Weekend 11 of Construction
This weekend will seem rather boring on virtual paper, as it was mostly logistic, and we have a pathetic number of pictures as the usual photographer was busy doing the work mostly alone. But fear not, that won’t stop us from boring you with the details! You want the authentic experience, right?
Drilling nice, perpendicular, centered holes in studs that are closer together than 16″ o.c. is difficult, so the installation of the plumbing was stymied by a seemingly minor detail. A right-angled drill would make the job magnitudes easier, but we couldn’t seem to locate one, oddly. Even the Craigslisters who advertised ones for sale didn’t call back. We are hoping the NEPTL will help. Tool libraries are the cat’s pyjamas, so you should see if there’s one in your area.
We did install most of the 12v wiring since those holes are smaller and if they are less straight, no one cares. And we picked up our interior paneling, some very attractive 5/16″ thick by 4″ wide tongue and groove fir. Again, it was salvage and in mostly short sections, but looked like clear, close vertical grain, suggesting old growth (without the guilt). Also, a friend of the family has offered to give us all of her pine trim from her house build that she didn’t use, for free. So supplies are coming together. Happy day!
One of us, who shall remain unnamed, was having a bit of a heart attack over the weight limit of 10,000 lbs, as we are currently sitting at a little under 7,000 less tools and extras. So, after some serious panicking, we learned the difference between linear feet (lf) and board feet (bf) when calculating lumber weights. They are not the same thing. Linear feet is what you’d first think of – the actual length of lumber, but it is difficult to calculate weight as widths and thicknesses vary. Board feet is an assumed 12″ wide by 1″ thick piece of the wood you are choosing, even if the boards you are buying are not 12″ wide by 1″ thick. So board feet is the more helpful but confusing number, as it is a volume of wood rather than a length when calculating the weight of piles of lumber. But bf was exactly what we needed when deciding on our future lumber choices for siding and paneling. Board feet is used most commonly for hardwoods (as opposed to the softwoods most often used for framing), and is calculated either as width (in inches) x length (in feet) x thickness (in inches) x 12, or as width x length x thickness (in inches) / 144. Then you can figure out the weight, for a given moisture content (wetness) of the wood, based on standard values for 1000 bf, which you can find in tables all over the internet. We realized we will be heavy, but not catastrophically so as originally miscalculated! Hence finding 5/16″ paneling, instead of using the ubiquitous 3/4″ thick pine tongue and groove. Fir is slightly heavier than pine, but when you are looking at something less than half as thick, it will be much lighter. And we did install a small wall’s worth of paneling, just to get the hang of it and feel like the weekend wasn’t a wash:
The wood will need to be sanded, but we kind of liked the “rainbow” effect. And we fluffed and filled with wool insulation as we went. Very gratifying.
Also, the weather portends rain in a few days, so we were very excited to have our Grace Ultra underlayment arrive. It was the least toxic waterproofing roof underlayment we could find, to go underneath our aluminum sheeting, so it had to be high temperature rated. Instead of being made from asphalt rubber or plain tar paper (all nasty fossil fuel based things that reek) like most, it is made from butyl rubber over a sheet of essentially Tyvek. Still fakey, but hopefully not as bad. We also ordered Reflectix, which is glorified bubble wrap with a metallic foil coating on it, to block radiant heat from the roof, as that seems to be the main source of the heat coming into the house. It has an efficiency rating of around 97%, which seems like a darn good number. So that will be installed just inside the roof sheathing, followed by wool and then paneling. Should be nice and cozy.
Last thing is the thorn in our side: the propane system. In addition to the abovementioned hole drilling problem, there are other obstacles. This one, it seems, the “Experts” have cornered the market on. As we see it, there are three main choices for running gas lines in a tiny house: black pipe, which is heavy, stiff, and a real pain to install, flexible copper pipe which requires careful installation and specific fittings to be airtight and has a much smaller diameter (at least all that we could find), and CSST (corrugated stainless steel tubing), which I have mentioned before. All brands of CSST have proprietary, non-interchangeable fittings. You can buy the first two types of gas lines at Big Box stores (the copper pipe can be found in the “icemaker” section, near the fridge stuff), and you can buy one type of CSST online from a certain Big Box store, namely AlphaFlex, which is the same thing as Homeflex. However, AlphaFlex/HomeFlex are made with PVC. There are other brands, such as ProFlex and TruFlex (I don’t know if they are affiliated with each other) which use less toxic plastic coatings, and their fittings also include a rubber gasket, which seems like a really good idea. However, all of the above types of CSST and fittings cannot be found in a brick and mortar retail store in this town. In fact, if you call any place that advertises that they stock gas line stuff, they get really huffy when you inform them that you are “doing it yourself” and tell you how you couldn’t possibly know what you need and should have an Expert determine that for you. Puckey, I say. So we ordered on Amazon. Even ordered the how-to booklet for installers who want to get “certified,” and it doesn’t look like a very long read! We’ll let you know how it works out. So far, the lesson learned is: do not be optimistic in your lengths of line. Patchwork propane lines are frowned upon, obviously. The good news on the propane front is that we have a sympathetic uncle who knows how to pressurize the system as required to check for leaks, and has all the fittings to do so! So don’t worry, we won’t be endangering anyone with our propane system, sans Experts.
