his previous owners, to which I have appended, "Mow".

Early yesterday morning, in the still frigid hour before the mists had lifted and the sun was only a faint hope, I took my bucket of parts and set up a crude table under the roof of the open shed that Tommy Mow calls home. Everything was cold. Stuff that started out warm, like my tools, my hands and my feet, quickly numbed in the water logged air. As my fingers stiffened, getting the small nuts in place proved increasingly a challenge. Nothing is as cold as cold steel.

I managed to snuggle the 3 injectors into their holes, holding back the wiring harness like holding back some large artery during surgery. Once installed, the fuel hoses were clamped back in place.

Next it was on to the steering valve. The name belies its size and especially it's heft. Weighing in at some 20 pounds of delicate hydraulic valve, it is disguised as layers of steel arranged in plates like a Masterlock, yet not bigger than a large cinnamon roll. Protruding from one end is the steering column. And therein lies the challenge of extricating it or placing it back inside the dash. The instuctions call for removing the engine drive shaft to give it room to drop out, but I'd discovered that by removing a couple of dashboard wiring harnesses, and pushing the dash back, I could get it out without the complication of messing with the drive shaft.

I guess there is one other thing to relate. All Deere hydraulic equipment manuals have the picture of a finger being injected by a high-pressure break in the hydraulic line. Accompanying the image is a statement, "Escaping fluid under pressure can penetrate the skin causing serious injury. If an accident occurs, see a doctor immediately. Any fluid injected into the skin must be surgically removed within a few hours or gangrene may result. Doctors unfamiliar with this type of injury may call the Deere & Co. Medical Department in Moline, Illinois." No number is given.

Putting it back proved more challenging than removing it. I had to hold the entire, chilled weight with one arm, push the dash back with the other, and carefully thread the whole mess up through the dashboard. Once in, it sat precariously, suspended only by the threads of four bolts, while I got a nut threaded on. The front two nuts were no problem, but I could hardly get my fingers in to put the back ones on, finally getting the last one to thread by shear luck.

Once securely in place, hooking up the four hydraulic lines to its base was an equal challenge. When disassembling it, two of the compression fittings had turned the tubes they fit around into water slides and plunged down the lines and under the chassis somewhere. I'm a bit slow, so it wasn't until after this happened again that I got the bright idea to put a zip-tie around the line, below the nut so that it could only fall a short way.

I started by retrieving the two lost nuts and securing them with zip-ties. Then one by one I followed the sequence of placing a small o-ring in the downfacing side of the fitting. Then carefully so as not to dislodge the o-ring, I moved the hydraulic line over, and hand threaded the nut.

The quarters were close. In fact, I had purchased a whole set of wrenches to do this work. Truth be told, this is the main benefit of doing your own repairs, buying new tools. Among the new tools was a set of "stubbies." Special, short versions of wrenches for exactly this situation.

It is important to have the right wrenches. There is a lot of sharp, cold steel around. A wrench slipping under pressure could cause a nasty injury.

The four lines hooked up, I put enough screws back in to hold the battery tray and started it up to check for leaks. After a few turns of the motor it came to life. It sounded great, the new injector making a big difference. No leaks in the hydraulics. I raised the bucket without fluid spraying everywhere. I increase the rpm and repeated the motion. Still good. I buttoned up the rest, putting the muffler, air cleaner, and other parts back on and finally buttoning up the side panels.

I proudly rode my rejuvinated tractor down the road to the new house. Far from being a real farmer, but closer anyhow.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

A Roof of One's Own

Today was a mini-milestone of sorts. The roof, which has many layers, gained another one as the final piece of plywood was set in place.

To give the roof its sleek appearance, there is a layer of plywood that covers the SIP roof and extends 2 feet out in every direction. To support this, what would normally be rafter tails were created out of clear cedar, mounted to clear cedar headers and bolted to the side of the house in 8 foot sections. The Zoeller brothers did a marvelous job. It was more like building furniture than the way a house is normally constructed.

