Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Battening down for winter

Since the hard freeze of Monday-before-last? we've had another nice little stretch of Indian Summer, good for getting in a few more outside jobs:

Back on Cob Spraying Day (see 30 October) while the Cottage Cob Crew was at their labors, Pigpen and I worked on freeze-protecting the septic line with gutter de-icing cables.  This was not a photogenic process.  Basically, the process was to run fish tape or plumbing snake downhill to the tank or cleanout, tape the plug end of the heater cable on and pull it back through.  I repaired the existing 100 ft cable which because it is shorter is now 700 watts instead of 600.  It protects the E-W section of the line.  A new 375 watt cable protects the N-S section of the line, and the tank.  As I described previously, we've also got temperature sensors buried just outside the pipe so I can tell when freezing threatens and the heaters need to be turned on.

As I went about mentioning to people about the temperature sensors everyone pretty much said "sure would be nice to get a bit more insulation on top of that line..."  Pigpen was like "Yah, let's get crazy with the Cat.  Two hours I can build one of my patented two-foot-high six-foot wide dirt berms on it.  I'll even drop a straw bale on top you can spread out for extra insulation."  This plan was speedily approved and boda-whang, he got 'er done.  

Looking north:

Looking east:

The straw ended up about six inches deep.  I fluffed up the old straw over the tanks as well.

The extra dirt is helping - I can see a difference on the temperature traces.  Before there was about a five degree daily temperature swing, now it's less than one degree I'd say, on the N-S section of the line.  

I think we are in pretty good shape on this, with the sensors, the electric heat, the partial berm.  Also when the solar water heat is hooked up I may be able to use free solar hot water to warm the line.  Multiple elements supporting the function.  Permaculture.

* * *

We also moved Big Foamy, the insulated box now serving as a root cellar, to my Originally Designed Root Cellar Location just outside the west door.  Now that it's out in the sun it should stay unfrozen a bit longer.  Mr. Universe also pointed out that because it's so insulated, it wouldn't take much electric heat to keep it unfrozen, twenty watts maybe.

I also tried various things to fix the leak in the lid.  I found some heavy black plastic film which Redbeard later told me was "root barrier".  I tried gluing it to the lid (which is made of pink polystyrene foam board) using expanding foam.  It didn't stick.  Next I tried gluing it on with roof tar, that caused the edges of the film to curl up.  I gave up on it for now and turned to the sides.  I wanted to cob the outside of the box, basically to make it look nicer.  It then would match the cottage, both in appearance and in the manner of construction being comprised of wood, styrofoam, and mud.  I got as far as stapling on two layers of chicken wire, and cobbing about one eighth of it.  

* * *

Fancy finished up cobbing around the windows and doors, and declared a seasonal end to major cob operations.  She says it's better if it dries before it freezes, but the forecast is for wet weather through to a hard freeze on Saturday.

I can report some qualitative evidence that the door and window resealing is working: before I could smell straw inside when the wind blew hard enough, I don't notice that any more.  I'd still like to get a blower door test done to quantify the air tightness of the house.  Hopefully when the new building is tested we can piggyback on that operation.

* * *

Another thing I had designed but not gotten to was the beltway path around the cottage.  The main point being to better protect the floor inside from tracked-in sand.  Mrs. Universe had a couple pallets of patio pavers she wasn't using so I grabbed 'em and started hastily throwing them down.  I guess ideally the ground should be fluffed and leveled and tamped before setting the pavers.  That I did pretty half-assed.  Most of it's not too bad.

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