Ramble On

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Heating System Update

We've settled on our heating solution - it will be propane-based for now, with baseboard heating back-ups. Installation will begin on Monday the 5th, while I am in Los Angeles.

The old tank will be hauled away, and no refund is available for the propane currently in there...

A new tank, lateral style, will be installed behind the house. An underground gas line in conduit will be installed to the house, and a propane heater will go in the master bedroom where the current electric blower is. We will also install a new thermostat controlled fireplace with a blower in the living room. Finally, we are keeping the baseboard heating in the bathrooms.

Because we added R30 insulation in the main part of the cabin, we expect that propane will be the most economical system. We plan to keep the thermostats at around 50 degrees when we are not there. In the future, we are looking at a couple of solar heaters, specifically the solar sheet system that is at http://www.yoursolarhome.com/solarsheat1500G.html and some installation examples at http://www.yoursolarhome.com/thecompanyprojects.html# .

Several of the electric blowers have already been removed. The pellet stove has been deinstalled as well, we may be able to sell it locally. Also, the old propane heater from the dining room area was deinstalled; at first we thought we could sell it to someone who wanted to heat a barn or workshop, but it seems to be in bad shape - destined for the landfill.

More to come.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Moving Day Approaches

It's been a busy week and there is a busy weekend and week ahead. So a short post today. We anticipate that we can finally begin moving stuff out to the cabin over the next few days, now that the ceiling has been completed. We are finalizing those plans and looking forward to emptying the Alexandria house of the second housefull of furniture.

As a bonus, here is a view of the Shenandoah Valley looking out from the summit of Hawksbill Mountain in Shenandoah National Park. This photo comes from Google Earth.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Some Views

We aren't having the kind of spectacular color you might wish for this fall, but it is almost November and the leaves have started to change. We learned about an auction house up in Front Royal that handles Heywood Wakefield modern furniture and took a drive up 340 to see what they had. Turned out to be a wild goose chase, but we'll keep an eye on their future auctions.

Along the way, we stopped at a Virginia State Park - http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/and.shtml . The park has 1600+ acres and 5 miles of Shendandoah river bank. Pretty nice facilities. Here are two photos, one from one of the picnic areas overlooking the river and the other, closer to the river at a canoe launch. We also stopped by one of the neighboring canoe outfitters, one of the popular spring activities in this neck of the woods.

Also over the weekend, I took a walk up the road to see if the cows were out. So two of the views I encountered - the pastures we pass on the way into the neighborhood, and the road that leads back into the place.

Cabin Trip - a Workday

This weekend we decided to stay over a couple of nights in the cabin. We had some appointments on Monday morning to begin dealing with the heating systems. In the meantime, we had a treat watching a work day start at the cabin.

First photo is of all the vehicles assembled outfront - the carpenters', gc's, and the gas company. One of the carpenters told me he'd seen a doe and two babies frequently in the mornings as they arrived to start work.

I’d walked down to check out the deer – he told me about a three point buck that wanders the stream bed nearby.

Next photo is of the tongue and groove going in, with Jesse supervising. It is pretty tough work, they have to jigsaw the end of each board to custom fit against the stone wall. We are putting R30 insulation up in between the new I-joists. Here you can see the insulation.

Final shot, all the equipment left at the end of the day. It looks like most of the work for this project will be completed by this weekend.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Field Trip - Solar Decathlon

We visited the solar decathlon last Sunday and it was very informative. Like most anyone with a similar property these days, we think there is an opportunity to adopt some sustainable energy technology, or renewable materials into the Hawksbill Cabin.

The low-hanging fruit for the cabin include solar – electricity as well as heating, reuse of rain water run-off, and of course sustainable materials for finishes and insulation.

Here are four houses that were on display at the decathlon – there is a URL in the previous post. The photos highlight the German entry (we didn’t check it out – it won first place, but I took the photo for the DC Mall context), the University of Maryland entry
(2nd place winner!), the entry from Santa Clara and the entry from Spain.

These four highlight some of the design constraints – e.g., a 900 sf footprint, and something that could easily be transported from where ever to the competition on the Mall. This is an event that is definitely worth a visit.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thinking Ahead about Sustainable Energy

Fresh on the heels of my heating systems reconciliation post, I want to go back for a moment and talk about our plans downstream to incorporate sustainable energy into our overall plans for the cabin.

While the goal is more about efficiency and economics in the first phase of our work on the cabin, downstream we'd like to find ways to use some of the emerging technologies out there to power the place, or provide hot water.

A future post will share some photos from the Solar Decathlon we visited this weekend on the Mall in DC, the url is http://www.solardecathlon.org/ - it runs through Saturday 10/20 for readers who would still like to visit.

Additional resources:

The two most likely apps for us are going to be passive heating that will impact how much propane we'll need to use during the winter (we are lucky to have a great southern orientation on the place!) and solar water heating for the pool.