The outside sheets of plywood are "good one side" product called Breckenridge and stained to match the cedar. They are the visible part that overhang. Regular 5/8" ply is used on the rest. We came close to running out, and the last row of infill was a patchwork of remaining pieces.

I now feel the roof is quite leak-proof even though it is only protected by a tarp.

What next? Time to cut some holes in it. 4 skylights, a vent and the chimney. I worked on the chimney today. 20' of double-wall stainless steel that sits on a surprisingly small shelf.

After the holes and their various fixtures are installed, then the roof will be papered and finally the metal roof will be installed. Maybe by Thanksgiving... God willin' and the crick don't rise.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Counting Crows

I had the monthly trip to Astoria today. I usually go grocery shopping as the last stop before heading home for the obvious reason of keeping the cold things cold longer. Today was different as I wanted to get home immediately following my noon meeting. Thus I went grocery shopping first, tossing the groceries into a cardboard box in the bed of the truck.

I emerged from my two-hour meeting to find that crows had eaten a whole bag of nuts and had started in on a loaf of bread. There must have been a half dozen of them cawing over my dinner including one with his face into the top of the box and disemboweling a loaf of bread. I nearly doubled over laughing. It was a scene out of "The Birds." Most of them flew away as I approached but one sat unperturbed on the roof of the cab. I think he was still there as I drove off.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Oh Canada

A surprising number of elements of my new house are made in Canada. Starting at the ground level and working up we have the bentonite clay foundation waterproofing system. Although I purchased it through Carlisle, a Texas company, the material itself comes from Canada.

Of course, the major portion of the house, the SIPs (structural insulated panels) were made by EnerGreen located in Aldergrove, British Columbia. But the panels themselves are sandwiched between OSB that was also made in Canada. In fact virtually all the OSB and plywood purchased for this project came from Canada.

For roofing underlayment and house wrap I'm using Tri-Flex from Ontario, Canada. The stainless steel, double-wall chimney from Selkirk, whose corporate address is 1301 W PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH HWY, Texas, nonetheless arrived with "Made in Canada" boldly stamped on all the boxes with 50% of the carton printed in French.

I decided to use a type of plastic plumbing tubing called PEX. Much to my surprise the tubing itself was, you guessed it, made in Canada.

Although my Mora wood cookstove is not made in Canada, the only distributor in North America is in Nelson, BC. I drove up there this year to pick it up.

I will need a water purification and filtering system. Thus far the two leading contenders are from Ontario.

Even the thistle in the field is Canadian, but I tell my neighbors that when I was growing up in Canada we called it "American thistle."

Monday, October 25, 2004

Everything is Broken

Stuff is breaking left and right. The hydraulic steering on my tractor failed, spraying a fine mist of oil onto my new parking area. And because there is one hydraulic pump for the whole tractor it means nothing works at the moment. I extricated the deceptively heavy item from under the dash and brought it into John Deere for rebuilding.

My truck's fuel return lines seem to be slowly degrading in their bath of biodiesel. I have to replace them before they decide to start leaking. There may be a small oil leak from the rear of the engine block.

My little two-computer home wireless network decided it had had enough after 15 months, and has gone on strike. 24 hours of pleading and cajoling have led to no concessions. As of this moment talks have broken down completely, and I've locked it out.

One of two memory slots in my other computer died, and occasionally it won't type an "h" or backspace because the connector for the keyboard is loose. The fix for now is to squeeze the center of the laptop from the top and the bottom to reseat the connector.

My Nikon FE2 lasted me more than 20 years before I sold it and is presumeably working just as well for its new owner. My 3 year old digital takes great pictures, but it had some problems from day one and after I used it during hay bucking season I had to dissassemble and reassemble it. I'm sure it's not long for this world. A shocking lesson in the disposable nature of technology. A better camera will cost less to buy new than fixing this one.

And so it goes. Entropy 7, Marc 0.

The only upside is that not having to use a laptop as an Internet gateway means that I can use it to serve up music from my ripped CD-collection. Thus I am listening to music for the first time in 9 months.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Night Moves (Photos)

It seemed like it might turn out to be a sunny morning from the rich colors I could see on the leaves from my bedroom window. Still, it can be deceptive in the morning if the sun rises under the clouds. When I finally hauled myself out of bed at 9:30, I could see right away from the intense light burning off the mists that it was going to start out clear.

