Category Archives: Renovating a Barn

Almost done, it must be about time to move again!

We’ve been on a concentrated push to truly finish the barn. That is, our home. It’s been “adequate”, by my standards, for some time, and I’ve been living in it, but the true goal is to have all the trim and paint and handles and whatnots complete. It’s tiresome to be constantly surrounded by a to-do list in 3D.

We’ve finished all the floor, putting in click planks of cork. It’s a compromise; I wanted gluedown because it looks better and has no adhesives in the laminate, but the cork could outlast the subfloor so it’s nice to be able to take it up, and I was told that Torlys has peerless environmental practices. We finished all the last voids of canvas, plated all the outlets, finished all the baseboard and thresholds, exterior wood, made custom curtains, a tile pad for the woodstove, and many storage shelves. It was more work than it sounds like.

Not that I was ever out to prove this, but I feel I’ve proved that a home can be as sexy and cozy without plumbing, with wood heat and minimal electrical, as a house much bigger with a $1000/month mortgage (I’ve been there).

We have a strong ethic of not buying any materials if we can figure out a way to avoid it. This frees up money to spend in the right place, IMO- on better quality and more attractive versions of what does need to be purchased. It also means multiple varieties of wood trim, reused and denailed lumber, and using stuff for applications it wasn’t exactly meant for.

The creative alternatives tend to be more satisfying and unique. Ceramic insulators and baling wire for curtain “rods” (I have a hunch that champagne corks with a hole bored in them would be pretty cool too), DIY wooden switchplates, 12″ tall (short) wainscotting pieced together from dozens of scraps, and of course a pulley-operated dumbwaiter. My favorite is the dumbwaiter, to send morning tea up to the loft. No home is complete without one.

It’s very satisfying to have all the inevitable stuff of life support organized and arranged for optimal accessibility and function. It takes a fair bit of time and attention to orchestrate that. It’s quite emotionally satisfying, a relief even – in H.W.’s version of “A place for everything and everything in its place”: “Everything has a holster and everything is holstered”. Our kitchen won’t look like the average kitchen (maybe anyone’s kitchen), but it has functional zones and we can lay hands on everything commonly used instantly, and less used easily.

I’m especially in love with this composting container from Lee Valley Tools. It’s meant to hang on a cupboard door, but since we don’t have one, I made a custom catch for it to hook on, and it slides the length of the counter and slides off to take it and empty it. The unexpected advantage of this is that it slides the length of the counter, and one can deftly sweep all the crumbs straight into it with a flourish!

The final price tag for this entire reno, from the starting point of roof, framing and dirt floor to (plumbing-free) suite, is under $12 000. The biggest chunks of that expense were the certified chimney, the Roxul insulation, the cork floor, and the essential but unseen drain tile.

Accidentally Green

Hi!

I’ve been suffering from a staggering fit of Blogger Guilt:  the common condition of being overwhelmed by so many things to urgently write about, compounded by feeling that there’s not enough time to ever catch up.   It causes some kind of neurological paralysis specific to bloggers.

Since we’re home from the holidays, we’ve been immersed in an aggressive push to finish the house (barn), while we’re still living in it.   Truly finish it, so that I can sit a chair, say, and look around and not see missing baseboard, shelves that need to be built, absent curtains, etc. It would be really nice to get the barn DONE and then be able to just live in it while exploring other interests – the kind that other people have, when they don’t live within the unfinished construction project of their home (whatever those interests may be?).

For a change.  My typical pattern is to make a home truly habitable just in time to start packing, handing off the dwelling to someone who doesn’t have the building skills to create a habitat out of thin air.

We were on a tight 10- day plan (we really are tantalizingly close to “really done”) but I optimistically neglected to add that crucial 20%, and a few more things arose to plump up the to-do list, so we are again paused at “almost-complete” to pay attention to other important aspects of life.

Like the world at large!  Watch out for posts coming out of chronological order to catch up on our recent train and hitchhiking adventures!

Canvas- DONE.

(Finally) completed skinning the walls of the barn with canvas.  Used the very last of the roll, too.

