Notes from Windward: #66

Exterior Stuff

expanding our focus a bit

  September 1:

     The next two projects on the yurt involve making a custom door in keeping with the yurt's theme, and doing the necessary landscaping to insure that the yurt stays dry during the wet season.

leveling the yurt's surroundings


     The yurt is located on ground that has a gentle slope so it's necessary to do some landscaping to control how water flows down that slope, the goal being to insure that it flows away from the yurt's foundation.

     There's also the problem that we couldn't figure out how to put gutters on the roof, so we're creating a sort of "in ground" gutter to catch the rain coming off the roof.

     The best idea we've been able to come up with involves creating a two foot wide gravel bed around the uphill side of the yurt. Rain falling off the roof will hit the gravel (and not create a drip line like it would falling into dirt) and flow through the gravel away from the yurt and off down the hill. It would have been nice to have been able to capture the runoff, but we already have lots of standard flat roofs that can be used for that purpose.

using the dirt to fill in up at the water tank


     As ever, whenever we dig dirt in one place, we try to see that it serves a double purpose by filling in some other place that needs leveling. In this case, we're starting to backfill the lines that we just installed as part of the winter water tank work. It's amazing how quickly an entire front bucket of dirt can disappear into a ditch, with the result that it's hard to imagine what the ditch looked like beforehand.

  September 3:

     Not too much exciting to report since excavating dirt is pretty ho-hum, but it needs to be done and so we're getting on with it by filling up the back-hoe's front bucket each day. Our goal is to keep our activities varied, and when there's a task such as digging out a lot of dirt by hand to be done, we pace ourselves by sticking to a goal of a certain amount of dirt a day, and then go off and do other more interesting things.

the plywood core for the yurt's door


     In today's case, that something more interesting would involve cutting out the center panel for the yurt's curved-top door. The heart of the door will be a sheet of 3/4" plywood that will then be covered front and back with interesting pieces of wood and glass. We don't really have a clear idea of how it's going to look, rather we're going to try a few different options before deciding on what will best suit our dear Acorn.

checking the fit of the door's core before taking
it down to the woodshop for cladding


  September 4:

     Spent more time excavating along the eastern side of the yurt. The ground is dry and it's not easy digging, but wetting the ground helps and so does a bit of patience.

Katie helping to fill the front bucket with another load of dirt


     Once the front bucket was full, we took it up to the water tanks and used it to backfill around the new winter water tank. Eventually the tank will be two/thirds buried, which will ensure that no matter how cold it might get, our water system will keep working.

using the dirt from the yurt to back fill the winter tank


     On the way back down to the yurt we took time to start collecting the first of many good size rocks we'll use to create a stone retaining wall around the uphill side of the yurt.

a start on the gathering of stones
needed to create the yurt's retaining wall


     Having done our daily load of dirt, we turned our attention to getting one of the pits ready to take the concrete tank that will be delivered later next week. It's important that the bottom of the pit be level, and since there were two large stones sticking up we had the choice of bringing in gravel to raise the bottom of the pit up above the top of the stones, or getting the jackhammer and making the stones "go away." We elected to take the latter course.

Katie using the electric jackhammer to remove
an inconvenient rock


     It took a while, but eventually the rocks yielded to the jackhammer, and with a bit of raking, we had our level base. Next step will be to bring in a couple inches of 3/4 minus to firm things up and create the true base. Since the filled tank will weight more than five tons, it's important to ensure that the bottom doesn't compress unevenly and crack the tank.

Katie proudly showing off the rock she split and removed


  September 5:

     Got a bit further around the yurt to a point where we could use the back-hoe's bucket to break up the ground, so we quickly did two front bucket's worth of excavation before turning our attention to other projects.

Katie's rapidly becoming very good at handling a shovel


     We unloaded enough gravel into the Koi pit (we're planning on using the mini-aquaponics set up to grow Koi since they don't need heated water to over-winter) so that we could finish leveling out a good base for the concrete tank, and then used the remainder of the gravel to fill in weathered areas in our entrance road. That's an area where we've not been as attentive as we should have been and it's past time to make up for it--before the fall rains come and make the problems worse.

the excavation is proceeding nicely


  September 6:

     Another bucket load excavated and taken up to the well -- may not sound like much, but the weather's hot, the ground is stone hard, and so it goes. These are the sort of late summer days when it's much more pleasant to hang out in the kitchen and do research on what we're going to be doing next. In this case, we're looking at either purchasing or making a rammed earth molding machine to make our own bricks, but that's a story for another day.