(click for larger image)

I expected the Zoeller crew to be down working on my house; taking advantage of the break in the weather. But they weren’t there. I left a message for Jordan saying that I didn’t know how the weather was where he was at, but at my place it looked like a fine day to be roofing.

I worked on the plumbing all day. It’s very much like my favorite boyhood activity, playing with Lego. But in this case there are rules and a final test in the form of an inspection. Naturally, I was short several pieces. Well not short really. I had lots of spare parts, but they weren’t the right ones.

I’ve chosen to make the drain-waste-vent (DWV) system entirely of ABS (black) plastic piping. This choice was dictated by not wanting to use any PVC (though I couldn’t avoid it in the perimeter drain around the foundation) and not being able to figure out how to get or handle cast iron piping on my own.

Around 4pm or thereabouts, the Zoeller’s pull up ready to work on putting the last layer of decking on my roof. The day has been remarkably fine and I wonder to myself as to why they are showing up now. But they set to work and haul the first sheet of plywood up onto the roof. As someone paralyzed by heights, watching these two work as a team to manage large, awkward loads up a 7 in 12 (30 degree) slope is spell-binding.

They barely get the first panel in place when they are called off to go herd some wayward cattle (not theirs) back home. They return at dusk with flood lights in hand. Parking their truck at the top of the driveway and pushing the front wheels up onto a load of gravel, they are able to shine the head lights on the roof.

They work this way until they are just one panel away from finishing the southern and highest row, when the rains start. Wisely, and much to my amazement, Jordan orders his brother to start packing it in for the night. I was surprised that he didn’t try to push to complete the row. It’s 11pm by the time they unfurl the 1000 square feet of tarp back over the roof to protect it from the rain.

I can’t wait to go take a look at the results in the morning. It will finally start to look like a building with a roof.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Working Under a Tarp

For the past year and a half I have been protected by tarps. The manufactured home I live in is on its third set of tarps. My new home is under two, new, blue tarps. And I have tarps over a number of piles of lumber here and there.

Tarps as an economy roof of sorts are a fixture of existence in the country. It is important to distinguish between temporary uses like the one on my new house, from long term use as a substitute for a new roof like the one at my current shack. Of course, sinking a few hundred dollars a year into tarps (and blue ones only last a year here) is a pretty cost effective compared to putting out $5,000 or more for a good roof.

By far the most oft tarped structure is a trailer or manufactured home.
I've often wondered why the tarp companies don't make the tarps in roof patterns. I imagine a tautly drawn tarp roof with the patter of shingles or adobe clay tiles would look almost indestiguishable from the real thing. Especially at high speed in a car, and only glimpsing it through the untended yard.

Really it should be agains the law to sell a manufactured house without eaves for use in Oregon. Like my current home, the water runs down the outside walls and destroys the flooring and structure of the dwelling. Smart people put a second roof over the first right away or else maintain them impeccably.

The tarp on my new house admitted 3 gallons of water last week, but the crew refitted it and there was barely a drop in there after the storms of the last few days. The iffy weather has not admitted to any roof time, and it's about to get worse with the possibility of snow next week.

I've learned (I think) that if one is going to put tarps on for longterm use, the best strategy is to put two on at once, one atop the other. In this way, when the first tarp gets destroyed by sun and wind, it will still be able to act as a shield for the good tarp underneath. Once a tarps weave opens up, you might as well be using cheese cloth. The ones billed as heavy duty (often brown on one side, silver on the other) do last longer. I have 3 that are on their second year. I've also put the brown side facing up on my roof in a desperate attempt to achieve some level of solar heating this winter.

Meanwhile I'm working on the interior, roughing in the plumbing and framing the rooms. If we get a break in the weather, I think it will take a few days to put the next layer of plywood on the roof. After that it will take several days to cut the holes in for the chimney, vent and 4 skylights. Finally there would be putting the roof itself on.

