Friday, December 31, 2010
Saturday, December 11, 2010
A Place of my Own by Michael Pollan is told by a guy who wants to build a small house. His reasons for doing so were his own but I found myself identifying very strongly with his thought process. He's good about putting his thoughts into words and his intentions are carefully planned and researched. He certainly put more forethought into his project that I put into my own. My plans have been rather scattered and most of my practical realizations have tended to come up during the building process itself rather than in planning. Pollan's goal was to create a sort of fortress of solitude; a small writing house separate from his regular house but located on the same property. He refers to the remarks of several different writers, scholars and historians to complement his thoughts. Gaston Blanelard sums up his idea of what he deems the chief benefits of a house: "..the house shelters day dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace." To those not inclined towards the arts, "dreaming" may be low on their list concerning the importance of houses. But there is a lot in this notion if you believe that "life is but a dream". Art requires a great deal of dreaming. No work of art could ever be created without the artist dreaming it and making it a tangible thing.
Friday, December 10, 2010
I was greeted with lots of snow when I arrived in Monroe in February of 2008. I plowed the driveway again with my John Deere taking care to leave a nice clear wide pathway up to the house.
In order to build supportive overhangs on the sloped sides of the roof, I built the corner sections together each as one piece that when dropped into place locked together with the overhanging 2X8 rafters along the northern edge. I reinforced them with 2X4 frames all the way around.
Another thing I did was install a proper metalbestos chimney. It mounted to the rafters with steel brackets that swiveled so that it could adjust to any roof pitch. Metalbestos is insulated pipe that feels only warm to the touch when exhausting smoke from the stove. This way it can exit the roof without being a fire hazard.
Now I could lay the OSB sheathing on top of the rafters. I was getting close to having a roof but I was running out of time with only one day left of my trip. I was only able to cover roughly three quarters of the rafters with sheathing and waterproof felt paper before my time was up. The snow fell so continuously at this stage that I kept loosing track of where I had stapled or nailed because of the ever present layer of snow that I could not wipe away fast enough. I wanted so badly to finish. I worked up until the last moment on my last day. A big section on the northeast corner where I planned to put the skylight and an opening over the dormer were still left unfinished. This left the house still open to the elements and that's how it would have to stay for now.
Though I was sleeping on a mildewed couch huddled next to a wood stove with no electricity or running water and shitting in an outhouse at 10 degrees F, the greatest struggle has always been with my impatience. I would eat soup from the can because I could not waste the precious little time I had to prepare meals or wash dishes. There is so much to do! At times I feel overwhelmed at the extraordinary amount of work there is to accomplish in such limited amounts of time. If I had the capacity to completely realize just how much work was involved before I started, I may never have begun. I guess in some cases it's good to be short sighted.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Monday, December 6, 2010
When I first began writing this blog I had already been working on the house for about a year and a half. My wife set it up for me and insisted I keep a journal of what I was doing. My account pretty much begins at that point, when the walls and roof were already built and there was electricity flowing into the house. By the time I began writing, the house was relatively comfortable. So there is a big gap up to that point in my story to anyone who wishes to follow my adventure from the beginning. I have added some prequels in between, the last one ending with my trip in October of 2007 (please refer to the entry of Feb.4 2010: First Year of Construction: Oct. 2007) when my parents came to visit and we started building a platform for a somewhat temporary shack which was meant to be an addition to the current tiny living quarters of a slide-on truck camper built in the 1970s. The "addition" was meant to solve some heating and storage issues I had with the little camper, but in retrospect I can't help but wonder "what was I thinking?" Why didn't I simply build a small box off the camper and be done with it? I would still have had a place to store my tools and a shelter for a wood burning stove to solve my heating woes. It could have been done after only a couple of visits. It didn't need to be any more complicated than my outhouse. Instead I have erected a monstrosity from almost no plans that has now eaten the camper and continues to grow and envelope a nearby tree. Most disturbing of all is that this mass of wood, metal and glass has a foundation originally meant for a shack. I've since beefed it up with stone and more "feet" but it is not set deep enough for any kind of permanent structure. It just sort of "floats" on the ground. It's like a ship at sea now resigned to dip and heave in the ocean of soil and rock to be torn apart by the whims of the Earth. There are no signs of damage by frost heave yet but I fear that soon the rocking of the ground will show it's strength. First the doors and windows will get sticky. Little by little the frame will turn from a cube to a trapezoid; only slightly at first but as the years pass the frame's shifting will loosen the sheathing and everything else with it. The corners will open up with triangular holes and the roof will buckle and open up the interior to rain. Water will drip drip drip into all the corners and passageways as water likes to do, bringing with it rot. The house's bones will become brittle and break under it's own weight. The house will implode and eventually be scattered by the wind leaving only two old oil drums that once held up a slide-on truck camper built in the 1970s.
