Friday night lights

I’ve mentioned before that the farm is a wee bit dark once the sun sets. Well, since the time change a few weeks ago, things have been extremely dark out here in the country.

The farm at night

This is not just a black square. I actually went outside and took a picture for you to show how dark it is.

Arriving home had gotten a bit hazardous between stepping on cats and randomly jamming the key in the general direction of the lock on the front door.

The time had come for a call to the electrician.

After a quick rewiring of the driveshed, an installation on the barn, relocation of a timer and a new circuit panel–also in the driveshed, the top of our driveway now looks like this when we arrive home at night.

Exterior lights on the barn and driveshed

Let there be light! This image was taken from roughly the same angle as the one above.

We had lights on the driveshed and barn already, but neither of them were working. In the driveshed, we’d killed the power because of sketchy wiring and an obviously unsafe fuse box. On the barn, the old light had a blown transformer, and ultimately the whole light had to be replaced.

Thanks to a timer we already had in the basement of the house that the electrician was able to repurpose outside, the lights come on automatically before we get home and then go off before we go to bed. The new barn light also has a photocell that senses darkness, but we decided we don’t need to see what’s going on outside all night long, so we let the timer shut everything down around 9 o’clock. We may adjust that, but for now it’s working well for us.

The lights are also working well for the cats who no longer have to worry about being stepped on or run over. Up until now, our only way of seeing them when we come home was watching for the glow of their eyes in our headlights.

As much as I’m thrilled with our new exterior lights, I do have to admit that I’m looking forward to being home during daylight this weekend. I’m starting to forget what my property looks like outside of the lighted sphere of the barn, driveshed and house.

Olympic dreams

I had hoped today to be showing you the Canadian flag flying from our newly installed flagpole in honour of the Canadian Olympic team. However, the flagpole is still lying in the barn and the flag is folded up in Matt’s office.

However, we did manage to get something installed that has come in handy with the Olympics.

Shaw satellite dish

Our new satellite dish

Like everything else at the farm, the job of installing the satellite turned out to be more work than initially expected.

First, we couldn’t install the dish on the house. The satellite signal wouldn’t clear the row of huge pine trees right beside the house. The solution was a post in the meadow on the other side of the pines. Matt spent a couple of hours digging a deep hole while my Dad and I cut a big 6×6 for the post and with Wiley‘s help gathered concrete and gravel to set everything in place. It’s handy having spare construction supplies lying around courtesy of past owners.

Satellite dish on a post

Our dish is dwarfed by the big pines

Satellite dishes on posts in the middle of people’s yards is one of my pet peeves. I’m trying to come to terms with mine by remembering that it’s our only solution (aside from taking down the trees) and it’s in the meadow where we’ve let the grass grow long, so it’s fairly hidden.

The second issue was running the wires from the post in the meadow up to the house. Trenching the wire in the meadow and across the lawn was no sweat–well, it’s sweaty work, but not super difficult. However, between the house and the lawn is a large patio. Running wires over the surface, even if we protected them in conduit, was obviously not a great option. We were able to lift the patio slabs pretty easily, but the poured concrete border around the edge was a bit more challenging.

With two shovels and a bit a teamwork from both Matt and me, we each dug from opposite sides to tunnel under the concrete so that the installer could easily feed the wire under the patio.

Wire running under concrete slab

We also ran the wire through some plastic conduit for extra protection

As the saying goes, bad news comes in threes, so two challenges were not enough in the saga of the satellite.

We decided we wanted a satellite receiver in the basement as well as in the living room upstairs. Installing an additional feed in the basement would have been easy had we done it while the ceilings were all open. However, we weren’t certain initially that we were going for two receivers, so we went ahead and installed all of the new drywall and made no accommodations for the satellite wiring. Argh!

Matt and I had realized we were going to have to cut some holes in our brand new ceilings and had gone through all of the stages of grief about undoing our nearly completed work. For my Dad, though, who showed up with his long wire fish to help us prepare for the installation, he had to get from denial (“maybe we don’t really have to cut holes”) to acceptance (“we’re going to need another hole here too”) pretty quickly.

Metal stud

Ouch! Our poor ceilings. The satellite wire is the grey one at the top of the hole

Thanks to all of our prep work, the actual installation of the satellite went fairly smoothly. And just in time. Two hours before the opening ceremonies started, we had TV at the farm.

