Saturday, September 10, 2011

Planter Mk1

Our eventual plan is to have ground-level planters in a U where the opening in the U is the door. The first step: build a prototype and put it in place at the very end of the greenhouse opposite the door. The weather "co-operated" by being sunny and bloody hot. Building in south-facing yard becomes a somewhat sweaty experience.

Planter Mk1 is a very simple box, about 87"x31" and 18" deep.

Building the planter outside is a plus for avoiding the heat but putting it in place becomes a little exciting. It's hard to rotate inside when you built something almost the full width of the structure. Still, eventually the damn thing slotted in.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Building a Greenhouse

Long long ago when we built our house we thought it would be cool to one day have a greenhouse. We had a ~8'x10' concrete pad put in during construction and then left it to weather-season for about a year (a key step!).

Recently we finally had a chance to stick a greenhouse on our well-cured pad. We found some rough plans online ( but as we tried to plan out a version based on these plans we rapidly discovered details were a bit lacking for a newbie builder. Despite the fact Eric previously built a house we managed to waste enormous amounts of time and effort on various scenarios that neither of us had never quite run into.

The first barrier we ran into was where to obtain greenhouse poly. Our local Home Depot and the like didn't carry it and seemed to have no idea who might. Luckily while browsing some pictures of greenhouse builds people had done we discovered Although not exactly cheap (prices), the 11mm clear woven poly is a fantastic material. It is light, cuts easily, diffuses light beautifully (this helps avoid burning your plants) and is damn near impossible to tear. Other users gave it rave reviews online so we decided to go with it and ordered a roughly $300 roll (12'x60', price includes tax and shipping).

We don't have a truck so moving 2"x4"x8's and 2"x4"x10's was a bit awkward. Luckily the Subaru Timberline supports about 20 2"x4"x8's per trip.

The next problem was neither of us had ever secured a wooden structure to concrete before. After a quick Google and chat with Home Depot our initial plan was to secure the affair to the pad using Tapcons. Between using a drill that was too weak (damn you 12v impact driver) and then one that was too strong we wasted literally two days having these cursed things jam, shear off, and otherwise misbehave before mentioning it to a general contractor who suggested that we should use wedge anchors instead. We rented what Home Depot thinks of as a small concrete drill (shown side-by-side with the 12v impact driver below; lol) and got the job done in 15 minutes. Sigh.

Having finally attached our base to the ground we threw together the first two walls. Rod was fascinated to learn the simple, elegant, and brilliantly effective trick of making the diagonals of a wall the same then adding a cross brace to hold it in place to square the wall. Our work table kept trying to escape so we cleverly trapped it using our new walls. For the verticals we used the remarkably handy 92.25" finger joined studs; these are helpful in that if you put a finished (as in "not rough cut") 2"x4" on top/bottom you get an 8' wall (apparently finished 2"x4"s are actually less than 2"x4" due to the material lost in finishing):

Doubling up the corner supports seemed to add a lot of stability to the previously strong but somewhat elastic structure.

The roof trusses were next up. The plans called for this but we decided to just go with a simple triangle shape.

At about this time we also decided to invest in a less annoying drill. The 12v is awesome but between inadequate power and having to swap/recharge batteries 4-6x/day it was getting a little irritating for this job. The new drill has way more power and goes for days between battery swaps. If only we had bought it on day 1!

With the new drill easing the pain we were able to get the trusses on without much issue. Given how much effort we managed to waste on previous steps this was a pleasantly surprising change of pace.

The horizontal between end-trusses makes putting the middle ones on far far easier as well as hopefully providing a convenient mount point for trellises or guide strings or whatever to help future plants reach for the sky.

At about this time one has to ask oneself "how the hell do we get plastic up-and-over this thing". One might then climb a ladder, look around, and think "I don't think I can do it this way but while I'm here I'll paint the outward facing surfaces of the frame white".

Luckily inspiration then struck: if we nail the end of the poly to 2"x4"s we can reach up from the ground!

The poly has to be pulled as taut as possible, then secured by nailing lathe to the studs. For the walls where you can reach from the ground this is awkward but achievable. For the roof we eventually concluded we were going to have to install some temporary scaffolds to facilitate reaching and applying pressure.

With this superb system in place it becomes "trivial" to tautify and lathen.

At the end of the day it could have been tauterer but it is hopefully taut enough to work.

We installed the door, a latch, and the side and front walls then decided to show Pavan the door. She promptly walked in, closed the door, and then asked how to open it from the inside. It dawned on us that had the back wall been completed we would be trapped inside; rofl.

The inside now features an escape string as well as some rigging to open the vent above the door.

The greenhouse seems to work to some extent: it's hot as hell inside. If we had to do it again it would take quite literally 1/4th the time. Still, it was fun to play with something "real" for a while. Next up some sort of planter arrangement and then hopefully years of superior tomatoes!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A little grass on your leg?

Lawn equipment.

It's expensive and kind of annoying to use. Stupid 50:1 mixture of oil with gas! I have to have a jerrycan just for the frikken weed wacker?! A device whose sole purpose is to vibrate my arms to sleep?

At the end of the day it's really all just an elaborate way of getting grass on your leg.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lust for gold or born neutral?

A series of unfortunate events led us to suspect that our 240v oven outlet was borked. Trying to measure if it was alive with a multi-meter proved frustrating as it's very hard to get the tiny multimeter prongs to make a connection without pulling the outlet off the wall and touching the wires directly. To make matters worse we weren't quite sure what results we should get (other than that probably some of them should not be zero!).

