Sort of a weekend off

So, we’re waiting to talk to…[drum roll please]…a possible plasterer. We got put in contact with a local person who works with lime plaster (and got a local source for a premixed product). We’re going to talk on the phone tomorrow (he’s in a low-signal area now). And then – assuming the price isn’t terrifying – we’ve got a planning visit set up.

Which left us with a slightly odd weekend where, while there is stuff to do, we really want to talk to the plasterer first. And the cedar on the outside isn’t really easily a 2 person job, since we’d both need the same drill bit.

So instead we popped around to our friend to meet her new chickens (and dubbed one with her new title) and also to admire her new chicken run (which is quite the chicken palace, and definitely a suitable home for a chicken-lady).

Then we headed over to the house to weed. So many brambles. So much morning glory. So many dandelions.

We have pulled a lot of weeds and strimmed to tidy up the grass and such. It’s looking fairly respectable – and we seem to be keeping things under control much better than last year. Kathryn spent a chunk of time lopping down the brambles that we continue to do battle with between us and our rearward neighbour. I also spent some time tackling the rainwater capture. It had become apparent the channel the pipe sat in wasn’t correctly sloped. I’d not really checked it, except by eye (which is tricky because our garden slopes), and I knew there was a little bit of a hump, but putting the level on it it became obvious that after about half-way, that hump had put it high enough that there was no way the water coming from the roof would make it.

I broke out the little gardening trowel and spent some time making it a more consistent and gradual slope. Unfortunately, the tank is sat marginally higher than would be ideal, but I think now rain water should flow into it. We’ll find out after the next rain…

In fence news…we’ve not had a quote yet. So, that’s not ideal.

And back to the wall of a thousand nails.

So while we wait, optimistically, for someone from an eco-plaster place to contact us*, I’ve moved back outside. Well, for the most part. Inside we’ve given the main bathroom a coat (or three) of waterproofing. It is, of course, hideous and probably environment destroying (although the safety data sheet basically says it’s not really terrible for anything, and is water soluble, but it stinks and our little organic vapour respirators don’t cope well with it). It’s meant to be two coats, but then you’re meant to go over and cover ‘pinholes’, and having seen the coverage I assumed it would essentially need three. Which it did.

Painting the bathroom involved opening the windows at the north and south end, and directing air into the bathroom in the hope it would stay bearable for the amount of time for the final coat. Each one’s seemed worse than the last. Part of this is that we’ve failed to keep our respirators in sealed boxes when not in use (although I only discovered that yesterday). Hopefully there won’t be too many pinholes to fix after this round.

Anyhow, before going in and subjecting myself to the fumes for the final coat (which went on this afternoon), I spent the day making a billion L-pieces. This is an extension to yesterday (and will be continuing for the forseeable) – where I spent some of the day routing the LED strip on the right hand side of the door. There’s the left side of the door still to route for the LED strip. Anyhow, back to the L-pieces.


Each of these is made using a little frame that I made up – and they’re glued and nailed together, then the short leg of the L is trimmed to length.


Then each one is positioned, glued and nailed in place – each one takes 5 nails that have to be carefully pre-drilled and then hand driven in. I didn’t bother predrilling on the long, straight ones. But we’re so short of the cedar, and these are so finicky, that I’m predrilling each one… Of which there are 48 per side. Plus one extra one that’s long and runs across the bottom.


I continue to be pleased about the way it’s coming together. The cedar strips do give me great pleasure when I’m looking at the house – that ‘job well done’ feeling. There are many small imperfections, but it does feel like it has been worth the effort. At least, so far. We’ll see when it’s done.

We also, after much effort, finally got another quote for a fence. This labour of calling has been tedious in the extreme, and I had to chase the people today (because they’d forgotten they were meant to be coming). Well, they came and measured. We’ll wait and see if we get an actual quote.

We also ordered our garage a couple of days ago. After endless battles, we ended up going with ‘Tuff Shed’. The quality’s nothing to write home about, but it’ll do the job and the price is reasonable.

Hopefully we’ll get the designs soon enough, because that’d be handy for painting the battens, and getting the myriad of crap out of the house.

* Which we can’t wait much longer for. I’ve dug out the eco-building-trainer person’s number, and may give him a call tomorrow and ask him if he can give me the numbers for the people so I can find out if it’s worth waiting.

Plumbing depths while we wait.

