Construction Update: Captive Electrons

PV ready to goFor some time progress on the house has been… invisible. Some things have been going on, but they’ve been difficult to present or to think of as progress.

There was a mishap in regard to the floor color that set things back for weeks while the concrete magician worked out an elixir that would fix it. This was nearly a tragedy. An assistant on the job passed the wrong stain color to the applicator, who conscientiously sprayed it on half the downstairs floor. It takes several minutes for the color to emerge in the applied acid etch stain. I can only imagine B.’s horror as he watched the colors change before his wondering eyes. In the end, after many  hours of “lab time” and  many samples and tests on floor spaces that will be concealed in the final house (under cabinets, in closets…), he came up with a treatment that has given us a lovely floor. It’s not exactly what we had in mind for the ground floor — we had wanted to reproduce something like the natural hues revealed in the soils in the excavation for the house: reddish clays, ochre layers, faint green smears… but it is a really beautiful floor. It looks like old leather. If you did not know where to look, you wouldn’t see the place where the disaster took place.

So, weeks later, the floors are finished and safely covered over so carpenters can come in and start on walls and windows.

We brought our color samples into the kitchen — It’s been a long time since we first made the selections for materials and colors, and, frankly, I had to be reminded. Oh, is that what the cabinets are to be? Good thing we still liked it! I wonder how often people change their  minds drastically after the months pass between choosing and finally seeing? Here is the color pallet, as much as you can tell from monitor pictures:

Stained concrete, cork on the kitchen floor, 'Ceaser Stone' counters in sage and slate green, coffee-colored powder-coat stair railing, stained 'Liptis' cabinet wood.

Stained concrete area floor, cork on the kitchen floor, 'Ceaser Stone' counters in sage and slate green, coffee-colored powder-coat stair railing, and stained 'Liptis' cabinet wood.

The guys took the black plastic off the window holes and replaced it with translucent plastic, and we are pleased to find that light pours into the rooms, and the colors are earth-like and good.

Two bold men spent a month applying what is called a parge coat to the exterior of the house.

Scaffold work

Ricardo on the scaffold, applying the parge coat.

Parge, or parget, is a coat of waterproofing, traditionally plaster but in this case a material more like mortar. It is the undercoat of the exterior treatment.

Some plumbing has wormed its way out of the building:


This looks to me like some kind of Borg bio-mech entity escaping from the foundation.

Meanwhile, electricity has happened. Here, the electricians are installing panels onto the racks on the roof. Note the careful use of safety lines. It’s a long way down.

Electricians on the edge

The ‘Phase One’ array of photo-voltaic panels is installed,  a little over 6 kW, and the attendant inverter is in the attic:

The inverter read-out

In the first test, on a cloudy day, the panels immediately began harvesting hurried electrons and providing them a way through the lines to the meter. The only problem with this was the meter. We still have the original meter in place, and it is not so smart as it thinks it is. All it knows is that electricity is flowing, not where it originated. Until PGE can replace it with a new, reversing, meter we won’t be running the PV system — no point paying the  utility company for electricity we generate. The change-out should happen next week.

On the passive side, we have a different kind of array on the north roof. These are solar tubes, small skylights with reflective tubes running from the underside of the lens into the attic. At its terminus, a tube is fitted with a Fresnel-type lens that distributes the light.

Solar tubes

Solar tubes gather light through a skylight lens and carry it through reflective tubes into dark areas of the interior.

The Fresnel lens, first developed in the 19th Century by Augustin-Jean Fresnel , was the lens that made lighthouse lights visible over distances of 20 miles. These days they are made affordably of plastic and used to magnify images in overhead projectors, and small CRT screens; they are the lenses of traffic lights, theater light instruments, and auto headlamps; they correct vision disorders; aircraft carriers use Fresnel lenses in their optical landing systems; and they concentrate sunlight into solar cookers and forges. Solar tubes with plastic Fresnel lenses are available at common home-improvement stores.

There are five solar tubes on the roof. Three will light the attic. Two will penetrate the ceiling of the main living floor and light the dining area and one bathroom.

Here’s the view up a tube:

Looking up the tube

and here’s the light underneath:

Lighted attic

In daytime, you don’t need electric lights in the attic! These are completely passive, clean, and… well, they are just so neat.

All the time excavation was going on for the house, we were laughing up our sleeves because just down the road from us the neighbors had had to blast boulders out of their backyard in order to install a septic system. Our hole had no rocks bigger than a melon, and not many of those. It hardly seemed fair, and the neighbors were unamused at our good fortune. But last week we found the boulder field. Just south of the house, where a drainage line is headed into the pasture, the excavator started pulling stones from the earth. In an entire day’s work he made about 20 feet of progress on a 2-foot wide ditch, and accumulated a nice pile of volcanic stones.


We’re hoping the field is short, because that drain line has a ways to go. It’s our punishment for glee.

On the other hand, those are fine landscape stones, and we’ll find a use for them.

Published in: on August 29, 2009 at 1:51 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. Is “parget” related to the surname “Pargeter”? It sounds as if it could be the same. The house is going to be fantastic and well worth the wait. What an amazing structure you are building.

    I would think there is a connection between the word and the name. On the model of Miller and Baker?

    I was talking to one of the carpenters this morning who said it reminded him, in construction though not in materials, of the houses he built in Mexico. Someday you will have to come see it in person!


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