Sunday, September 12, 2010
The real work
I don't know what I'd do if for some reason I couldn't do practical work anymore. I'd go crazy, for sure.
Ordinary white collar work -- and education is no different than any other in this respect -- is often so nebulous in so many ways that you have a very hard time knowing when you're succeeding.
I spent so much of my life making or fixing things, from F4s to solar power systems, that I have a very great need to be able to sit back at the end of the day and say, well, yes, I managed to accomplish something today.
Call me neurotic, but the satisfaction I get leads me to think that we'd all feel a little better if we had a little bit of what Gary Snyder has called "the real work" to do, every so often.
My most recent practical project is the straw bale house restoration. This is the building that Aimee and I built years ago as a way to avoid paying rent while we saved, and while Aimee finished grad school, so we could afford the mortgage on the Great Farm farmhouse.
The Bale House was also an experiment in building, using straw bale and recycled materials, which is why it looks so old-worldy, with hemlock posts and beams and clay cob and lime wash all major materials used in construction. It cost less than $20,000 to build, and costs less than $200/month to run, including taxes and insurance.
The Bale House was, however, never finished. We had to move in before it was finished, and once we moved out, another family moved in before we had chance to do any more work. There are also some mistakes and poor design features I'd like to correct.
So every weekend for several weeks now, I've been spending quite a few hours each day over there fixing things up. I've had a little help from the future occupant and her friends, but mostly I've been alone and it's been great.
The first project, once we cleaned up the mess left by the previous occupants, fixed the roof, and got the solar power system working again, was to add insulation to the kitchen roof. The old roof was only R10, a major design flaw. This was done of course to save money, but actually cost a lot of time, and now some money to correct. This led to several problems, not the least being ice dam formation. I fitted recycled metal roofing at the start of the latest retrofit, which will stop water getting in from ice dams, but I'd like to stop the ice dams completely, and make the kitchen more energy efficient. the answer is to fit R19 insulation and sealed drywall over the old rafters, bringing the R-level up to about R30.
The next job is to fit finished drywall to the ceiling of the main part of the house. This ceiling, originally R20, had already had the R19 treatment, plus another layer of 1/2 inch foam board leading to R44, and had ceased making ice dams. But I had never managed to get drywall over the last layer of foam board.
This is a cathedral ceiling and so needed a drywall lift. I also used the lift for the kitchen work. because I'm working alone, I need the lift even for a relatively low ceiling like the kitchen one. Often, on a drywall crew, three guys will do a low ceiling, two to hold each board, a third to drive home the screws. I have to do it all myself, mostly because no-one is available to help me on the days when I'm working.
The last shot is of the almost finished kitchen ceiling. Since I took this shot last week, I've already sanded the drywall mud and added a good coat of primer. The finished drywall looks a lot better than the old smoky rafters. Now all it needs is another coat of paint and a bit of trim.
In other GFD news, that unexpected rooster has matured and become a little rambunctious. He certainly is crowing a lot. Aimee, with her usual disregard for the feelings of the male of the species, has been baiting him, first by imitating him with her own voice, more recently by playing the recordings of another rooster back to him.
So I think we're going to have a fairly neurotic rooster. This might be unfair treatment, since he's already here on sufferance, and likely to be souped the first time he pecks one of us or a neighbor.