CTV Olympics on TV

Please ignore the drywall dust which is every where

Matt and I enjoy our TV, but we really haven’t missed it since moving in, mostly because we’ve been so busy with renovations.

However, I am a huge Olympic fan, so being able to stay on top of all of the coverage is a nice treat.

Any other Olympic fans out there? What event are you watching for? Anyone have tips for fishing wires or your own story of a challenging installation?

Oh and one more thing.

Go Canada go!

(Feel free to add your own national cheer below).

Hay there

Round hay bale

We have hay!

I’m definitely not a farmer, even though I live on a farm. However, I think I have an instinct for this country thing.

A week ago I was showing you photos of hay growing in the field and saying that I thought harvest was imminent. It turns out, I was right!

Last Friday night I came home from work to see that all of the fields had been mowed.

Field of freshly mowed hay

Here’s the scene from the big field, which you saw last week.

Saturday work began to get the hay out of the fields and into a more useable form.

First step is drying the hay.

Stirring the hay to dry it

This tractor came through around midday and “stirred” the hay. In my ongoing attempts to show you as much of the farm as possible, I took pictures of each haying stage in different fields. This is the “field behind the drive shed” (official name).

After this, the hay was strewn all over the field. Good for drying. Not so good for baling.

Mounding the hay

Early evening, this tractor (and the really cool pinwheel attachment he’s towing) combed the hay into long mounds. Now we’re in the front field.

I thought we might be done for the day, but nope. (Maybe my instincts aren’t so good). A little while later, the baler showed up.

Baler

The baler scoops up the hay and little elves inside that big red box spin it into a huge bale. (What do you think about my farming know-how now?) My sense of direction is still working though. We’re now in the corner field.

Once the elves are done their work, they wrap the bale in a web of green mesh, and then the magic door opens and the baler spits out the bale.

Fresh hay bale coming out of the baler

These round hay bales are huge up close. They’re about 5 feet in diameter and really, really solid. And when they first come out of the baler, they’re warm too! (We’re still in the corner field).

By Sunday morning, we had five fields full of big round hay bales. (We actually have six fields total, but one–the far front field–is in rehab, so nothing’s growing there this year).

Round hay bales in a field

Here’s the scene from the back field.

The saying goes “make hay while the sun shines.” For the farmer who rents our fields, I think he follows the motto “make hay while the sun shines, as the sun sets, and by tractor light.”

Baling hay in the dark

Baling lasted well beyond sunset. We’re back in the field behind the drive shed now.

Perhaps our farmer’s instincts are better than mine though. When I would have quit and come back tomorrow for baling, he finished it all in one night. And early Sunday morning when the rain started, the hay was tucked nice and tight in its bales, protected from the precipitation.

One thing I do know about farming is it’s incredibly hard work. I’m happy to enjoy the sights of the harvest from the side of the field.

H2-O-kay

As I mentioned yesterday, the more we looked at the water system at the farm, the more problems we found.

Just a basic fix would have involved:

  • Repair or replace the pressure tank
  • Service the iron filter
  • Hook up the softener
  • Install a UV filter to deal with any potential bacteria contamination

We would use the existing well and the pump system would stay in the barn.

Old pressure tank and jet pump

A view inside the old “pump house” in the barn

The whole system would still not be up to standard, either for the Ministry of the Environment or for us.

We quickly came to the decision that fixing the problems was not good enough. We chose to start from scratch.

The first step was a new well.

Drilling a new well

The drill rig in place beside the house

Our new drilled well is 75 feet deep with a production level of 25 gallons per minute–a really good depth and a really good rate (as opposed to our old 25 foot deep “non-standard homemade” well). It’s right next to the house meaning we have much better water pressure and most important of all it’s up to Ministry of the Environment standards.

My Dad, who was supervising the well drilling, left a note to update us on what had happened while we were at work.  After listing all of the specifications, he concluded with “Drinks is on me. Love Dad.”

Note from Dad

He’d filled the glasses with water directly from the new well. I took a sip, but Matt refused the sample until we had the treatment systems installed inside the house.

Inside the well, we have a new high-efficiency submersible pump, which is much better than the old jet pump that was in the barn. The pump feeds into a constant pressure system in the house. This means that our water pressure is steady no matter how many taps or appliances are running, and the pressure is comparable to what we had when we were on city water.