For now I just want to close the gap in the history of this project. I did return in November of 2007. At that time I was spending only about 3 days a (winter) month on the project so progress was slow. This was due to a few factors some having to do with my work situation on Cape Cod and partly due to power limitations. I had no electricity yet. I did all my cutting for construction with a Stihl chainsaw. The only other usable tools I had was a cordless drill and jigsaw. Each had a battery that was also interchangeable with a utility light which got a lot of use in the evening. The camper's power source was a couple of old car batteries that I soon replaced with one deep cycle RV battery. The camper's battery could easily power it's small interior lights for days on end but the propane heater was coupled to a fan on a thermostat. Kicking on the heater also meant running the fan. The camper was so flimsy and marginally insulated that even with the thermostat set at 50 degrees (it's lowest setting) the heater was kicking on every few minutes and ran continuously when it was really cold outside. It was so inefficient that after only a few nights the battery was dead and my propane tank dry. I spent some very cold nights in a soggy camper with a heater that barely worked. I could have bought some more batteries and more propane tanks but as has been the case throughout this project I did have (and do have) a very limited budget. To add to the discomfort of the leaky camper it was also home to an extended family of mice who stayed up all night scratching and clawing at the inner walls. I caught dozens in traps but there were always more to take their place. I had reoccurring dreams in which armies of little grey mice clawed and nibbled on my feet and face while I slept. I really wanted a new place to sleep. I figured that as soon as the first floor's sheathing and windows were in place I could erect a make shift roof and heat myself with the wood stove and sleep next it on an old couch or something.
By the end of that November visit I had nailed up all of the OSB sheathing, installed four windows (I had bought used for $20 each locally) framed and covered the second floor with 1" hemlock. There were still some large openings left open to the world: two post and beam framed "doorways" in the eastern and western sides, and the landing between the camper and the "house" which was closed on all sides but open to the sky. There ended my November visit. I threw a tarp over the open landing and put a few sheets of plywood and metal roofing on the second floor to have a sort of roof to keep the interior dry. It didn't work...
I awoke the next morning with gusto. It was time to frame out the second floor which meant a roof was soon to come. I started out building on a sunny morning with what 2X6s I had left over from before. I soon ran out but was low on money and could not afford to buy more. I did, however have some pressure treated 2X6's that I had salvaged from a demolition on the Cape. So I used those. In retrospect I should not have done that. It was a waste of good pressure treated wood and it was very difficult to nail together. Every other nail I tried to drive in would bend. Eventually I built graduated walls that could carry the weight of the pitched saltbox roof at several points. I also added a dormer facing south that was not in my original plans but when a clear evening sunset brought to my attention how nice it would be to have a point from which to gaze upon future sunsets I decided to build one. So with pressure treated studs in the upper floor it would last forever. At the same time I noticed that some of the studs in the lower walls were already showing signs of rot. I guess I should have taken a better look at them before pulling them from the discard pile at the lumber yard. As I have done many times before and as I have done many times since, I reproached myself for being so careless. So stupid to have let that go unnoticed. I am blessed with a respectable amount of will-power but am capable of astonishing lapses in judgement. That can be a dangerous combination.. I must remind myself always to be careful and think things through.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
So after christening the septic I turned my attention to constructing the rest of the floor for the second level next to the kitchen. Part of it I had already built but I wanted it to extend all the way to the adjacent (exterior) wall of the upstairs bedroom.
So with two full days remaining in this visit, I started by framing out a couple of walls that would enclose the lower level and one that connected the entryway with the (exterior) living room wall. In the future this will serve as a wall for the garage. For now it would support the stingers for the above floor which will also be a small deck, all of which will eventually create a sort of enclosure around the first ten feet of the trunk of the Pine. After installing the stringers I was able to complete the floor/deck of the second level. I reached this point late in the evening of the last remaining day, a Saturday. I had cut and fitted all the boards for the floor but was too cold and exhausted to continue. I would finish it the next morning before I left.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
My last visit in April did not yield any further progress on the house or the property but it did so on the family front. My mission was to gather supplies and prepare for my upcoming wedding on May 1 to my lovely girlfriend (now wife) Sarah. I arrived late that night on the last Sunday in April.
The first night I got drunk. I don't know why. It was my own personal bachelor party.
The next day I built the wedding arbor out of driftwood collected by my friend Kris. I tied the sticks into bundles that could be connected together to form an archway. I also wrapped rusty chains around the uppermost peak to hang down with a hook on which our ceremonial hand-fasting ribbons would be set after all was said and done. I then tied it up against the back porch of the house and arranged black metal tiki torches (purchased that morning in Belfast) around it as a sort of mock up of what the actual ceremony might look like. I wanted it to look as though castaways recently washed ashore had put together a wedding out of what was left over. I imagined how this event might look on the beach at sunset. The butterflies in my stomach began to flutter about for a moment, then they settled back down again to rest.