After that, the doors and windows would need to be installed before I'm ready for winter. I figure that should be no later than Christmas.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Turning Old Wood into New

October 13, 2004

Another stunning day. I planed down more wood that will be the living room, bedroom and den floors. 2” thick, 8” to 12” wide fir planks. Many of them so covered in grime and oil I’ve taken to leaving them out in the rain to wash off. My new Delta 13” planer is a miracle tool. Stick a piece of 50-year old, scarred wood in one end, and fresh lumber comes out the other. Actually it’s better than fresh lumber. While not old growth it certainly has more character, is straighter, and even with the bits bugs have taken out of it, stronger than modern wood. There are the holes and black iron stains from old nails, and the characteristic patterns indicating that they came from big trees. And few could afford to line their floors today with 1.5” x 12” planks of solid wood.

As great as my Delta planer is, it struggles with 12” lumber in its 13” maw. I struggle too, because most of the planks are 10-foot plus and a few at 16 feet. The planer can at best take off 1/16th of an inch at a time. I’m taking off a half inch or more. That means a minimum of 8 passes. The bigger planks can really only go 1/32nd at a time or up to 16 passes to get them into shape.

The blades for the planer are $35 a set, and last through about 16 planks or so. I learned the hard way not to use the planer as a cleaning tool. The grit in the floor dulled a set of blades in one pass. Now, in addition to combing through each plank to remove nails and bits of nails, I wire brush the surface first. The whole process takes up to one hour per plank. I have perhaps 20 planks done and I need 20 more.

It is great being outdoors all day doing this, but it is fatiguing, noisy and dirty work. The planks need to be supported at input and output and I do that manually. Yes, I should set up rollers. Thanks for the suggestion. The tops clean off in a pass or two, but the sides remain filthy and within a few passes the tops of my jeans and the belly of my shirt are covered in grime.

There is a pile of shavings that stack up at the foot of the table on which the planer is mounted. So far I’ve just spread them around in the immediate vicinity, but I may have to start bagging and transporting them elsewhere.

It’s all worth it. The wood is heavy, straight and full of character. Before it becomes my floor it will need to have it’s edges trimmed, perhaps tongue-and-grooved, set in place, nailed, sanded, and then finished. I’m likely to top nail it with a can of old square-head nails that one of my neighbors retrieved from a dark corner of his barn. It’s a generous gift. The old nails sell for 25 cents a piece in town.

I now own a 500W work light and have started to putter around in the house after hours. This is extending the work day, but unless I get shut-in soon, I’ll likely be driven out by the cold. The Z-brothers returned today with the east and west tines. The got half of them on the building, but needed to make an adjustment to the eastern edge before proceeding. The weather is expected to turn nasty on Saturday and they won’t have the next layer of roofing on by then so we will have to batten down the hatches and await clear weather before continuing further.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Home Depot v. Lowe's

I got a late start, but finally went on another epic journey to town. This time only Hillsboro, about 2 hours away. My main quest was for plumbing supplies and more lumber. There are 3 Home Depots in the area, including the one I prefer on T-V highway in Hillsboro. There, along a natureless suburban collector road with strip malls on one side and light industrial and warehousing on the other, is a Home Depot and Lowe’s sharing the same former farmland. They have connected parking lots with a mere 100 feet of pavement separating the two behemoths.

I was once accosted in the parking lot by a shopper carrying a bag, who exclaimed, “this is great. Just go to one store and get a price and take it next door. They won’t be undersold, so they give you 10% off the price of the other guy.” Then he showed me some tool that he’d probably saved an extra $3.50 on.

I usually shop at Home Depot just because Lowe’s feels too expensive. At Home Depot everything is in a state of controlled chaos. It’s clear that the personnel have some other agenda than helping you. It seems to be the choice of others too, and there are always lines at the paint counter and the registers. Parking is more difficult and sometimes even getting a cart.