Constant pressure system and air injector tank

The constant pressure system includes an electronic controller (the black box above) and a cushion tank (blue) with a brass pressure log manifold assembly.

Next up in Operation H2O were the treatment systems.

As soon as the new well was drilled and the water was clean, our contractor took a raw water sample to determine exactly what treatment we needed. High iron content was a major issue with the old well, but no one knew whether that would continue with the new well.

It turns out that it did, so we installed a high efficiency, high capacity, chemical free air injected iron removal system. The air that’s injected oxidizes the iron (basically turning it to a solid particle–rust), and then the filter traps the rust and removes it from our water. In addition, we got a new softener–this one is actually connected!–and an ultraviolet sterilizer system.

The UV system is for bacteria, which is not likely to be an issue given our new well. However, it’s possible that the water table could become contaminated from another well in the area or some other source, and now we’re protected.

Water treatment system

From left to right, we have the blue cushion tank, a big retention tank for the iron, the iron filter, the water softener mineral tank and the brine tank which we fill with salt for the softener. The UV filter is mounted on the wall above the brine tank.

The final piece of the new water system was a reverse osmosis drinking water system. This is not a necessary piece of equipment, but Matt and I decided to go for it. Between the two of us, we drink a lot of water. Because of the salt used in our softener, the water in the house has higher levels of sodium. It’s safe to drink, but we definitely don’t need more sodium in our diets.

The reverse osmosis system is made up of a series of filters and a 14.4 litre tank that all sit in the cabinet under the kitchen sink. Our treated, softened water runs through these filters and then is pushed through a fine membrane that removes all of the salt and any other particles or impurities that might be in the water.

Reverse osmosis filter systems under the kitchen sink

The reverse osmosis filters are in the three canisters on the left and the holding tank is in the centre of the picture

The storage tank is connected to a small faucet on the back of the sink where we have drinking water on demand.

Reverse osmosis tap

Nice clean water. Yum!

While all of this work on the water system inside the house was happening, we took advantage of having the contractors on site to make a few upgrades to the outside system as well. The old water line that brought water from the barn into the house was reversed so that we can run water from the new well to the barn. As well, we added an exterior hose at the drive shed by connecting a new line from the house and trenching it across the driveway.

Water pipe in a trench

We’ll backfill the rest of the trench once we finish connecting the hose. How do you like our barriers so that no one drives into the trench?

Redoing the whole water system for the farm is a big project, and it was not in our original plans. However, the results make it worthwhile. With all of the equipment in the house, we don’t have to rely on a light bulb to keep the pump from freezing. We have good water pressure, no more iron or hardness and great peace of mind from knowing that everything is clean and safe.

Wiring woes

As you saw yesterday, work on the basement continues. In the meantime, I’m going back a few weeks to talk about some of the problems we encountered with the electrical.

Burnt junction box

Fried junction box in the basement ceiling. In case you were wondering, no, the inside should not be black like that.

We ended up discovering a total of 10 junction boxes in the basement ceiling, hidden behind the drywall. This is a big no-no. Junction boxes themselves are okay. But covering them over with drywall is not. You’re supposed to put a cover on them so that they are accessible.

The conversation during demo went something like this:

“I found another one.”
“Seriously? Crap!”
“Do you want to just pull the whole ceiling down?”
“We probably should. Who knows how many there are up there.”

One of my goals in hiring a professional electrician was to eliminate as many junction boxes as possible, because I didn’t want the covers polka-dotting our nice new ceiling. In the end, our electrician was able to get rid of all but two–much better than I’d hoped for.

The other unsettling moment during demo was when we’d open a wall or part of the ceiling and find a loose wire. The ends were usually cut. They weren’t capped or taped at all, and we had no idea where they went and whether or not they were live.

This was the moment when Matt would reach for his tester and point it at the offending wire. If the tester chirped, that meant the wire was live. It turned out that most of the wires were dead, completely disconnected at both ends. No one had ever bothered to remove them, so they just sat there behind the drywall waiting to scare future renovators.

Matt made it his mission to eliminate all of this useless wiring, and he spent a lot of time tracing wires through the ceiling and along the walls so that he could pull them out.

Pile of old electrical wires

Pile of some of the old wires Matt pulled out in the basement.