Katie and Kerry working on adjusting the run-off slope


     Our soil has a high clay content, and come this time of year, it doesn't dig easy so the trick is to water down the area, allow that to sink in and then skim an inch or two of moist dirt until you get down to the dry clay--repeat as necessary.

     The heat of the afternoon was a good time to mess around with cladding the door. We're going for an organic look for the yurt, sort of something along the lines of the yurt just sort of grew there rather than having been built. To accent that, we took a bent oak truck, cut it down the middle and affixed the two pieces to the door. The next step will be to clad the door with boards milled here at Windward in such a way that the oak is incorporated into the door's wooden surface.

the split oak mounted on the door's front


     After hauling the day's dirt up to the water tank, Kerry and Katie got some practice in using a pole saw to trim away some branches that were too close to the new tank's location, and then we took the back-hoe off to gather up rocks. Katie decided that the yurt needed a stack-stone retaining wall, and that's going to take a goodly number of rocks to create, so it will take a half-dozen trips with the back-hoe to fetch enough rocks--fortunately we have no shortage of rocks at Windward :-)

Katie and Kerry pose with their day's haul of rocks
for the retaining wall


  September 7:

     Today I made the run into Portland to pickup another person at the airport, and returned to find that Kerry and Katie had filled another bucket with dirt to go up the hill. It's hard work, and these two sure are sticking with it. I'm impressed :-)

Katie and Kerry take a break to discuss their
plans for the retaining wall


     Also, they've uncovered a bit of a complication in that the old water line runs behind the yurt and close enough to the surface that it's been exposed by the digging. Since this line is redundant (a few years back we ran a larger line to the dining hall but never got around to switching over), we're looking at the option of cutting in, digging back into the bank and installing a water faucet that can be used to water the landscaping we'll eventually plant around the yurt.

an unexpected development--exposing the old water line


     Once the backhoe delivered its load of dirt uphill at the water tank, we went off in search of more rocks for the yurt's retaining wall. Since we're looking at some fifty feet of two foot tall retaining wall, we'll need a few loads of rock to go the distance.

Kerry and Katie pose with their latest load of stones for the yurt's wall


  September 8:

     Since we're into September, it's time to start looking at the things we need to get done before the dry season ends and the wintry rain returns. In today's case, that meant tackling the task of removing the old canning deck.

     One of the things the internship program has allowed us to do is to shift more effort towards putting the finishing touches on projects, such as getting the solar woodshed painted with two coats of sealer. As the yurt project nears completion, we'll be turning our attention to finishing the inside of the dining hall, and in order to do that effectively we need to set up some room to store tools and supplies, the stuff we've been storing in bay five and in what will be the new bathroom/shower. Since those are the spaces that we'll be working on, we need to be able to shift the stuff stored there to somewhere else in order to have room to work.

     And so the decision was made to remove the old canning deck, in part because it was past its useful life, and so that we could move two of our stock of cab-over campers into that space where they'll serve as a place to store stuff like our sheetrock and tile laying tools and supplies. It's work that needs doing before the rains come, as compared to finishing the landscaping on the yurt which is work which some rain would actually help move along.

Katie and Kerry ripping out the old canning deck


     The first step was to take a chain saw to the deck and cut it into three sections. The boards were then pried up with a crowbar and the nails knocked back into the wood so that they didn't pose a risk to anyone handling the boards later on. Finally the boards were stacked in the woodshed as more of this winter's kindling supply.

  September 9:

     Another "getting ready for rain" task involved installing the yurt's round, plexiglass skylight. It was an easy task, just six self-drilling screws and it was secure, so I expect that this will become of the seasonal things we do as we rig either for summer or winter by opening or sealing various ventilation openings. Generally this involves putting in place a plug made of two inch thick foam and only takes a couple of minutes--the sort of low-tech, passive solution we use whenever possible.