At Lowe’s even the most mundane electrical parts are stocked like a department store display case. It’s serene inside, well lit, and nicely organized. While I was there one employee was restacking 2x4s into an ever so neat arrangement. Everyone asks you if they can help you. Lowe’s must have plenipotentiary mystery shoppers who are empowered to fire people on the spot if they fail to acknowledge a customer.

Because I was shopping for bathroom and kitchen faucets, I checked out Lowe’s first. I spot checked the quality of their neatly displayed lumber and their prices. There fixtures display was impeccable and at eye level. I’m sure I was asked if I needed help 3 times just on my way in. I looked over several models and then went to Home Depot.

Home Depot was its predictable self. The lumber looked awful and was going to need a lot of picking over. The prices were within pennies of being the same. Their bathroom display was a mess. There racks were up high, making it impossible to actually touch most of the products. And Lowe’s seemed to have what I needed. I grabbed a couple of things that I could only get at HD, and left for Lowe’s.

My first stop was lumber. I passed by the line-less contractor checkout, staffed by a small Asian women who appeared to be looking for things to do. They had everything in good shape except they were down to their last gnarly 2x8x12s. I mentioned this to the young man staking 2x4s and within a few minutes the aisle was blocked off and a new block of lumber was forklifted into place and unwrapped.

I stood at the ABS plumbing fittings display for about an hour, drawing in hand, picking out pieces for my drain, waste, vent (DWV) system. But they had every single thing and every item was in the right bin. Something I’d never experienced at Home Depot.

When I went looking for a work light a quick question to an employee (who, by the way, promptly interrupted a conversation with another employee to attend to me) got not just directions but an escort to the right spot and a pointer to an alternative fluorescent model that was actually what I was looking for.

I made my way back to the contractor checkout with my two carts. I don’t think anyone had checked out at the contractor aisle since I’d entered the store. The Asian woman’s badge read, “Toshie.” Her fluency was not very good, but in the amiable, service-oriented way of the Japanese, she began to methodically scan my order. Her inexperience showed at once. Veteran and harried checkers at Home Depot often find one good tag for an item, lock onto it like a top gun pilot and squeeze the trigger repeatedly at that same tag until they reach the number of like items one is buying. Toshie was counting them up and then scanning one, walking back to the cash register and then checking to make sure that it had registered.

I was in no hurry and there was no line so I was more amused and bit in disbelief that Lowe’s would place such an inexperienced person on their contractor counter. And then again, what was an older Japanese woman doing working a cash register there anyway? A good story untold no doubt.

The bar codes on the ABS tubing proved entirely unscannable and the computer didn’t seem to able to generate a discount on the bulk items I’d purchased. Somewhat reluctantly, and at my urging, she called for help. A swarthy young man was there before the receiver hit the cradle. With a few short keystrokes he was able to determine that the discounts would only show at the end. Then he patiently read off the numbers for the pipes. We were back in business.

Then it came to count a whole shopping cart load of plumbing connectors. I shoveled them from one cart into another as Toshie scanned them.

“Toshie-san wa Nihon-jin des ka?” I asked using the few words of Japanese I know.

Astonished at first, “Hai,” she replied. “You speak Japanese?”

“Skoshi Nihongo o hanashte imase,” I rattled off the canned expression. “I worked for Mitsubishi-denki for awhile.”

The black plastic parts continued to race by interrupted only by the confirming beep of the scanner.

“Oh, Mitsubishi-denki. Big company.” After a pause. “So many pieces?”

“I’m building a house.”

The basket was emptied and I was finally ready to pay and go.

“Domo arigato.” I said.

“Do itashimashte.” She replied.

I loaded up my rig and drove off into the sunset.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

There is a First Tine for Everything (Photos)

The mist lifted off the Nehalem River Valley to reveal a lovely, fall day. This after downpours yesterday. Despite the tarp over the house more than 3 gallons of water leaked in. I know because I set up a sort of flume to catch water along one seam and funnel it into a 5-gallon bucket.

