Construction Journal Entry Week of 1/2/11

1/4-6/11 I went up to Camp Serendipity for 3 days: Tuesday through Thursday.

My back was hurting as a result of lifting a bucket of sand up into the truck bed without being careful, but I figured I could still get some work done if I worked slowly. It was 18 degrees when I arrived at Camp Serendipity at 1:00 and there had been no new snow since I left last week. It must have thawed a little and then frozen because the snow was hard and crusty. Since it was so cold, I brought an extra sleeping bag into the trailer when I moved my gear in.

After having lunch, I went to work stringing the 12-3 MC cable for the smoke detectors up through the phony log in the loft. This was pretty tricky and it took several attempts, some ingenuity, and the rest of the afternoon.

I drilled a 3/4" hole up through the loft floor right next to the vent duct that is inside the phony log in a space that wasn't already occupied with wires. This was tricky because there wasn't much space between the duct and a joist so I couldn't see what I was doing. I had to do it by feel and I could barely squeeze my hand into the space in order to do the feeling. I used an 18-inch augur and once I was satisfied that it was in the right place, I proceeded on to drill the hole. Even though I couldn't see it, it felt like it was in the right place.

Next I had to figure out how to snake the MC cable through that hole and into the phony log. I unscrewed and pulled out the two boxes in the phony log: Box P for the ventilation switch and Box Q for the thermostat. This allowed me to see into the space that the cable would have to run. I could see that there was plenty of room for the cable in there.

It seemed impossible to get the cable to go into the hole I drilled by sending it down from above, so I decided to shove it up through the hole. Even though the cable is fairly stiff, it is still too floppy to steer it up straight enough so that I could get at it through the box holes. I decided to use a length of #4 solid copper wire as a fish wire.

I fed the #4 wire up from the bottom, getting it into the hole by feel, and I was pleased to see it appear through the box holes in the phony log. I could reach through the holes with a pliers and grab the copper wire to manipulate it to where I wanted the cable to run. Then I pulled the wire up high enough so that the top of it came out the top of the phony log into the insulation that was between the rafters. Then I bent the wire over the top of the phony log to hold it in place.

The next problem was how to fasten the MC cable to the #4 wire. I used a hacksaw to cut the #4 wire off up below the floor joist and I used a couple lengths of rebar tie wire to bind the end of the cable to the wire. Then it took some doing to get that joint up through the hole, which again I had to do by feel, but I did get it through.

Back up in the loft, I began pulling the wires up using a pliers through the switch box hole and by bending the wire toward me as it came up over the top of the phony log so that I could continue to raise it.

After inching it up almost all the way, I discovered that my tie-wire joint had come apart and the cable was no longer connected to the wire.

I had to figure out a way to attach the cable to the wire more securely. After considering several different methods, I decided to drill a hole in the side of the cable a few inches from the end, bend a short right-angle bend in the end of the copper wire, stick the bent end of the wire into the hole in the cable, and then bind the two together again with rebar tie-wire.

After straightening the copper wire, fashioning the joint I just described, and getting the wire started through the hole in the floor, I proceeded on to get the joint fed up into the hole by feel as before.

Then using the same procedure to inch the copper wire up through the phony log, I was successful in getting the cable all the way up through the phony log and over the top so that I could grab it. The work, and the many trips up and down the loft stairs that it required, were all done slowly and deliberately so as not to aggravate my back which continued to hurt all day.

At some point during the afternoon, I had noticed some small patches of ice on the workbench on the front porch. I habitually examine the top of the workbench looking for mouse or packrat poop to see whether or not they are active up there. I have a rodent repeller aimed at the top of the workbench, and it seems to have been effective since I haven't seen any turds up there for quite a while. And, there weren't any at this time.

But here were these small patches of ice that I couldn't explain. There was a row of three of them, each one a couple inches long and an inch and a half wide, or so. At first I wasn't sure whether they were varnish bubbles or what. But I soon found that they were ice.

I used a sharp chisel to scrape some shavings off the ice patches and put them into a yogurt container. I took it inside to thaw it out and see if it might be rodent urine. I couldn't figure any other way that there could be ice on top of the workbench.

By the time I quit for the day, the ice had melted and there was a puddle of tea-colored liquid in the bottom of the yogurt container. It looked like mouse urine to me but when I smelled it, I couldn't get any whiff of urine. My sense of smell isn't the best, but on the other hand, my experience with rodent urine is that it is so pungent that even I should have been able to smell it. But this stuff just didn't smell. It presented a new mystery. I pondered this mystery as I took my shower and went in for the night.

The extra sleeping bag I put over my bed kept me nice and warm during the night, but it was still a pretty miserable night because of my back pain. I took a couple aspirins at intervals during the night and I did get some fitful sleep.

On Wednesday morning, it was 22 degrees outside and snowing lightly. It was about 50 inside the trailer. After breakfast, I went back to work stringing the MC cable.

I removed a few staples holding the Visqueen vapor barrier above the loft wall between Grid E1 and E2 where the cable had to go. I pulled the insulation away enough so that I could drill a hole in the web of the rafter to the left of the phony log. Then I worked the MC cable from the top of the phony log over through this hole and then laboriously pulled quite a bit of cable up through the phony log and out onto the loft floor. This too had to be done mostly by feel.

With my right hand jammed up between the top of the phony log and the insulation and the baffle, I could barely get a grip on the cable with my thumb and the tips of two fingers enough to lift the cable up an inch or so before it hit the baffle. Then, with my left hand jammed up between the insulation and the other side of the rafter, I could pull that inch of slack out through the hole. That would allow me to ratchet my right hand down the cable for the next 1-inch lift.

Standing in one place working with both hands up above my shoulders was not the best or most comfortable posture for my back, but by taking many breaks and keeping at it, I eventually got enough cable pulled through to reach over to the site of the second smoke detector at Grid D1.