     In winter, we're going to want to keep warm air inside the yurt, and installing the plexiglass cap will do that. In summer we'll want to vent the hot air that rises to the yurt's ceiling, so once the inside of the yurt starts to get "too warm" in the spring, we'll remove the plexiglass and replace it with a screen covering that will keep bugs out while venting the hot air.

the yurt with its plexiglass skylight installed


     If you happened to wonder about the strangely shaped lights that we installed in the yurt, there was a reason for choosing them--they're in keeping with an interesting effect that the sun creates when it shines through the oculus, a bright, eye-shaped illuminated spot that travels across the back wall of the yurt between the two lights.

     In Hinduism and Buddhism there's a mystical tradition of the "third eye" symbolizing a state of enlightenment. Back when we created the yurt's design we didn't know that this effect would happen, but as we've been working on the yurt, we've been amused, pleased, touched and impressed by this manifestation of the unexpected, and wanted the two lights, placed on either side of the effect, to play the role of the first two eyes so that the "third eye" could move between them.

  September 10:

     While Katie continued excavating the yurt's north side, I constructed a 2'x2'x2' vault out of treated lumber to contain the mini-drainfield that's needed to enable the freeze-proof faucet to function correctly. When the handle is lifted, an underground valve is opened, water flows up the stand-pip and out the faucet. Then, when the handle is reseated, the underground valve is closed and a small drain line is opened up so that the water will drain back out of the standing pipe and not freeze.

     In order for that to work, there has to be someplace for the water to drain to, and given the clayish nature of our soil, without some sort of drain field to take that water, the whole purpose of this type of faucet would be frustrated--not to speak of how frustrating that can be for the person who needs the water.

ready to install the faucet vault


     In anticipation of cutting the old water line tomorrow, we took the time to set the valves necessary to bring water to the dining hall via the larger, better sloped line that we put in a few years back but hadn't got around to using before. It's really, really nice when you run into a problem and it turns out that you already have the solution in place and ready to go. On the other hand, that's no accident since whenever possible we try to lay in additional capacity any time we open up a ditch for just about any purpose. It's expensive to dig a long ditch, but it's really expensive to have to dig the same ditch twice.

  September 11:

faucet in place and box ready to be filled with rock


     The first step in today's work was to cut off the water at both ends of the line that ran behind the yurt. With that done, Katie used a short saw to cut through the line a few feet in front of where the new facet was to be installed.

     With the line free, the next step was to place the faucet assembly into position so that we could mark where the old line had to be cut in order to match up. That done, we cut the old line and left it for a while so that all the water in the line could drain out since it's very difficult to get a good glue joint on wet pipe.

     Once the line was drained, it was a simple matter to prep the joint, apply the glue and hold the faucet in position while the glue set up. That accomplished, we set the treated-wood vault in place and headed to the sand and gravel pile for rock to fill the vault. A couple of trips and it was time to pressurize the line.

with rock in place, the faucet is ready to use


     We hadn't planned on installing a water outlet at the yurt, and if we had done so earlier it would have actually been rather helpful along the way, but so it goes. One of the great things about doing work this way is that there's no reason to not take an extra day or two and fully develop a project's potential.

  September 12:

     Today we installed the yurt's carpeting, a plush blue that creates a very comfortable ambiance. Down the road we're expecting to install some sort of reclaimed flooring so that the yurt will be easier to keep clean, but for now we're going with reclaimed carpet.

     We've long had a relationship with a carpet installer in The Dalles who lets us go through the carpet that they remove when they reinstall commercial carpet, and take what we can use here at Windward since it's that much less they have to haul to the transfer station. Given how dusty Windward is in the summer, and how muddy it is in the winter, we know that any carpet we put down is only going to last a year or two, but hey, the price (free) is right and we're getting use out of something that was already on its way to the landfill.