Jordan and Jason arrived with a truck full of roof pieces that I have referred to as tines, prongs, outriggers, rafter tails and "my crown of thorns". They are what rafter tails might look like if I had them in my roof. But since my roof is all foam, there isn't anything that could stick out to form an eave. That is except the 10" thick panel itself. But I didn't want the house to have the look of a big, thick slab of roof sticking out so I formulated a plan to bolt on these tines and then put another layer of plywood out over them to form a roof that appears to be 1" thick.

Here are links to some pictures to show you what I mean

The house is to be clad in barn wood salvaged from the barn and shop that I tore down last year. I sorted throuh the pile of wood today, but in the process evicted 4 little squirrels. My mom's going to be very upset about that.

Today I had 7 visitors stop by and chat. Yesterday I was indoors and I don't think I talked to anyone all day.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Rainy Day

It's pouring here. I have two homes now, both covered in blue tarps and both leaking. The trailer is leaking right over the toilet, which is handy for refilling it but not for using it. The porta-potty I got for the work site has been the best investment. Even my mom remarked on how nice it smelled, which is more than she has said about this house or me for that matter.
The two young builder-brothers have been off working on a deck project and have only spent a few days in the past month at my place. It's a bit infuriating, but not much I can do at this point. They expect to be done and working on my place full-time starting Sunday. Still, it means that they will be working up high in the wet when they could have done this project first and then done the deck later. Not sure how that worked out.
I've been working on the interior framing, which is darn near done after only a week. I've started designing the plumbing system, which needs to go in next. With any luck I will have a real roof over the place, the plumbing and the electric by Thanksgiving.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

The Big Erection (Photos)

It's up. It cost $125 an hour, required a crane and the help of two local boys.

On Wednesday, September 8, 2004 the stars aligned. Scott showed up from Corvallis, the Zoeller boys from across the river, Joe Sopko from Seaside with his crane and we assembled the various parts of my new house.

See the photos at (no log in should be required)

The weather gods were mostly with us. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were fine, but Friday night the forecast was not good. I feared we would have to put the roof on in the rain.
Friday night's entry into sleep was a fitful one for me as I listened to the sound of rain. Under most circumstances a welcome sound, but last night it was like water torture. I awoke in the morning to silence. It was still overcast and gray, but the forecast was calling for a shower or two. The house got a good soaking during the night though.

Right now the mist is lifting and contrary to the forecast I can see a patch of blue (a small patch).

Still, today we hadto put on 9 roof panels. The most we had put on in a day was 8 in about 8 hours. About 1 hour per panel. It's going to be the longest day unless they just slide together. They hadn''t so far. On the other hand we were getting better at this.

The crew consisted of myself, Scott McClure (the timber frame designer, and two local boys (young men), Jordan and his brother Jason. The latter are ranchers and a construction team. They already have some very nice barns under their belts.

After 4 really intense days, the structure is up. I have four walls and a roof. The weather gods in the end were merciful . Though it poured last night we got a rain-free day today.
We finished up around 5pm, and it was 6:30 by the time we cleaned up, packed up Scott's Van and headed into town for a burger.

My mail is unread, bills unpaid, dishes unclean.

The house needed some trimming and shimming, but it's a pretty good fit, and I'm very pleased with how it went together. It was the hit of the neighborhood, with many local folks coming out to visit several times. Tonight , as the crew celebrated with a beer , we looked out the living room windows to watch a deer meander down to the woods.

Everybody had a great time. At the end of it, looking out the first floor window was a real pleasure, but not to be too maudlin, equally satisfying was exposing Jordan and Jason to this new house building technology and especially to the craft of timber framing; introducing them to Scott McClure, and keeping a timber framer employed and happy.

Just before we parted in the drizzle outside the Birkie store, Scott told me that not only had he had a great time, but over the four days he had gotten a taste of the fabric of the community. He's a bit of a free spirit and an adventurer. He's kayaked down the Grand Canyon. His interest in old tools and structures also makes him curious about small towns. If one passed by Birkenfeld you would think there was nothing there. But over the four days, Scott saw people literally come out of the woods to say hello. Crusty old timers, and young families all alike. For him, pulling back the curtain of small town America was a real thrill. And for me it was a joy to have given him that experience. And that in the end, turns out to be the real investment.