I thought that I was going to have to drill a hole in each rafter all along the run, but after feeling in there behind the insulation, I realized that there were a couple wire runs already in there going the same route. Those wires were going through knockout holes in the rafters and there was plenty of room in the holes for an additional MC cable. So I proceeded to feed and pull the cable through these holes and through the insulation following the route of the other wires. This, too, all had to be done by feel since I didn't want to remove the insulation, or pull it out any more than I had to.

With the cable strung that far, I replaced Boxes P and Q and the switch and thermostat, and I pushed the insulation back up between the rafters and stapled the vapor barrier back on. Then I went in for lunch with my back hurting pretty bad.

After lunch, I snaked the end of the cable up alongside the rafter between Grid E1 and D1 and fed it through the wall log and into the hole I had chiseled in the log for the second smoke detector box. Then I installed the electrical box in the hole with the wires from the two MC cables hanging out ready to be hooked up. That pretty much completed the job of installing the smoke detectors in the loft for now. There was still more to do on the first floor, but I was happy to be done in the loft.

I brought the extension ladder back down and stored it in the crawl space, I picked up and put away all the tools I had used in the loft, and I cleaned up the chip mess I had made. I felt pretty good about getting all the projects done in the loft that need to be done before installing the ceiling boards.

My feelings were quite different about the crawl space. When I was down there putting the ladder away, I looked around and found a few disturbing things.

First, I checked the replacement-air duct to see about the condensation that formed on it. Last week I saw that the condensation was dripping down on some boxes I had stored on shelves under the duct. So I had placed a curved piece of sheet metal under the duct to catch the drips and divert them over the shelves so that they would drop into a bucket on the floor. I had also lined up two more buckets next to that one to catch other drips from further up the duct.

I was encouraged that my sheet metal deflector had kept the boxes and shelves dry, but I was amazed at how much water had accumulated in the bottoms of those 3 buckets. There is really a lot of moisture in the air in the crawlspace and I am going to have to really insulate and seal that duct to prevent the condensation.

Then I noticed that the masonry walls of the crawlspace had accumulated a pretty thick layer of ice on the inside. This was another indication of the amount of moisture down there.

Next I went over and checked the copper plumbing run coming into the building and I discovered a mound of ice formed under the bend of the incoming pipe where it comes into the building. I was hoping this was also from condensation, but the pipe above it was not wet. This pipe is at about 55 degrees because of the water running through it, so I believe it is above the dew point in those conditions and is not condensing water. So I figured that the mound of ice must be the result of a frozen and ruptured pipe in the tee that connects to the spigot.

That was pretty discouraging news. Since there was no water visibly flowing, I figured that if a pipe had burst, the ice must be sealing up the rupture. Since it was so late and my back was hurting, I rationalized that I really didn't need to do anything about this new development now. It would stay sealed as long as the temperature remained freezing, and when it warmed up, there wouldn't be any damage. When I am gone, I leave the water running full bore into the creek so the pressure up at the cabin is near zero. That means that there won't be much, if any, flow out of the rupture. In fact it might suck in air rather than discharge water. And, even if it did discharge water, it would run right out an ABS drain pipe through the foundation at that location so there wouldn't be much pooling inside. But even so, I felt pretty bum about my damp crawl space as I quit for the day. I will have to make it a high priority project next summer to try to make and keep the crawlspace dry.

Since my back was hurting pretty bad, before I went down for dinner, I filled the tub with hot water and I got in and soaked in hot water until the water started cooling off. It felt really good on my back while I was in the tub, but once I got out, my back didn't feel any better.

I had another painful night and worried all night that I might not be in shape to drive home. So on Thursday morning when I got up, I decided to leave for home as early as possible and give up on getting any more work done.

When I went outside, I discovered that there was a light, freezing rain, and that everything was covered with from a quarter to a half-inch of ice. Since there was a thin layer of water on the ice, walking was treacherous.

I took the emergency sleeping bag down to the truck and found that the ice on top of the couple inches of snow on the truck was three-quarters of an inch thick. I scraped all the ice and snow off the truck and then I carefully walked out to the road to see what the driving conditions were like. I don't think I have ever seen a road in worse shape. The road was covered with what looked to be a couple of inches of glare ice with a layer of rainwater on top. The ice was so clear and transparent that you could clearly see the pavement underneath almost everywhere. There were shallow ruts in the ice that looked to me like they would take away all steering control if you tried to drive on it. I decided that I didn't want to get out on that road early after all.

I still didn't plan to do any more work, though, so I went up to the cabin to close it up. As soon as I got on the porch, I noticed that there were now a lot more of those mysterious ice pads. They were not only on the workbench, but they went down a line pretty much all the way across the porch. That pretty much ruled out rodent urine and I couldn't imagine that there were that many leaks in my roof, all in a line. It must be condensation up in the rafters or on the OSB sheating.

I went out on the back porch to lock up, and discovered not one but two similar lines of ice pads on the back porch and down the stairs. One line was about 19 inches from the wall and the other was about 36 inches from the wall. Since these distances didn't correspond to OSB seams, I couldn't imagine what caused them. This was another discouraging mystery and one that better be solved before I think about installing the ceiling boards under the eaves.

Feeling pretty discouraged, I closed up the cabin, went down to the trailer, packed up my stuff, and lied down on the bed to relax for a while. After hearing the snowplow make two passes, I figured the road would now be safe enough. I scraped ice off the truck for the second time, loaded my gear and left for home at 11:00. The roads were fine and got progressively better the further I got from Camp Serendipity. My back actually felt pretty good on the drive home. The armrests and the cruise control let me find comfortable positions. I'm looking forward to a better week next week.

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