August, 2009 browsing by month


Phase 2

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Today was a significant day — work began on the “main house.” (So far we’ve been working on Tumbleweed, the office/guest house.) We’ve contracted with someone to pour a new slab for the main house, and after being put off for a few weeks, work has now begun!

Today, the area was marked out and backhoe work commenced. This house will be perpendicular to Tumbleweed with a courtyard/patio between the two buildings.


We also got two big truckloads of fill.


Work on phase 2 is significant to me for a couple reasons. First, it also includes pouring a slab for our battery house. This is a small 9×12 building that will go behind the storage container. It will hold our water pump as well as our solar batteries. Getting this done is¬† a key step in getting electricity and plumbing to both houses — a very important thing. (It will also provide another chance for me to practice my carpentry before we frame other walls.)

In addition, beginning on the main house is a tangible indication that we will actually¬† build a main house. That sounds obvious I know, but an amazing number of people we have met here had plans just like ours, build their “guest house,” moved into it (as we plan to), and then never built a “main house.”

I am here to tell you — we are building our main house. :)

We also made a big decision on the floors in the main house today. We had been planning to stamp the concrete. We had reservations about it though, ranging from the logistical difficulties in renting the stamp sets multiple times (or the expense of buying them for one time use) to the uncertainty about how stamped concrete would look indoors. We also really love our cut concrete floors in Tumbleweed. Today we decided to go with the same approach in the main house. We will, however, be using integral color (dye mixed into the concrete, so you don’t have to worry about the stain wearing off over time, which apparently it does). I am planning to use a light color though, so that we can surface stain a room or two in a different color.

Now, we just need knobs

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

New steel double doors into the workshop are in.


Thursday, August 27th, 2009

The roof is done!

Unbelievably cute

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

We’ve been putting up the metal roof this week. It’s incredibly hard work physically, and we both have been exhausted all week. Every muscle from my waist down hurts.

One thing that has made it easier though is the entertainment that the bobkittens are providing. All week, Momma bobcat has come by with the kittens mid-morning to drop them off in our oak tree while she presumably goes off to make a living. The kittens have been spending most of the days playing in the tree.


The kittens have very different personalities. One is very alert and cautious. He usually sits in the bottom most crook of the tree, always on the lookout. The other one could care less if we are around or not and seems only concerned with how comfortable she can make herself. She is frequently sprawled out on a high branch.


This morning, I spotted one of the kittens on top of a big wood post by the gate. (The roof makes a great vantage point for watching their antics.) The next thing I know, the kittens are playing “King of the Hill,” chasing each other up and down the post. It was a scream.

Windows and doors are in

Friday, August 21st, 2009

The windows and doors are in (except for one window and one door that were not delivered with the rest), and they are beautiful. We spent a lot of time and had a fair amount of anxiety on the whole window thing and are really glad it all worked out!



Tilt-out casement windows


Little 20×20 windows


Resting after the work is done


Final touches on the greenhouse

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

But first… an update on Tumbleweed:

The Sharkskin paper is on the roof, and the final metal roof is arriving on Thurs. Because we went with the white roof, there’s a solar tax credit of $700.

The doors and windows are also due to arrive early this week.


Today, we put the final touches on the greenhouse.

The inside has a pathway of railroad ties and raised beds for plants.

The black hose is for the drip irrigation which isn’t quite finished.

More bobcat photos

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

A lot of animals this morning. There were cows all over the road this morning. It was a challenge getting past them. About ten minutes after I was on the property, they had a mini-stampede up the road and away. Curious, there were deer standing near the cows, but on our side of the fence. They ran way as soon as they saw me.

The bobcats were all on the property today. When I drove up, one was inside the wire protecting one of our trees. It quickly scampered up a small mesquite tree. The other kitten ran off into the brush looking just like a kid off to fetch mom… sure enough, mom and the kitten wandered back about five minutes later.

I noticed the kitten in the tree had a small animal in its mouth; a bunny I think. It was small enough that I believe it caught it itself. On thing that dawned on me is that the bunny escape holes probably keep mom out, but these not these kittens. -sigh- It’s a hard world.

Parapet walls finished-we’re moving on

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Building the parapet walls has been fun and not too challenging. The biggest concern was getting them attached in such a way that they won’t blow away later. The winds here can be intense.


The only issue with the framing was on the slope walls. You need to keep it straight in your mind that the studs run perpendicular to the top, not the bottom; it’s on a slope. On a slope this small, it’s seems unimportant, but when you go to attach the OSB, you won’t end cleanly on a stud if you do it wrong.

Erecting and Attaching

Standing up the walls and positioning them was easy. (2×6 walls are night-and-day easier than 2×4 walls in this regard.) Screwing down the walls was a little harder. We used ten inch long screws that go clear through the SIPS panels and into the 2×6 header on top of the walls. Karen pre-drilled holes for me. We have what I thought was a pretty big drill to do the job and it barely did the job. We had more than enough screws and used them all. I also had a lot of extra eight inch screws that I set into the 2×6’s framed into the sides of the roof SIPs. It’s very sturdy.


The whole thing was covered in OSB*. This went fast. A large part of the reason it went fast is that we are the proud owners of a used Bostitch stapler. (Putting up our SIPs walls resulted in our having a box of 1/2 inch wide by two inches long staples seven-eights full–ebay to the rescue.) The stapler made short work of attaching the OSB to the walls. (Karen did most of the stapling.) Cutting the OSB to fit was the most work.

One special touch designed to prevent leaking is that we put a one-half inch in six inches slope on top of the parapet walls. Six inches is not a lot of room for standing water, but we’re just making sure.

* Oriented Strand Board: A decking made from wood chips and lamination glues.

Thinking about planting things

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

We were planning to put the waterproof paper on the roof this morning, but the wind started blowing enough to make it too difficult.

Instead, we worked on the greenhouse (which has been lagging since so much has been going on with the house). We now have three of the four sides screened in and a door frame built. The screen goes down about 8″ into the ground so that animals can’t tunnel in. (Stay tuned to see how that works out.) We also filled the trenches with small rocks.

All we have to do now is finish the last side, put in the door, run drip irrigation (Brad has already brought a water line to the greenhouse), and plant some things!

On a totally unrelated note, I got a giant bag of Anaheim chiles in town on Friday and am going to make a giant batch of chile rellenos tonight.

High level of satisfaction

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

Building a house is very satisfying.

On a big picture level, it seems very authentic….like growing your own food or fixing your own car (back when that was feasible). It also fosters a sense of independence, especially since we are doing most all of the work ourselves. Being able to get along (and even thrive) by ourselves was a big part of moving here for me. Knowing how a house is built and being familiar with every detail of the construction means that I will also know how to fix things when they break. (And I have learned how to use several tools and do many tasks that will be useful in other contexts.)

The smaller details of building are even more significant. I like the physical work. It is straightforward and honest. Every day, I get sweaty and tired. At the end of the day, the tangible proof of my work is obvious. There is a new wall; a ditch is filled; the floor has a new finish.

It’s also good to be working with my hands and doing real physical work. It’s different somehow than moving bits and bytes around. The evidence of accomplishment is much clearer than with my other work. Many days, I feel more capable in this kind of work than in my “real” job.

When I do something wrong, like hammer my finger or drill something in the wrong place, it is generally something I can fix myself. (There really aren’t a lot options, though I do sometimes ask Brad for help. Most often it is help in how to do it better myself that I am asking for.) And I am learning new things every day. Sometimes, they are things I am not very good at, and it is frustrating. Other days, I pick up new skills quickly and feel as though I have found my niche. Either way, the activity of learning and trying new things is good.