Well, as usual, I haven’t posted in a while. Life has been kicking our asses recently. Thus, house gets neglected.  Here’s a bit of an update, however. We are creeping along, and hoping to really ramp up the progress in the next couple of weeks.  Our friend Curt owes us a lot of labor, and he’s just finishing up a major building project, so hopefully he’ll get over here before too long and jump start the whole thing.  We’re in the throes of finishing up some work projects also, so hopefully we’ll get a little breather between work projects when we can focus on the house a bit more.

Luke’s brother & his girlfriend  are also renovating a house, and although it is a very different project than ours, we are embarrassed to realize that their project seems to be getting done more quickly than ours. And they started WAAAAAAY after we did.  Of course, we have very different situations which have resulted in different rates of progress, but perhaps there is nothing better than a little sibling rivalry to hurry a project along! They don’t read my blog, so fortunately this won’t be an incentive for them to further kick our asses.

In similar news, we have new neighbors who just bought the house across the street, and now seem to be gutting and rebuilding it. This is very exciting for us– since they seem to be our age, and seem to be doing something similar– that is, they bought a cheap house (presumably because that’s what they could afford), and are now putting a lot of sweat equity into fixing it up.  After several years of ongoing trials & tribulations with our nearest neighbor, we are thrilled to see some folks that we might actually have something in common with– and who might be interested in bettering the neighborhood rather than trashing it.  The new neighbors are making fast progress (compared to us)– though they have a big incentive since they have to be out of their rental house by the end of the month…. less than a week.

Continue reading ‘update.’


While it seems like it’s impossible for anything to go slower than our renovation project, the reality is that there’s one thing slower: my telling of the saga in blog form. Therefore, I return to the story of the solar thermal system (thereby reminding myself yet again how much bloody work we’ve put into this place).  As I mentioned in an earlier post, we purchased a used stainless steel tank for this project. Getting this tank into place in our basement was a feat in itself.

After a generous amount of time moldering away in the field behind the house of our friend, Kent, it was resurrected and brought to our property where it sat on the back porch for quite a while, waiting for rehabilitation.

Here is Luke, hanging out inside the tank.  Those of you related to Luke on the Dutton side may note that this photo has a rather Cebah-like air about it. Or at least it seems that way to me… though Cebah would likely have a more mischievous look in her eye if she were peeking out of the top of a huge steel tank.  Perhaps the photo above just sort of reminds me of the one below, taken in June 2008:

Continue reading ‘the saga of the tank.’

Do you remember the book, “The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe?”  As a kid, I loved this book, and now, as an adult, I suspect that I know why.  It was the drawing that shows the section through the shoe/ house.  I’ve always liked drawings that depict housing sections. Usually they show “real life” situations: someone showering upstairs, someone baking in the kitchen, and someone else building a birdhouse in the basement.  Drawings like this one:

Continue reading ‘old woman who lived in a shoe.’

windows. etc.


Progress is a wonderful thing.  And I think that progress begets progress, especially with a project like this one that just goes on and on seemingly without end.  I can scarcely remember a time when weekends were not filled with either building projects or guilt about not working on building projects.  And oddly, sometimes both at the same time.  Anyway: windows are a HUGE psychological boost.

Continue reading ‘windows. etc.’

So, we got the solar thermal collectors up on our roof a while ago.   And I’m just now getting around to posting something about it.  We purchased a bunch of used collectors and a stainless steel storage tank a while ago from someone who was parting out an older system. There were lots of thermal systems put in the 1980’s that didn’t necessarily work all that well: we’ve seen some that were so badly designed and executed that they couldn’t possibly have EVER worked.  Eventually these systems end up being de-commissioned because the homeowner wants to re-roof or whatever. I should note that there were also some systems built in the 80s that were well designed and executed.  Those systems tend to still be running just fine and providing their owners with lots of “free” energy.  Even though their controllers and other equipment in the mechanical room is now extremely dated, they still work fine. However, in our corner of the boonies, most of the 1980s thermal systems tend to fall in the former category rather than the latter one.

So the used thermal collectors are Novan brand from the 80s.  The great thing about traditional thermal collectors is that they’re pretty bullet-proof as long as you don’t abuse them (or shoot bullets at them). Frankly, the collectors we bought were probably not treated all that well, and in retrospect, we paid too much for them, but I guess we have to chalk it up to “experience” and move on. We’re slowly learning how to be better negotiators when we buy used stuff, but there definitely is a learning curve for timid folk like us, and unfortunately, we made this purchase on the steeper part of the curve. In retrospect, we perhaps should have walked away from the deal when the seller got all huffy when Luke pointed out some obvious deficiencies in the items in question.  For example, the stainless steel tank theoretically came with an internal copper coil heat exchanger, but in reality, the coil had been filled with a non-antifreeze substance (such as water), and left to freeze.  So there was a split in every single loop of the coil.  It wasn’t really possible to cut out the damaged part and reconnect the coil with couplers, because the copper pipe was all bulged and weird along its entire length.  The coil ended up going to the scrap yard, though getting a good price on copper scrap helped ease the pain.  And  the thermal collectors had all been cut open by some previous owner– so every single silicone seal had to be removed and replaced.  Some of the riser tubes inside needed repair, so Luke brazed those. In the end, we had to take every single collector completely apart, clean the glass, remove all the silicone (and crud), and reassemble & silicone them.  I did all the silicone work, because I have a strange affinity for picky, meticulous, repetitive work.  I find it sort of relaxing and meditative. I guess that’s why I like knitting.  I became a pretty expert silicon-er.

Continue reading ‘more pics of the solar thermal collectors.’

Yep. I’m not a very consistent blogger. Yet.

Luke’s cousin, Dave, came out and helped us in the fall with various projects.  The major goal of his visit was to get our solar thermal collectors up on our roof.  This is a time-lapse video that Dave took of the collectors going up on the roof.  We pulled them up a ramp made out of 2x6s, using a block & tackle, and a Jim-contraption that was attached to the roof. It worked amazingly well, and put an end to a series of marital disagreements in which Luke wanted to spend a grand or so hiring a boom lift to get the collectors up there. My objection was both financial, and practical/spatial. The south side of our house is fairly near the property line, and the collectors were going on the back portion of the house– there’s no way that we would have been able to get a piece of machinery anywhere close to the roof without ripping out some cherry trees or something.  Anyway, the $8.50 solution worked amazingly well, and we were grateful to have help with the lifting.


Here’s the video:


One more post about the roof, and then I’ll move on to more interesting subjects.  Like our mini-house, which I’ve been intending to write about for a long time, but haven’t gotten around to because I still need to take proper pictures of the inside of the joint.  Somehow it has never quite happened…. I suspect it is the fact that there are numerous details which haven’t quite been finished ( a common side-effect of building for yourself). Anyway, hopefully I’ll manage to get that done soon, and in the mean time, here is a little photo album on all the fun that you missed out on during the summer!


This is the upstairs after the roofing had all been torn off. The light was actually quite beautiful coming in through the skip sheathing. Continue reading ‘pictures of a roofing project.’