Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Finish plaster and floors

It has been a whirlwind of home improvement the last few days as Mary Beth and I moved all our stuff out of Wisteria Lodge to do the finish plaster and refinish the floors.

With winter coming soon, we knew we had to get going on doing the finish plaster on the walls to seal up any drafts. Last year I put on the scratch coat of plaster, but because I hadn't done the trim there were large areas around the windows and door that were not completely sealed. The finish coat of plaster is supposed to leave a smooth, beautiful wall that will totally seal up the walls. We started by organizing a plastering workparty, at which others from DR would help us get a lot done in a short time so that the plaster coat would be as smooth as possible. If you don't do the finish plaster all at once there will be transitional lines visible that mark where you left off one day and started the next. Unfortunately, even with our workparty, it took us two days to finish. But we did get a lot done with others helping. These kinds of "barnraising" parties happen often here at DR with everyone helping someone do with many hands what could not be done with just a couple. Like the other day when we all helped Ziggy lift a 35'x35', 400 pound sheet of pond liner up onto the roof of his new house. Check out Ziggy's blog to see what I'm talking about.

We had to do a lot of prep for the workparty, because I wanted to have as much plaster ingredients ready to go so we could get people plastering as quickly as possible.

We had to collect manure from the nearby pasture, gather cattail heads from the pond, sift clay and sand through hardware cloth, and make up wheat paste. All these were the ingredients in the plaster mixture. The cattail heads are broken up to yield cattail fluff, which in finish plaster done the same thing as straw in the scratch coat--it adds structure and stability to the plaster by stretching in between the grains of sand and the clay.

The sand and clay are screened to remove the larger stones so that the finish coat will spread on smooth. The manure stinks at first when the plaster is wet but not once the plaster dries.

Unfortunately, though we tried to prevent it, cracking did happen on some of the walls. This could have been from having a plaster that was too wet, or not quite the right recipe, or because of the composition of the scratch plaster. I think our recipe was fine, but I think sometimes we added too much water to the mix before applying it. Mary Beth and I used the same plaster to do the entire upstairs and there was very little cracking. But it is hard to say for sure what the cause of the cracking was.

After finishing the plaster last Thursday, we were considering the idea of renting a sander and doing the floors as long as we had everything moved out. We quickly made arrangements to have someone pick up the sander for us in Kirksville, and to get us some low-VOC polyurethane, a less toxic and harmful water-based version of the typical polyurethane most people use on their floor to protect it. The weather forecast showed that we could expect sunny days on both Saturday and Sunday, and we would have to have sun to be able to use so much power at once. Using a machine like a sander on our of-the-grid systems would quickly drain power from the batteries on a cloudy day. We usually wait for sunny days to use power tools and big appliances. Saturday morning was not as sunny as predicted, but by the afternoon we were able to test the sander. We plugged in to the common house power with extension cords, but the sander didn't seem to be getting enough power. We tried more heavy duty extension cords and switched to the Milkweeds power system, which was closer, so there would not be as much power loss over the length of cord. The sander was working better, but would shut off after about 5 seconds every time. There was a lot of work being done on the Milkweeds mercantile as they tried to get the building plastered in one day, and we thought maybe there was too much drain on the power. We also thought that maybe the sander was too much of a power drain and we were too far away from the power source. We thought that if we couldn't use the Milkweeds power, it probably wouldn't work on any power system here. We gave up upon finding out from the rental company that using the machine with an undersized system could blow the motor and cost about $400. We thought maybe we'd have to return the sander without even having sanded the floors.

That evening we asked around and came up with some ideas for things to try the next day. First we tried plugging the sander directly into Skyhouse's large power system. It worked fine and wasn't shutting off, so we knew the power system or the extension cords were the problem and not the sander. We hooked up the heavy duty extension cords to the common house system and though the cords were much longer than those going to the Milkweeds the previous day, the sander worked fine. It must have been that the Milkweeds system was not able to handle the sander's power drain. So we finally were able to sand the floors.

It took us most of Sunday to sand both floors and by evening we'd put on the first coat of polyurethane. Now we've got newly plastered walls and a finished floor and we are moving our stuff back in.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fall is a busy time

So Mary Beth, my girlfriend, and I have been working hard and making progress on various projects in the last few weeks.

I started out a few weeks ago doing more demolition on a local barn to get wood for my house. I was able to salvage enough barn siding to side my garden shed, which looks much better with a face lift. No more ugly OSB. Now I just have to do the same for Wisteria Lodge, the house I've been living in. Anyway, I'm hoping to get some good posts and beams from the barn, and possibly a lot of firewood. It's sad to see beautiful barns like the one we are dismantling fall into disrepair. Because of a bad roof, most of the wood, hundreds of 2x6s, 2x8s, 2x10s, and tongue-in-groove flooring, is rotting away.

We put tongue-in-groove flooring in the second floor of Wisteria Lodge a few weeks ago as well, we finished up the trim around the window and door, and now the house is ready for the finish coat of plaster. We have a plaster party planned for tomorrow and hope to get help from community members so we can finish the plaster in a short time--maybe even in one day.

Last week we had the concrete poured for the bond beam on the foundation for the other house I started last year. We spent a couple days building the forms over the urbanite foundation and they did their job well, as the bond beam looks solid and level. Now that I've got a lot of wood, I should be ready to do the framing. I didn't make it as far as I thought I would this year, but gathering the materials can be the biggest challenge here, and that's what I've spent a lot of time doing. I plan to frame the house partially with post and beam from the barn and partially with 2x6s and 2x10s from other demo projects.

A couple weeks ago I mounted my solar panels on the roof. With a donation of metal framing pieces from Tom, I was able to set up the panels so that I can adjust their angle to make them face the sun as it move lower and higher in the sky. The amount of energy the panels are collecting has increased greatly since I moved them up to the roof, since on the ground they were getting shaded out by trees.

With late season warm weather, the garden has continued to flourish and provide tons of delicious veggies like eggplant, tomatoes, carrots, and tons of sweet peppers. Now the fall crops are beginning to come in and we'll be planting garlic soon. Next year I won't be gardening for my eating co-op, and I'll focus on building, the vineyard, and my own garden. I would like to garden on a larger scale, but would prefer to be at least a little mechanized, because it was a lot of work handling the Skyhouse garden, and I still felt like we didn't produce enough food simply because of space limitations. I'd love to grow beans and grains in addition to veggies. Of course, it will be easier when I'm not having to grow food for 7 other people.