The next day my family arrived: Mom, Dad my brother Aaron from Bend, OR and my sister Allison from Portland, OR. It was the first time my brother and sister had seen the land so it was fun for me to show off my accomplishments. If we had had more time I would recruited them all to help me build a bridge or something..
The following day we all drove back to the Cape, picked up my Aunt Punkin (Diane to the layman) in Hyannis.
Time to have a wedding...
Friday, March 19, 2010
I returned to Maine at the end of February. It was during a warming trend so I had no trouble driving up to the house without plowing. During the time of my stay the snow melted considerably thanks to a warm day of rain in the middle of the week.
Upon my arrival there were the usual chores to perform. I noticed that I was getting low on firewood. I still had enough to heat the place for at least a few more weeks but I felt that I needed to add to my reserve, especially since the weather was nice and sunny, ideal for outdoors work, and would likely not last. I felled some standing dead pine nearby the house and dragged them to the porch and cut them into usable pieces. Since the trees had been dead awhile I was able to burn the wood immediately rather than waiting months for it to season. Dead (and in some cases partially rotten) wood does not burn as hot or as reliably as well-seasoned hard wood but I figured I could use the recently cut stuff during the day and heat the house with the seasoned wood at night which will burn until the next morning with the stove dampened all the way down.
With that out of the way it was time to do something I had been putting off: call the local code enforcer. I needed him to come over to issue me a plumbing permit so that I could begin the rough interior plumbing. I was rather dreading this because to date no government official had laid eyes on my project. Maine (esp. the village of Monroe) has very little in the way of building laws. I see Maine politically as a Libertarian state. Compared with other states it's citizens are granted great freedoms concerning themselves and their own well-being. Their laws seem designed more to prevent anyone doing harm to others and the environment. This is one of the reasons that I love Maine so much. I'll get into my personal politics some other time but I am a big believer in personal liberty, so long as that freedom does not compromise another's.. So in building this monstrosity I could (theoretically) build it to implode on itself but if waste water was going to be exiting into the environment it could cause others harm so it would need to be regulated. Makes sense to me, but I was still afraid of what he might say about my unorthodox well and water system as well as the rest of my weird little house. But true to the spirit of Mainers, he looked over my project like he'd seen it all before (I think maybe he had) and issued me the permit for $30. So I was ready to plumb but that would have to come later, maybe next visit.
I had decided that this trip would be about creating storage space for much of the junk I have been accumulating over the past few years. In order to work on different parts of the house I constantly have to move the ever growing collection of old metal parts, automotive and otherwise fixtures fittings pipes valves anchors hangers books blankets lamps camping gear etc. etc.. So I decided that with some permanent storage like a closet under the stairs and a (maybe not so permanent bench in the living room) I could eliminate this game of musical shit I was always playing and open up the upstairs area enough to finish the walls and eventually the bedroom. I needed a sanctuary, complete with a door, carpeting and paint so that I could finally remove myself at the end of each dirty day from the ever present dust of construction.
So my first order of business was to build a closet. It was a little tricky deciding how to frame and situate it but at the end of day three I had a closet under the stairs with an interior light, shelves, hooks and a funny looking door I built myself. It also features built in bookshelves on it's exterior.
The next morning I built a bench that may later become some sort of entertainment unit... not entirely sure yet but for now it would be very useful for storage. Now it was time for another major cleanup that would take me the rest of the day and all of the following day to complete. That included reorganizing most of my building supplies and putting some outside or under the house.
For the last six months or so I had been sleeping on a mattress in one corner of the upstairs area along with all my "living" stuff but now it was time to move downstairs. I dragged the mattress down the stairs, opened up the sleeper sofa (donated by Jim Hutto) and threw the mattress on top of the open bed. It was the best way to save space and now it looks like I have a proper bed. After reorganizing or throwing out all the junk upstairs I was ready to get to work on building a real bedroom: a dust-free zone. Such a thing may also help entice my fiance', Sarah to visit more often.
I started off framing the walls that would enclose both the bedroom and the bathroom. Next I hung sheetrock and trimmed out the doors, skylight and windows. I left an opening in the wall where the stove pipe runs up through the roof. This will also be the location of the main waste vent for the toilet sink and shower. When that is all in place I will build an inset bookcase to finish off the walls in the bedroom. After a little more trim work around the ceiling and mudding the sheetrock I'll be ready to paint.
Unfortunately, at this stage, I was at the end of my visit so with a sad farewell I gathered up my cat Sprocket and departed with the hope to return soon..