We’re still waiting on quotes. More accurately, we’re still waiting on finding a plasterer who’ll even consider us. We want smooth, natural plaster. Although we’ve tried to get quotes for regular smooth plaster, we’d prefer lime. Finally today we actually got a possible step forward, with a local guy who trains lime plasterers who’s passing on our name and some details to a couple of plasterers he’s trained. That is the level we’re at, that this is considered forward progress.

He also has a lime plaster that he imports that’s a prebagged mix so it’s much simpler than other plasters – which he’s keen for us to use. So that’s progress, of a sort.

We have also got a quote for the garage. We’ve given in and gone with TuffShed – having had such endless fights trying to get a contractor – and they have people they recommend for foundations.

It’s really much less (design and intent wise) than we were hoping for, but it’s functional and it’ll keep Rebecca out of the elements and give me a place for us to work on her… there’s still rather a lot of debate about roofing materials, but the guilt of using any kind of asphalt is getting to us both, so it may well be metal of some sort.

We’re also looking at building a little studio building at the back of the property for Kathryn’s art – replacing what was going to be the shed. It means the garage will have to hold the garden tools, which isn’t ideal, but it’s a fair tradeoff.

We’ve also got someone coming to quote for solar – which we really should have got put on as soon as the roof went on. Frankly, at this point, with the benefit of hindsight, we’d have built the garage much earlier. We’d not have bothered saving the trusses. We’d have got solar put on as soon as the wiring was done. Why? Because we’ve had a full year of the house sitting empty, and it could have been generating power – and reducing the depressing costs of having an incomplete house sit empty.

While we’re creeping towards getting a plasterer we’ve done some working on the garden. Well, sort of. We’ve got the rain water capture tank in the ground. Which is probably why we’re both completely exhausted. Digging through the hard-pack stone and clay was a nightmare. The revolting water sitting in the bottom of the pit turned out to be useful; once you’ve dug a bit into the clay it sort of turns into a slurry which allowed us to pull out the bigger stones. Then, eventually, we bailed out the sludgy water which gained us a bit more depth. And then finally we scraped and pick’d and dug and finally managed to get the hole deep enough to put the tank in the ground.


After quite a lot of poking around and the making of some scary big holes in the side of the tank we’d just put in the ground, we’ve got a floating water outlet (using this guide), and an intake for the water running from the guttering at the back of the house, so it should run into the tank. We actually have the stuff to add in the water from the front of the house, but I’m pretty sure the tank isn’t big enough; nor is there enough soak-away capacity in our rain-garden. So I think that’ll be left to run out into the street, which is what it does now.

The garage will also need some kind of thing – I’m hoping that we can knock up a rain-water capture thing which might feed the toilets. We designed the house such that the toilets could be fed from a separate supply. It’s a possibility, but we’ll see how that goes.

We also did some more joint compound yesterday – it’s almost done. The office needs a third coat on the ceiling which, for some reason, seems to be very uneven at the seams. Also, the tiny tiny pantry still needs some of the corners doing and really needs another coat.

It feels sort of endless, but also very close. I’m thinking that Wednesday I might start on cedar… and there’s also the application of a crack isolation and waterproofing membrane in the bathroom. So lots to do, but nothing that feels on the scale of what we need to do.

On being quietly exhausted

Every day, pretty much, for the past year and a half I or We have gone to the house to work on it for some, or all of the day. If we don’t, it’s because we’re at work at our jobs. Or because we’re trying to keep our apartment fairly pleasant (and broadly succeeding, although the gradual accumulation of cruft, and the fact we keep thinking we’ll be moving, and thus failure to deal with said cruft is gradually filling the apartment with more books, music and creative resources than it can reasonably contain).

And it’s beginning to show.

We’re both beat.

Just tired and scraping along.

It’s tricky, because we’re at a point where a big chunk of the work is done. It’s that kinda 3/4 of the way there point which is always tough, it’s always a challenge. But because this is such a big project, 3/4 there is not liveable. In Slough and Bristol it was liveable at 3/4 done. Giving us a chance to rest and recuperate.

We can’t do that here. We need to find the energy for a final push.

We have, however, decided to get quotes in for finish plastering. Having discovered that there are some people around here who’ll do finish plastering with a smooth finish – and considered that it may take us actually months to finish it ourselves (it may, frankly, take us months to work out what materials we need to plaster)… Of course, this does actually require contractors calling us back, which is somewhat of a rarity.