We did as much of the wiring work ourselves as we could, but having the help of a skilled professional was absolutely necessary for fixing all of the problems. Electrical is not always straight-forward, and it can be dangerous if it’s not right.

I’m all about DIY, but only if I know what I’m doing. Thanks to our electrician, all of the problems have been fixed, the panel is organized and labelled, circuits have been tidied up and new outlets and lights have been added where we wanted them. Most important of all it’s done right and it’s safe.

Warm and toasty… and teal?

What do you think of our new colour scheme in the basement?

Spray foam insulation

It’s a little bit smurf, a little bit cotton candy.

Matt was hoping for blue. I’d say he got his wish.

Last week, we had spray foam insulation applied to all of the exterior walls.

As you’ll recall, the original plans for the basement reno were mostly cosmetic (replace carpet, remove paneling, relocate cabinetry, leave all the drywall in place and just patch and paint). Simple, easy, quick!

However, we’ve had a few surprises in the form of inadequate insulation and improper wiring. Our solution was to remove the drywall and the existing R7 insulation from all of the exterior walls and start fresh.

R7 insulation

The old insulation was actually stamped R7. I don’t think I’d admit it if I was that inadequate.

However, we couldn’t just simply put the new insulation into the old walls because all of the studs were laid flat on the concrete. This meant we only had 1 1/2 inches for insulation. We had to fur out all of the existing studs with new 2x4s.

Furring out studs

We screwed new 2x4s onto the existing studs.

The count was close to 100 studs for the whole basement. Each one had to be plumbed (make sure it’s perfectly vertical) and then toenailed (screwed on an angle) with three inch screws to the old studs. It took two people to do each stud (one to hold and one to screw), so this stage has taken us a little while to complete. Matt and I found it took us about two hours to do a wall.

It would have been easier to put the new studs flat onto the old studs, but we wanted the higher R factor that additional depth allowed us. We ended up with 5 inches of space and we had the option of R20 or R27 for the insulation. R20 application meant we’d have 3 1/4 inches of foam and R27 would be 4 1/2 inches. We chose to go with R20 because there was nearly a $1,000 price difference for just 7 more R factors, which wasn’t worth it for us. R20 is still a really good rating.

I’ve never done spray foam before (and to be clear we couldn’t find a DIY option for spray foam, so we hired an insulation contractor to do the work for us), but we chose this option over the traditional batts for a couple of reasons:

  1. Traditional insulation requires tar paper (or some other membrane) between the concrete and the studs, and there was no way we could do this and still leave the existing studs in place. We then would have to run a plastic vapor barrier over the insulation before we put up the drywall.
  2. We found about 6 mice (all dead) and numerous rodent highways in the old insulation.

Spray foam is tar paper, insulation and vapor barrier all in one. Plus it’s more rodent resistant, which is comforting given our discoveries.

The spray foam covers the wall space between each stud as well as the joist headers at the top of the walls. In the main room and long room the ceilings are all open so the sprayers had easy access (click here if you need a refresher on the floor plan for the basement). In the office we left the ceiling in place, so Matt cut back about 12 inches of drywall off the ceiling on the two exterior walls so that the sprayers would be able to access the joist headers and we’d have a good seal all the way around.

Spray foam insulation in the joist headers

These joist headers (which were completely uninsulated before) can be the source of a lot of drafts

To prepare for the spray foam we made sure all of the electrical and plumbing work that we wanted to do was completed in advance. Spray foam fills all of the nooks and crannies and hardens very quickly. It’s great for efficiency, but you can’t really change your mind and say, “Oh I really wish that plug was over here” after it’s all done.

Electrical outlets encased in spray foam insulation

This is the corner in Matt’s office where the desk is going to go. From left to right we have a double box for electrical outlets, a plastic conduit that will eventually house the internet wire (we’ll use the string to pull the wire through the pipe) and a phone jack.

The spray foam crew took a full day to do the whole basement. While the spray is being applied, it is toxic, so the crew wore respirators and my Dad (who was on-site supervising) couldn’t stay in the house. When we got home from work that night there was a slight odor, but we opened the windows and it dissipated quickly.

Insulation is a major step in putting the basement back together. As much as we love the teal, we’re anxious to move on to drywall… Or maybe just anxious about drywall. This next stage is going to be a biggie. We’ll keep you posted on how we make out!