Kerry watches as Katie trims the carpet
to match the yurt's curved walls


  September 14:

     We were expecting the two special-cast septic tanks to arrive today, but production delays have pushed that back to early next week, and so we've been taking advantage of the change in schedule to attend to more "getting ready for winter" tasks. For example, Katie and Kerry spent this afternoon using an electric weed wacker to cut down lots of tall, dry grass and stuff so that it could go into the compost pile. Given the plans we have for the sustainable garden on the north side of the dining hall, we're going to need a lot of compost to enrich the raw soil used to earth shelter the dining hall.

     I had to make a run into Goldendale today, and since we try to get as much utility as we can out of such runs, yesterday was focused on loading up left-over construction materials and trash from around the cabin. The work truck was filled to the top of racks, but the end result is another part of Windward that's tidied up for winter.

     The yurt is just about done needed not much more than a door before it's ready for its first intern resident. The "problem" is that I'm not happy with how the door's turning out. I was trying to incorporate a book-marked oak into the midst of a clading of boards cut from Windward trees, and now that I've done it once, I can see that I did it in the wrong order. Oh well, it's all a learning opportunity. I'll just do the work over again, this time taking advantage of what I've learned the first time around. As the old saying goes, research is what you do when you don't know what you're doing, and half the fun comes when you try new things, new ways of achieving novel results.

  September 16:

Katie shows off some of the flat rocks that Emily had found
and set aside as pavers for the front of the yurt


     Well, I've been convinced that I'm being over-critical of my work on the door--that we should go with what we have, and perhaps later look at replacing it if indeed it turns out that it just doesn't look right. And so, today the door was trimmed and taken up to the yurt and tried in place. After a couple of runs back to the workshop for minor trims and adjustments, Katie and Kerry pronounced the door as being ready to be stained, sealed and installed. It was really a neat feeling for the three of us to be sitting in the yurt with the door closed discussing finishing details--it really felt like the yurt was just about ready for move-in.

the door in place and ready for finishing


     While I was doing that, Katie and Kerry continued to dig out more of the dirt around the yurt's north side, only instead of taking it up to the water tank, they're keeping it on hand to use as backfill when they create the stack-stone retaining wall.
Kerry swinging a maddox to loosen dirt behind the yurt


  September 18:

Katie keeps steadily plugging away


     While Katie continued excavating the area behind the yurt, I took the backhoe and ripped out the nine cement columns that had been supporting the old canning deck, and then transported them around to "Mailbox Canyon" which is what we call the wash-out on the berm that we were planning on using to collect water for our hydroelectric generator.

     Most winters we get enough water to generate a useful amount of power, but last winter the culvert through the berm got blocked, the water built up and overflowed the berm and quickly eroded a rather large breach about ten feet back from the mail box, hence the name. These nine sizeable chunks of concrete will go a long way towards rebuilding the berm.

  September 19:

Katie using a chisel to clean up the opening


     When I'm in Portland I try to stop what's known locally as "the bins." That's the popular name given to Goodwill's receiving center where they sort through many of the donations they receive. The stuff is loaded onto mobile bins and rolled out into the main area where people can go through bins of shoes, or clothes or appliances, take what they want and pay by the pound.

     One thing that caught my eye this trip was a wooden cabinet that looked like it would fit in the yurt set back into the wall between two studs, and so I brought it home and we focused today's work session on installing it. First step was to cut out a rectangular section of sheet rock, Kerry noting with a twinkle in her eye that if the installation didn't work out that "we could always cover the hole with a piece of artwork."

Walt using an electric chain saw to remove a knot


     Because the studs are set along the radius lines of a circle, they're closer together on the inside wall than they are on the outside, so we had to cut away a bit of the stud on each side in order for the cabinet to fit. Most of the work was done with the worm drive skill saw, followed up by some chisel work. That took care of removing most of the material except for one section with a two inch diameter knot that just wasn't going to yield to the chisel.

     Fortunately we have a small electric chain saw that took care of the knot just fine, and with that impediment removed, the cabinet slid into the wall just fine. It's really fun to see the yurt start the transition from an empty box into a cozy place to live.

Katie and Kerry showing off the newly installed cabinet


     Of course the yurt will be a lot more cozy once it gets a door :-) The construction of the door is done, and the back has already received two coats of polyurethane stain finish. Tomorrow we'll turn it over and start finishing the front with the expectation of installing it this weekend.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 66