A quick trip to Home Depo (thankfully quite close!) yielded a nice explanation, a diagram of what our results should be, and two reusable multi-meter prong extensions. Just ram into 240v outlet, grab both at once, and enjoy the ride! Hopefully by recording this on the blog we'll have a nice reference in case any of our other appliance outlets seem borked.

Multimeter with Optional Prong Extenders

Apparently these are the results one should get from a 240v outlet:
Expected Results

Despite some degree of nervousness about ramming wires into a 240v outlet, we decided to try to test our outlet. Using our shiny new prong extenders we found that our outlet gave the right results between live/live, live/ground, and gave about 7v between live/neutral. We neglected to measure neutral/ground. The correct live/live result may explain why our electrician thought the outlet was operational - he probably didn't check every pair.

We chatted with the Home Depo electrician once again and speculated that neutral might be charged, that wires might be stripped too far and arcing, or ... something. If neutral was charged we'd expect to see 120v neutral/ground. Once home again we tested again and this was our final result:
Actual Results

Neutral to live OR ground giving roughly zero seemed to strongly suggest that the neutral wasn't connected to *anything*. To confirm this we finally took the step we'd been avoiding all along and ripped the damn outlet out. As one might have expected we discovered a white wire (std color for neutral) kinda chilling on it's own:

The multimeter results are 100% correct if you touch the white wire directly when neutral is desired. Sadly we didn't quite manage to fix it as the screw to loosen to slide neutral in seems to be completely stripped. Fingers crossed the electrician makes it in today to fix the bloody thing and we actually have a working oven (gas range part is fine) again soon!!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Much ado about bbq

As Sears has helpfully delivered us a non-functional range that they can't seem to get repaired (so angry...) we decided to re-order our house purchase plan a little and buy a grill before anything else. Grills come in excitingly large boxes that (luckily) just barely fit into a Subaru ;) For reference, the recommended solution if your grill doesn't fit into your vehicle is to rent the tool van ($20ish) NOT to pay the delivery fee ($60+, with some useless multi-hour deliver window).

Despite having the handy-person skills of an 11 year old we opted to assemble it ourselves. The hardest part of assembling a grill is peeling off the "easily removable" plastic protective sheathing. This stuff would probably withstand gunfire and with a few angled layers might hold off a shaped charge. We literally spent half the assembly time trying to pull the stuff off! After some time at this, plus a few visitors, and other random interruptions the grill was assembled and ready to connect to the gas.

Lucky we had a natural gas outlet installed on the deck right? - we can just plug the hose in a cook! Well ... almost. The picture below shows the enormous quick-release connector that came with the grill (bottom left) along side the one installed on the deck. The hose from the grill fits the gargantuan quick-release NOT the rather smaller connector on the deck.

Not to worry; we'll just unscrew the quick-release that is currently installed and screw on the new one. Sounds promising except that unscrewing the current connector is freaking difficult without bending the heck out of the system. It is also challenging when you don't have a suitable wrench. No problem, we'll just go to Home Depo to get a wrench and some of that freaky teflon tape stuff that encourages the connections not to leak gas.

The Home Depo staff examined a digital photo of the system alongside the giant connector, assured us they all screwed onto the same size adapter, and sold us the requisite tools. Feeling handy we headed home, struggled mightily to unscrew the tiny quick-release without completely destroying the gas outlet assembly, and a few choice cusses later got it off. At this point we learned that both the quick release and the threaded female connector on the smaller quick-release are smaller. Contrary to Home Depo staff expectations it seems multiple sizes are in use. Our natural gas outlet expects 3/8" whereas our giant unit has a 1/2" female threaded connector. Further cusses. OK, off to Home Depo again where staff helped us locate the two shiny bits on the right:

Further wrenching and cussing rammed it all together and produced the final masterpiece below:

Thankfully after all this the barbeque works perfectly and produced some rather outstanding striploins on its first run - complete with spiffy cross-hatch grill marks and all. So good!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

No Purple Poodles!

It seems that as a duplex we are a strata council. Today we made - officially - our first and probably last ruling:

No Purple Poodles

This proclamation was officially inscribed into the documents for the sale by our notary :)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Teaset of Survival

Our Chinese teaset has survived  travel wrapped in brightly colored hand-towels and apple-wrapping-foam (see Leaving Xi'an) from China to Canada, living in a garage and last but not least the moving truck to reach our new place without a single breakage! Pu'er, here we come :)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Moved In!

This is basically done, right:

We figured things were ready enough so after a savage clean we started moving odds and ends Saturday the 15th, movers came on the 16th and the 16th was our first night in!

Rod's favorite feature by a rather wide margin is the smartbox connected to ethernet outlets in five rooms.

This is so awesome we actually already wish we'd had even more put in!

A key to move-in success turns out to be paper-that-smells-like-cheese. Keeps movers from having to track dirt everywhere ;)

In order to get things moved in fast without tracking in too much dirt for most items we had the movers carry stuff into the paper-covered area and then Rod would run the box to the appropriate room for Pavan to begin to unpack. It turns out moving the boxes in takes far less time than unpacking them so everything rapidly began to be covered in boxes:

In the end the mother-in-law suite wound up being about the only place not infested with boxes:

A fence has miraculously appeared too:

As we moved the gardeners were busy installing little trees and shrubs so now we seem to own a row of small trees too.

So nice to finally move in!!!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Best sign ever!

Although the deal is not 100% completed until the other party takes possession and all that we were very excited to see this sign go up:
It was literally gone before we even got so far as to post it on the MLS!

As an added bonus it seems we are throwing in this lovely shopping cart!
Less excitingly we're evidently in the eternal 'almost done' phase and have thus not quite moved in yet. We probably could if we really had to but we are electing to wait rather than rush in early.