I’ve been discovering patches of mold on the canvas these days, always where there is a cold patch, where it’s not as well insulated as the rest of the wall.  It seems to be condensation happening and then molding.

This is the down side of canvas as an alternative to drywall- the only one I can tell.  Well, perhaps the padded wall appearance is not for everyone either, but I love it.  The mold is readily visible on the canvas, but it’s sobering to think that that kind of moisture and maybe mold is happening, hidden, on the other side of drywall, all the time.  Especially knowing how poorly insulation can be installed sometimes.

We’ve been humidifying the barn pretty aggressively lately, too, always boiling down fruit and running the canner til the windows drip, so I’m hoping that has something to do with the mold and it will improve when we lay off preserving.

I’d love to figure out how to work this kink out, because I think the canvas is a fantastic alternative to drywall and I want to rave about it as much as I do about mulch.  Drywall is one of the worst building materials out there for the environmental impact in production (gypsum mining and waste), installation waste (often 30%- board is cheaper than time), and installation misery (unhealthy dust and time-consuming to mud).

Canvas is much much friendlier on all levels.  It is much more natural a product with less environmental impact (a roll of fabric to dozens of sheets of drywall); it installs in one step- a fraction of the time involved in drywall and 100s of pounds less lifting; it’s far far cheaper for materials alone, let alone the labour; it trims out exactly the same (flush mount windows and electrical boxes),  and it’s it’s just as paintable, should you wish.

I was totally planning to paint it, until I fell in love with the natural cotton colour of it, that in my opinion can’t be improved.  So it stays.

Lights!

We are energized!   I finished all the wiring, did all the plugs and light boxes and fixtures, wired all the circuits into the pony panel, and powered it up.  It all worked!  This was a major feat for me, considering how I objected to the prospect of having to do the wiring myself.

There were two 3way lights, and they worked(!) and all the plugs worked, and there were no awful popping sounds or smoke.  Just one light fixture in a series wouldn’t turn off with its mate at the switch, but when I studied the diagram more deeply I saw that it was drawn for one light on a switch and one with continuous power (who would want that?), which is exactly what I got. I managed to fix it, anyways so both are switched

I’m very pleased with myself.  I just worked through it all slowly and methodically with the code book in my hand, assiduously following the wiring diagrams.  Electrical still makes my brain wobble, but I got ‘er done!  Yay!  It’s like a real barn now.

Windows!

 

Yay!  Windows are all done.  In the nick of time, too.  I finished the housewrap around the last in the dark as the snow was starting again.

The windows took considerably longer than I had expected (Oh, about a day’s work – famous last words).  One was an opener, one was huge and double paned, and one needed the wall framed to fit it, so it was a sizable job, I was just in denial.

The opener is my biggest accomplishment.  I’ve never built an opener before, and I was figuring out the hardware from scratch with no guidance (Google doesn’t always come through, fyi).  But it was a total success, operating perfectly smoothly and closing tight.

Yay!  It’s a major threshold to have the barn really sealed up. In the same days, HW built the two missing doors and hung them, so we are officially cozy now.  It’s also much less embarrassing, to not be enclosed by double layers of poly (hey, I was busy last winter).   Let the snow fly!

 

Chimney day!

Stove day!  Yay!  I have fire in the barn!

The foot of snow that came this weekend has made no signs of thawing, and the temperature is forecasted to only go lower now, into the minus twenties every night this week, so it’s the nick of time to get wood heat into my barn.
The last two days have been spent cutting a hole in the roof and installing the chimney.  With some wonderfully welcome assistance, it all went quite smooth, and it looks perfectly slick and professional.

I can’t believe the relief to have that done.  I wasn’t even aware of how much it weighed on me.  Now I know for sure I’ll survive, no matter what winter throws at us.  I have lots of wood to burn and it’s safe to burn it.

Cozy cozy cozy -awesome.

Today was a good day.

I got as much of the sub floor down as I could without tackling all the tricky  compound slope sleepers I’m going to have to deal with where there’s a concrete pad, and got the poly all up.  Finally, the space of the barn I’m claiming looks defined, and the envelope is almost complete.  The walls have that stuffed sofa look they have after vapour barrier and before drywall.  Most importantly, there’s enough space closed up to move all my stuff into before I go to Iceland.

