Notes from Windward: #63

Fall Update

the unfinished west end of the
north side of the dining hall

     As the first real snowfall of the season confirms the arrival of winter, it's time to pour a cup, stoke the fire and write a bit about the progress we've made in the past few months. There's much to tell.

      Our primary focus for the past few months has been on finishing the dining hall. Previously, we had gotten about two-thirds of the 68' building closed in and usable, and it sure was great to be able to escape from the temporary cooking facility we'd been using since the old dining hall burned down.

      Still, it was a make-do situation and we all were looking forward to the day when we could stretch out and enjoy the full potential of the design. It's been a long time coming, and we've pretty much decided that getting it finished is our number one construction priority.

      The first thing that needed attending to was finishing the roof. That involved building a pony wall to support the new freezer room. Back when we made the decision to finish this building as a kitchen (it had originally started out as a utility building), we decided to extend the retaining wall to create an additional, earth-sheltered room on each end of the building.

deck and felt in place

      The east room will be used to house our 6 unit L-16 battery array and the pair of Trace 2500 watt inverters that will power the dining hall's lights, refrigerators and freezers. The dining hall's roof was laid out with an orientation and inclination such that photovoltaic panels can be mounted flat to the roof and be used to provide the energy needed to operate the building off-grid.

      That way, when the grid goes down, as it has for multiple days when an especially wet snow comes our way, the essential systems will be internally powered. Since that's most likely to happen in winter, when the solar panels aren't much use, the room will also have a 6.5 Kw Onan generator to keep the batteries charged during extended sunless outages.

      The earth-sheltered room on the west end, the end that needed to be covered, will function as a root cellar housing a bank of freezers, a "warmerator" and 52' of mesh shelves for winter storage of root crops, such as potatoes, onions and carrots, and fruits such as apples and pears.

the finished north side

      The first step was to build a pony wall to support the furthermost reach of the roof extension, and then it was a straight forward process of decking, installing the roofing felt and screwing on the sheet metal roofing.

      The south side of the roof had its own challenge involving the installation of the last of the skylights which will bring natural light into the building. The opening has to be flashed below the metal roofing, and then again, on top of the metal roofing, and then lots of caulking on top of that just to be sure that the opening doesn't leak. Sheet rocking a ceiling is tedious enough; it's a real pain to have to rip it out and do it over again because of a leak.

      With metal on both sides of the roof, the last task to attend to involved installing the roof cap, a piece of sheet metal which screws to each side of the roof. The trick there is to not fall off the roof, something which is a real possibility given the pitch of the roof and the slickness of the sheet metal roofing.

      Once the roof was done, the next step involved building the pony wall that enclosed the western end of the dining hall. Once the 2x6s were in place, the framing was covered with 5/8" cedar siding. The hardest part about that was catching my breath after I saw what they're currently charging for T-111 siding.

Walt barely managing to not fall off the roof

      The dining hall is, at it's heart, a pole barn. In other words, the roof is held up by treated poles instead of load bearing walls. Since the walls are only there to keep out the cold, they can be built out of any of a variety of methods such as the usual stick construction, adobe, straw bales, or my personal favorite, cord-wood construction.

     Given the length of the building, the structure can be described as consisting of five 10'x14 rectangles. The first is laid out with the long axis running east/west, the next three with the long axis running north/south, and the last reverts to an east/west axis. The northern side of the building is earthsheltered, and the retaining wall for that adds another 3 feet, which gives us the 30x17 size of the main cooking/dining area.

     Each rectangle, called a "bay" is structurally separate and even has its own slab floor. Bays One through Three were closed in last year, and now we're wrapping up Bays Four and Five.

the completed south wall with
new door and garden window

      The south wall of Bay Four incorporates the second garden window. Not only do these five foot wide windows let in a lot of light, since they're tall enough for two rows of potted plants, between the two of them they provide 20 square feet of greenhouse for growing culinary herbs for kitchen use throughout the winter.

      The south wall for Bay Five went up pretty quickly since its only feature is a door. Indeed, the trickiest part came when we realized that we needed to bring in the stainless steel sink before installing the door since at 14' in length, there wasn't any way that we could have gotten it into the building after the exterior wall was finished. Indeed, if some day we decide it's necessary to take it out, we'll either have to cut it in half, or remove one of the garden windows and take it out that way.

      With the exterior of the dining hall coming together, we've started the process of cleaning up the area surrounding it. A context of chaos was reasonable enough while the building was obviously under construction, but now that we're down to addressing the aesthetics of the outside, it's time to get busy on cleaning up the area around the dining hall too.

the 14' long sink awaiting installation

      For years, we've had an old 8'x45' trailer we call "Echo" parked right behind the dining hall. It's been very handy the last few years as workspace for folks who needed to use either the office in the rear of the trailer, or the open front space.

      Since the fall has been extraordinarily dry, there was still the chance that the weather would hold long enough to get Echo jacked up, get wheels installed and get it moved before winter shut us down. It was a dicey proposition, but Nichols decided that he wanted to make it happen, and through some diligent effort, he prevailed and reported the trailer as "ready to move."

      One of the really great things about the work we do is that if we don't have the right equipment for some task, we generally have the tools we need to fabricate something to get the job done. In this case, we already had a special attachment made for our flat trailer that would allow us to support the tongue of a mobile home while we used heavy duty "come alongs" to do the initial tugging needed to get the trailer extracted from the tight location it was in.

      After a couple of afternoons of jacking and tugging, we had Echo moved up and onto the main roadway. From then on, it was an easy task to haul it away and relocated it up in the depot. Bob1 had installed an electrical service up there, and we plan to set Echo up there so that it can continue as a useful workplace for our folk who need a good deal of interior space to work on projects such as quilting or weaving.

the now unobstructed view of the
north side of the dining hall

      And just in time, since the very next morning greeted us with the first serious snowfall of the season. That's always a beautiful sight, but this year it was especially so as we gathered uphill from the dining hall to revel in the now unobstructed view of the dining hall.

      There's still lots of work to do on the inside of the dining hall, but having the outside sealed in is a very big step for us. With a fire going in the woodstove, and the tea kettle steaming away, there's no place I'd rather work on a winter afternoon.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 63