Friday, August 28, 2009

It's raining

But the dining room is still dry. I have pictures of the original dining room roof on my daughter's camera, so until I find that cable, I won't post on the roof project, but I will say this: sometimes it's a hell of a lot faster to hire some guys. It cost me $1000 in labor and a few hundred in materials, but one of the two leaky sections of roof is no longer leaky. One more (to be done after Labor Day) and the roof is done, baby, done. That, and gutters, and we'll have a dry basement.

More this weekend; the paying work's been frantic this week.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Heat calculations

We had a bit of a cold night the day before yesterday, and so our minds turned to heat. Our plan now is to go ahead and get the furnace in the carriage house running (it is reputed to work, but I want it cleaned and inspected before flipping the switch), but only to use that to heat the work area downstairs.

Upstairs, we're going with electric baseboard heat. This has several advantages, chief of which is that forced air is not good in combination with allergies, and our son has allergies. The second advantage is the flexibility; you can heat just the rooms you're using (granted, in this small an apartment, this is not such a huge advantage). Electrical heat, of course, is not the cheapest. If we had unlimited funds, I'd probably go with water radiant heat under the floor on both floors. But we do not have unlimited funds, so we calculate our BTU requirements.

(Of course, most of the heat from downstairs will waft up to the apartment anyway, so the baseboard heaters are really just for convenience and comfort. In May we were still living in the tropics. I don't expect November to be easy for any of us.)

To calculate BTU requirements, we first measure the carriage house. I've been wanting to get that done for three months, and here's the result! A man, a plan, a carriage house, esuohegairr a canal, Panama! We're going to heat the front room, the bedroom, the kitchen, and the bath. Using the area of each room, we use with its most pessimistic settings to get a maximum BTU requirement for tropical people living in the wrong part of the planet, use the conversion factor of 1kW = 3143 BTU to get a rough kilowatt rating, then use the rule of thumb of 250 W per foot baseboard heat to find out where we can put our heaters.

The front room is 15' x 13' = 195 sqft = 7800 BTU = 2500 W = 10 feet.

The bedroom is 14' x 11.5' = 161 sqft = 6700 BTU = 2000 W = 8 feet.

The kitchen is 11.5' x 10.5' = 121 sqft = 5300 BTU = 1500 W = 6 feet.

Finally, the bathroom is 7' x 7' = 49 sqft = 2200 BTU = 750 W = 3 feet.

We don't actually want 8 feet of heater in the bedroom, because we only want about 6 feet under the window. And we don't want 6 feet in the kitchen, because the north wall is the stove and cabinets, and there's really only room for about 3 feet under the window (but we cook a lot; the kitchen will never be cold). To compensate, we'll put 6 feet into the hallway between the bedroom and the kitchen.

In the front room, we'll put 6 feet under the window, then the other 4 feet onto the north wall opposite.

There's good insulation in the carriage house attic; with the new double-glazed windows and a whole lot of caulk and Great Stuff urethane foam to stop all the drafts, I really think this is going to be a really cozy little building for us. If we cranked all the heaters to the max, our outlay would be around $300 per month - but that would bake even us out of here if the outside temperature were anything above 25 below.

I think this will work.

Friday, August 21, 2009


There's one thing I'm going to pay people to do - or two, really. That's roofs, and gutters. I have decided I'm just not cut out for getting on ladders, and until I build an access stairway to the roof, that means hiring help. Ha!

Anyway, so we brought in a contractor to quote us two sections of roof (I'll document them later; I'm running kind of late with the blogging lately). Then after we got that priced out, at a reasonable $3400 for the two parts needed on the big house, it rained a bunch.

Turns out the carriage house needs some work. Well, I thought I'd have another year or two on it, but uh-uh. It's at least twenty years old, if not older, and the shingles are basically gone.

But there's no money right now for that. So we're slapping a tarp on it, and maybe next year the money will be there. We shall see. In the meantime, I kind of like the blue look. What do you think? It's way better than waiting for the ceiling plaster to erode and fall on our heads, anyway.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


We painted the wooden walls on the carriage house, which were put in place to cover up the garage doors. The wood is just a rough-surfaced plywood, so another year or so and it would have started to disintegrate; we put a coat of primer and a coat of barn and fence paint on it, both oil-based.

Dammit, Jim, I'm a bricklayer, not a surgeon!

As I mentioned last time, the bricks were loose under the front window. So I mixed up way more mortar than I needed (well, I started with too much water, I think) and set to work.