Voila, floor!  A marble won’t sit at rest anywhere on it, but it’s smooth, and what a difference.  Yes, I can frame partitions and my windows/doors on real floor!  I also laid the floor in the loft, with the gorgeous blushing cedar I got for $1.30/bd ft, so beautiful it aches.  We’re so lucky to have such lovely local wood.  Too good for the barn.  Turns out the loft floor tapers, losing 3” over 12’, so I couldn’t set up my chop and go, but it didn’t take too long.

What a relief it is to be working in the cool of the insulated barn.  Can actually  get a full day’s work done, without working a split shift.  Even wrestling vapour barrier over my head, the giant uncooperative sheet draping on me like a deranged plastic wedding train, is not so bad when it’s 10 degrees cooler than it is outside.  It’s hard to judge the efficacy of the Roxul yet because there’s so much space shared with the uninsulated part of the barn, but there’s a big climate difference in a few steps.

Today I really noticed the sound muffling quality of the rockwool.  I thought that it was only raining on the other part of the roof for a few moments.  Really.  But obviously, I could only hear it from the other side of the barn.  We’ve been having a blessed series of afternoon thunderstorms that are grand and exciting, and hose down the hot earth after cruelly blistering days of sun.  I don’t like summer.  Too hot.

Now I can’t wait to move in, to sleep in a real bed- my real bed, for the first time in ten months.  It won’t be the first time I’ve moved in and slept under vapour barrier.  Or no vapour barrier.  Or no insulation, even.  In February.

Floor made of pallets

Pallet palace

I was going with a concrete slab in my head, for several days.  I thought that was “doing it right”.  It would last forever, easily translate purpose to a garage or shop, and would be flat, level, and smooth.

That changed.  The tipping point was thinking about doing yoga on a cold concrete floor.

The other option I was considering was throwing a bunch of pallets onto the leveled grade over a sheet of poly, and sheeting it, which had some merit.  Easy.  Cheap- the pallets were all readily available for the taking free from the garden supply.  Recycled and “eco”.  I just like pallets.  The downsides were that it won’t last nearly as long as concrete, as it’s wood, it’s organic and will eventually rot, relying on the poly for a vapour barrier, and like a cluster of lilypads, they will only create as flat and level a floor as the packed dirt beneath is leveled.

An immense amount of shoveling and raking ensued, removing piles of earth from the dirt floor of the barn and scaling it off to reasonably flat and level.  Then I rolled out the poly, and moved in the pallets, tacking them to each other, essentially creating a floating floor frame.

They worked so well!  Thankfully, the first few went in perfectly solid and flat, because not all of them were so easy to settle in place, and that would have been a disillusioning start.  Oh, so cool.  I’m so excited that it’s working so well.  It’s such a thrill and relief when something untried and suspect works out the best way that you hoped.

Just as I’m about to leave for my ridiculous mission, the sun warms the grass and the air seems full of life and I’m touched with enthusiasm for rending and tearing and building.  I’ve been so buried in work I haven’t wanted to force anything else into my overcrowded brain.  But I had a look at the barn I need to work on and found it patiently and hopefully waiting to be shucked from its shell of disrepair and turned into something cute.  So much potential!

I need to create an envelope of insulated living space to move my stuff into it.  I’m thinking rockwool insulation, canvas instead of drywall, a couple patio doors replacing the barn doors for some passive solar.  Definitely bedroom in the loft.  Composting toilet.   I’m planning to partition the giant space and make a smaller habitat at first, that can be expanded later.  I’m still mulling over the plumbing.  How much is enough?

Then there’s the garden.  There are a number of retired gardens, all owned by grass again.  I’ve got my eye on the old pond.  The ruined liner is tattered, but the earth beneath is black and rhizome free because of the water and poly.  It would make a lovely terraced garden, and in the middle of the horse paddock, it’s already fenced for deer. The obvious downfall is that the depression will be a cold sink, with all the coldest air around pooling there, frosting earlier as well.

Then I can move on to camper renovations.