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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Alternative Home Builder: Week 21

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.  And indeed, it was today.  All 45 mph of the face slapping, branch snapping, frost lapping wind from last October.  Question:  at 8AM, after starting my first warming fire in the new house, which way should I walk back to the cabin?  Wind’s answer: unless your face enjoys feeling my slap, I’d suggest ducking low into the pasture.  Question:  at 10:30AM, after building a wood storage bin in the garage, I’m wondering from which of the two stacks---the small one below the shed or the large one on top of the ridge---I should haul the kindling?  Wind’s answer:  I made it easy for you by removing the pictured blue tarp from the ridge top stack.   Question: is Winona County ever going to pick up our recyclables?  Wind’s answer:  it’s obvious by looking at your neighbor’s blue recycle bin.  Overflowing with 200 pounds of paper, even I couldn’t blow it over. 

But now, emptied by the county, blowing it over was a breeze.  Get it?  A breeze?  Ha ha, I’m such a witty wind.  Makes you wonder if all of Dylan’s success really wasn’t my…hey!  Just because you have that new garage door, doesn’t mean you can shut me out.  I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll…

Today, for the first time, the inside of our house began to feel like home.  Perhaps it’s the walls.  Tom the Builder’s crew finished screwing on the last of the sheetrock, creating rooms.  Until now, I could walk from one “room” to the next by stepping in between the studs, like some kind of jail-breaker.  Yet many walls remain bare, awaiting their red elm siding.  Perhaps it’s the wood neatly stacked in the garage:  kindling, construction remains, split wood (boxelder, oak, apple). 
I’d always imagined stacking wood on the west porch or east porch but not the garage for fear of creating a mouse hotel.  Only time will tell, as I add yet another experiment to the list.  But I’m loving my garage stack, keeping the wood so warm and dry.  Speaking of warm and dry, I think that’s what is really helping me feel at home.  As the low-angled sun beamed through the south-facing windows, the living room climbed well into the 50’s.  Sure, in the picture you see Dave in his t-shirt, but he wasn’t the only one.  This afternoon, as I drove over to light my second fire of the day, I, too, wore only a t-shirt, long sleeve though it be.  I can’t wait to go over tonight to ignite my third and final fire.   I’m no longer lighting small fires solely to dry the massive masonry heater.  However, I’m also not just stuffing the fire box with wood.  With her outside so cold and inside so hot, she’d crack.  I’ve got to ease her into the new role as our primary source of warmth and comfort.  At 7AM yesterday, I began the heating sequence with a very small fire, only 5 lbs of wood, 4 small pieces.  Carefully following my instruction guide, I’ve increased each load since by 3 pounds.  I'm excited for the day's final fire, just before bed tonight, when I load her with 19 pounds of wood.  And by Saturday morning, she’ll be firing her maximum load of 50 pounds, if I can even stack that much into her fire box, huge as it is.  I can’t wait to discover how warm she feels.   How warm will our new wood-heated house feel?   Yet today, 50F was enough.  More than enough to warm that part of me which says “I’m home.”
Three years ago, Architect Paul asked us the most gripping house design question ever:  “What do you want out of your house?”  After bombarding him with Lord of the Rings analogies (Rivendell, Bag End), Mary Oliver poems (“Making the House Ready for the Lord”) and list after detailed list, we eventually filtered it all down to one dream:  Enable the Connection.  The Divine Connection.  More tangibly, the connection to the Land and the welcoming of you (family, friends and community).  And today, for the first time, I saw and felt the welcoming of our house.  Oh, I’d given plenty of tours, enjoyed the oohs and ahs and even the oh no’s.  But this afternoon, the house welcomed my brother, Gary,

sat him down in front of her warm masonry heater, mug of hot tea in hand, and invited him to gaze dreamily out her bright windows.

“Don’t give another thought to me,” whispered the house.  “Engage!”  And so we did, excitedly crafting a new Star Trek movie.  We were flying.  Perhaps it was us, or Linda’s World Peace cookies or something in the tea, but I’m wondering if it wasn’t the house herself.  Only time will tell.   Perhaps in building our dream house, what we’ve really built is the house of dreams. 

Not quite warm enough.  Not quite cold enough.  We need the house at 70F to tape and mud the sheetrock.  Its up to 60F. 
Quite an accomplishment considering we began Monday with 5 inches of 26F concrete on the floor.  Even an 80F April day won’t melt 5” of lake ice melt 5” of lake ice.    I’m loading 28 pounds of wood (three 5 gallon pails) into the masonry heater three times a day.  I’d load more, but the heater’s oozing a little water from underneath the bench.  Go slow to go fast!   She’s so huge that her extremities are still cold.  Could we place the entire Green Bay Packer team on one side of some giant scale and plop the masonry heater on the other, the scale would tip rapidly toward the heater, flinging the Packers into the Whitewater River (hmmm…).   Yet part of her skin---especially around the bake oven--- finally exceeded 110F at which point she becomes radiant. 
Like a massive star, she transmits her heat, not only by heating the air, but as light.  As I sat 5 feet away, I felt a warm glow on my cheek, like summer sunshine. We need the root cellar at 35F.  See I’m pretty much an apple-holic.  And tomorrow’s the last day to stock up at the nearby orchard.  An apple can retain its crispy sweetness for months if kept just above freezing.   Fortunately Tom the Builder finally installed the root cellar door. 
Unfortunately this is the warmest early winter ever it seems.  I installed pipes to bring in cold air and let out warm air. 
But if the outside temperature is 35F, there’s no way I’ll ever get the room down that temperature.  Once again too much thermal mass in walls.  She’s down to 45F.  What to do?  Stock up at the orchard at hope for the best.   But what is best?  Sunny and warm means warmer house.  Cloudy and cold means cooler root cellar.  So however the wind blows, I’m bound to win.  At least one game.

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