The impossibility of walls

So things are gradually progressing.

After a mere 5 coats (5!) our front door is adequately painted. I realised after about the 3rd coat with pathetic coverage that we really should have sprayed it. Of course, the challenge would have been getting a colour match for the colour we’d chosen… Or, I suppose we could have got a spray gun for the acrylic paint. Either way. At the end of the day, it looks pretty good.

5 sodding coats

We also sprayed the frame a sort of bronze (dark walnut), which matches the windows pretty well.


It’s not perfect by any means, and on the back of the house where the frames are all easily visible in line, I think we’ll use some of the touch-up spray we have for the windows to get a closer match by throwing a thin topcoat of bronze over the brown.

Inside the mudding and taping is more or less done. There’s an n’th coat to do on the ceiling above the lounge, and the second bedroom / office has much of it left to tape / mud (because we’re using it for storage). But all the rest of the house is mudded and taped. Now comes the pain of sanding. Most of it we’re hoping to get away without sanding (at least this coat), just taking off any really high spots because we’re going to skim it. At least that’s the theory.

The ceilings however, they need sanding at the very least. We’ve skimmed a chunk of the top – which attempts to ameliorate the change in pitch caused by adjusting elsewhere for unsquare framing, and the exterior walls being variable distances from the peak. The skim does make it less obvious, but needs a lot of sanding. A lot. Which given how long and how tiring it was to sand the little bit of hall ceiling that I did today is… not something to look forward to. I am thinking perhaps we should invest in a proper drywall sander, given that they’re only $100.


This ‘Level 4’ finish is what we’re hoping to get away with, but we’ll have to try painting it and then see how it looks. Apparently on ceilings it can be more obvious that there are multiple unevennesses. So we may end up covering all of it in compound and flatting it back. Of course, the front hall was so shoddy anyhow, that for big chunks of it it’s effectively covered side to side.

We’ll see.

The bathrooms are more-or-less done on mudding (in this case thin-setting on the walls and ‘mud’ on the ceilings). There’s a need for a bit more thinset around the shower-shelves, in which I’ll probably embed some more mesh (I’ve got loads extra anyhow).


These obviously need sanding on the ceilings, then the whole kit and caboodle needs painting – ceilings with ceiling paint, and walls / floor with waterproofing goop.

Mind, the en-suite has to wait until the floor is down before gooping, because the goop makes a waterproof membrane which is what allows that to be a wet room. Irritating, because that room we actually have a toilet for, so if we could get all the plumbing pipes and heating down in there, it’d be nice to have an indoor toilet.

The biggest hurdle (other than time) is wall finish.

We wanted to use a substance called Murco M-100. This is a hypoallergenic joint compound a friend is using as a wall finish. But it’s made in Colorado and sold in the mythical land of Cal-I-Forn-Iay. A place from which it is almost impossible to obtain things. At least at a reasonable cost. The local supplier who sold it for $12/bag closed, as did the one in Portland. The only local place we can get it from now quotes $38 a bag, then tacks on the $300 shipping, which would put up the cost for our house by $1300. Which hurts. A lot.

Now our friend has a friend visiting from this mythical place who could bring up some Murco, but that means making the decision now. Right now. Before we’ve played with it ourselves.

Given the endless phonecalls, and the requirement to sacrifice the first-born goose from the leader of a gaggle under a waxing moon on the 32nd day of July before we could order Murco, we decided to get a natural plaster book. That and having discovered that lime is readily available around here, relatively cheap AND there are techniques that allow you to put less earth-destroyey plasters over drywall.

Nice, we thought.

Only, yes, you can get Lime. That’s easy. You can get sand. Probably. Although lime plaster is apparently pretty picky about sand and to quote the guy at the Masonry Supply place I went to “no one really does that stuff anymore”. But I think sand should be doable.

But it also wants things like “hemp fibre”. Which you can’t get locally, which means ordering it online. Which means paying shipping.

And that’s irritating, because what we really want is a small amount to work out if we want a large amount, but what we’re probably going to end up doing is getting much more than we need and then concluding the lime plastering is waaay to hard. Then we’re going to have to work out some other plan.

Either that or we’ll get a little bit, realise it’s perfect and then need to order a lot. Because we have a lot of wall. And a lot of corners. Because we are insane and made our house incredibly complex.