This week, we hope to install the Grace Ultra in time for rain, and continue paneling and insulating as we finish installing the necessary pipes. May even wire up the switches and receptacles, so the house can be “plugged in” and have actual lights on!
On Our Wish List
I was on the website for a Swedish cabin and “barn-house” company named Arvesund, and noted that one of their traditional hunter’s cabins had a spiffy setup: a cast iron stove/kitchen with cook burners, and a stainless steel water tank with spigot that wrapped around the stovepipe, looking almost integral with it. And I thought to myself, I want one. Bad.
We do not like propane dependency in the slightest, and the idea of wood-heated hot water is very appealing to us. We have a propane stove and water heater out of necessity at this time, but we would love to move away from those when we can. We chose to have a wood stove (a Jotul 602) as well as the option of electric heat for many reasons, but control over where our energy comes from is one of them. The establishment tells us wood-heated houses “Are bad for the environment,” “Wood is a scarce resource and burning it pollutes the air,” and “Wood heating is inefficient,” and about wood-heated water systems that, “They aren’t safe.” We thought, what have people done for thousands of years to heat their water? And what happens in a forest fire? And have you checked where we live? We supply lumber to the world – what would be better than using wood that grows here, and returning the ashes to where it was grown? Isn’t that completing the life cycle better than anything you would do?
In answer to the statement “wood heating is inefficient” I would agree that the way we commonly burn wood in the U.S. is. Most Americans are unaware that the way we burn wood now is not the best or even the traditional way, merely the easiest-to-sell way. And if they are aware of the former, they assume there must be a very expensive, over-engineered catalytic woodstove that is the answer. There is no awareness of how woodstoves work, or don’t, as it were. However, the masonry-heater, kachelofen, kakelugn, hypocaust, or rocket-stove (versions of the same thing) that has been used since Roman times is so efficient that the air that exits your house is barely warm, and invisible because all of the gases were completely combusted. Those hand-built stoves are the old way – burn the wood so hot that even the volatile gases (smoke) burn, and store that heat in a thermal mass – tile, stone, cob, water, etc.so the heat is not lost, but slowly radiated back, in the form of conductive heat, the best kind for heating people. Of course, as with life, the answer is not so simple as burn wood, without thinking, as much as you like. Wood-burning fits in well with passive solar and heavy insulation as part of the solution. I see the drawbacks to wood for heating your house or your water as: you have to use your head when heating that way – it is not idiot-proof. You can burn yourself, asphyxiate, destroy your water-heater, set things on fire, or melt them if you don’t know what you are doing. You have to live in an area with many trees to make it ecologically sound. Ideally, you burn your wood as close to 100% efficiency as possible, and with all things tiny-living, the stove should perform more than one function to justify its space. But I can only assume that the reason we are told, in the Pacific Northwest of all places, that wood heat is bad, is out of ignorance, belief that we are stupid, or because they would rather sell us something than have us be self-sufficient. I suspect it is a mixture of all three.
Well, a masonry heater is awesome and I would totally have one in a tiny cabin if that’s what we were building, but thermal mass is heavy. Water is too, but you can drain it out of your house when you move it. Most wood-fired water heaters rely on an existing water tank system to work, which we don’t have (not even a 6 gallon RV one – we went tankless). I looked and looked at Arvesund’s catalogue, and could find no mention of these beautiful tanks or wood stoves. So I emailed them, the annoying American. They were very helpful: Harvia makes the tanks, a Finnish company that manufactures saunas and associated gear. The tanks run around $400, so we will probably wait to buy one until fall. But we have a local Harvia dealer, so we could acquire one easily.
So our current solution to the heating/water heating problem is: use our Jotul 602 but line it with firebricks to insulate the firebox and thereby increase the temperature of combustion to make it more efficient, and capture that extra heat escaping up the stovepipe in the form of mobile thermal mass – a water tank, wrapped around the stovepipe, that we will use for bathing and dishes. And when we don’t feel like dealing with a fire, we use electric heat. Here she is, fresh from the Harvia website:
This beauty holds 22 liters, measures 14″ w x 16″ h x 7.5″ d and her pipe inlet measures approximately 4.5″. Made entirely of stainless steel. Joy! Anyone have one that can comment on performance?