Here are the tools I ended up using the most. You're actually supposed to use a big trowel (which you can see in my mortar bucket up there) but I found it far too ungainly. I'm sure if I were bricking up a wall of 10,000 bricks I'd appreciate being able to slap the mortar onto each one with a big trowel, but I'm just doing detail work here, and I found the smaller one much easier. The slightly S-shaped thing is a jointing tool, used for pushing mortar between bricks and for shaping the joint after the mortar has gotten "thumbprint hard".
I started at the left, and worked right. You can see this, to a certain extent, in the regularity of the mortar. It turns out that working with mortar is hard. My wife said, "I told you it was going to be hard!" To which I answered, "I told you it was going to be possible!" And it was, both.

The finished product, though, doesn't look half bad. It's not terribly straight, but - this is the important point - today, these bricks are no longer falling out. My next brickwork will be better, and this will be basically invisible, once the windowsill is in place.

What I learned about masonry: mortar dries fast. Also, bricks soak in moisture like little, heavy, clay sponges. I used my detergent bottle to squirt water on continually, but a sprayer would be better. I also kept adding water to my mortar in the bucket. It all hardened up fine, so this must have been OK.

You're supposed to put your mortar onto the bottom of the brick, and the end of the brick which will butt up against the last brick placed. When I tried this, the mortar fell off. So instead, I put the mortar onto the bottom, put the brick into place as quickly as possible, then sort of post-tuck-pointed the mortar between the bricks on the sides. Since the bricks are pretty solid today, this must have been OK.

Also, these bricks are actually too close together (not my fault, they're laid that way; I was just putting them back where they were). There were gaps of only about 1/8", instead of 3/8", which is the minimum jointing tool size, thus presumably the minimum normal gap between bricks. Anyway, this made it tough to get any mortar into the gaps.

So my first bricklaying endeavor seems to be at least good enough: the bricks aren't falling out. I call that a success.

Friday, August 7, 2009

I don't think it's supposed to do that

So I started poking into the front window sills a little. After we tore out the sill, we found that it was leveled by inserting chunks of brick under it, then caking lots of mortar over the whole thing. Well, it worked for a long time, so I'm not arguing.

So I bought this vinyl windowsill profile to put in there, and decided to chip out the mortar to make room for it. It was kind of loose, though.
By the time I got done cleaning out loose mortar, the top row of bricks was out. So I think that probably needs to be fixed...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Aside on the front window

So for the last week, House work has again come to a screeching halt, having been replaced by my tech hat. My wife will be teaching three classes this fall at the local colleges, and so it was the mandate that her old laptop, whose cooling fan has been making very worrisome noises lately, be phased out, while one of the other family laptops (the one normally used for Lego video games and YouTube searches for fan-made Transformers knock-offs) be co-opted, a new user created on it, and the latest in required software (meaning Office 2007, LaTeX, and the like) installed.

All of this duly complete, I got excited about Office 2007, installed it on my own laptop without thinking, and immediately realized that (1) Microsoft obviously didn't consider my macro collection important, deleting it without a trace, and (2) Word 2007 isn't compatible with TRADOS 7, my translation tool, and the budget can't afford an upgrade to TRADOS 7, and my old installation media for Word 2003 are mysteriously absent.

Havoc ensued. Fortunately, translation work was in a lull. So I did something I've wanted to do for a while now; I wrote a little Python COM object script that sits between Word and TRADOS and by-God forces compatibility by massaging the text segments on the Clipboard as they fly past. The jaw-droppingly amazing thing is that it actually worked, and only took about four hours to write. (Python just makes that stuff so ... not easy. Possible.) Oh, my goodness, but I have plans for that little object. But this is the wrong venue for that; I'm just explaining why no building has happened.

Except I tore the front plank off the post between the front windows. This "post" is actually a roughly square structure consisting of one-inch planks, and it's hollow, providing a place to hang the counterweights for the old window.

The problem is that it's none too stable, and doesn't really provide enough support for the pocket replacement windows, so I'm going to shore it up with some small pieces of 2x4 inside the hollow part, then insulate the entire thing with foam before closing it all back up and installing the windows for real. This has to happen on the sides of each window, too. And of course I still haven't addressed the fact that my dad and I ripped out the old sill. So the windows are more complicated.

Here's a picture of the counterweights themselves, just for historical reasons. Kind of neat; I'm keeping the weights.

So after pulling this plank out, so far I've left it hanging. My wife asked, "Um, so why did you pull out the middle of the window again?" So I started to tell her about the 27 8x10 color glossy photographs with circles and arrows on the back of each one in four-part harmony, and she stopped me right there and said, "Kid," she said, "Just put it all back together someday, OK?"

I live to serve.