More to come.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Another Big Project for this Year

Over the next month or so we will be making a plan for reconciling the five heating systems that are currently installed in the Hawksbill Cabin. Today’s set of photos detail all the systems we’ve identified so far. We even exceed FAA standards for triple redundancy – we have five systems!

In the first photo, you see the propane tank – so we expected that most of the heating was based on one of these systems. Well…2/5 of the systems are propane based…

As you walk in the door, you notice the wall mounted electric heaters – second photo. There are four of them installed in various parts of the house. The only one we know has been used recently is the one back in the master bedroom. Also in this picture are some of our new windows – while there are still some south facing ones to be replaced, all of those that face other directions have been replaced with more efficient ones.

The next system that identifies itself is this wall mounted propane heater, which is installed in the dining room. This unit appears to be in good repair and looks like it has the capacity to heat around 1,000 sf – probably enough for the whole cabin. It has three settings, and we have been able to track down the fuel line, which runs under the house back to the tank out front.

Dominating the living room area are these two systems: a propane fireplace and a pellet stove. We’ve learned from the neighbors that Britt’s experience with propane heat, over the two years he was here, was that it cost $400-500 per month, living here full-time, to keep the place heated. He opted for the pellet stove and found a way to buy the pellets in bulk ($4 for 40 pounds at Wal-Mart and the farmers’ coop, but if you buy by the ton you could reduce that significantly….). By doing so, he’d reduced his costs to $2 or $3 a day.

Finally, in the addition, there is electric baseboard heat, shown in the last photo. In most of the rooms there are older systems than this one, which is an obvious replacement in the master bedroom. You can tell it is a replacement because it doesn’t match up to the baseboards – the other units are longer and would fit in the space here. Also visible here is the wall unit, similar to the others in the old part of the house. Brit told us they used this one when it was cold enough to be uncomfortable.

We are looking for a solution that can be thermostat controlled and that we can use while we are away. We have an appointment next Monday to meet with Southern States – a local “propane and propane accessories” vendor – to see about a new wall mounted unit, which we will probably supplement with the baseboard units this year.

We are after making sure that we don’t have frozen pipes, and expect that we could quickly re-open the cabin for winter visits, if we can keep the temp around mid-40’s to 50 degrees during the winter. More to come on this, a major project.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Work Day - Heading Out

We have a list of chores to take care of at the cabin today - finishing up some small jobs that we've been doing around the roof job. Will be posting on those this weekend. If there are fall colors yet, we'll see if we can't get some shots of that into a blog entry.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Heritage Festival Final - Tractors

This is the final blog entry on the Page County Heritage Festival that was held last weekend in Luray. Along with the crafts and industries I wrote about yesterday, there were more than 50 tractors of various vintages, for the most part restored by avid collectors and proudly displayed.

In the photos, there is a view of the main display area – most of the tractors were parked in two rows here. Two vintage John Deere’s – I have a “tractor-a-day” desk calendar that has featured these many times…. Finally, these large antique machines that I am classifying as tractors because they look like work vehicles.
I had a number of photos that didn't come out and so haven't been used. There were a bunch of small machines for one thing. And one vendor showed up with more than 30 models of riding lawn mowers! A last note about something I found interesting during our 2+hours at the festival: in the hall where the performances took place, there are signs that list all of the major buyers of the 4H animals - I will be paying more attention to this during the County Fair next year.

Next blog entries will be back on the cabin – we have a work trip planned for this weekend.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Heritage Festival - Crafts and Interests

This series of posts is about the heritage of the Shenandoah Valley. It goes without saying that it is also about change.

For example, every weekend that we have been out for a visit, we overhear a conversation in a restaurant – someone talking about where they live and work in Alexandria was the topic we overheard at dinner in Uncle Bucks last Saturday. (FYI, pork chops, southern style, $8.95).

But we’ve also met some folks that gradually have permanently relocated to the area. There is the fellow at the outfitters store downtown in Luray, who moved here with his wife and family over the last few years and opened the business last year. Or the beekeeper I wrote about yesterday who retired from Arlington into the Valley last year. Finally, there are our neighbors on Lawyer Drive near the cabin, in one case, the family is spending three days a week out there, in another, the couple has just made their place their permanent home.

So there is something of an influx of…people like us.

Back to the heritage festival, with this photo of a kids’ clogging club. There were about 20 kids, from elementary to teen in the group, teamed up to perform a number of dances, including “Cotton-eyed Joe” (of course). I guess the sign of change here would be that there was only one boy in the group. I took the shot from behind the group – in the auditorium the sun was too bright.

Other acts that performed were “The Misfits” and “Mokey” – I overheard the Misfits do a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down” while we were visiting the beekeepers. If I could sing, I’d cover that one too.

The other craft here is candling – I thought I had a photo of the canners too, but didn’t. It is really an industrious group of folks out there. We saw soap makers, wood workers, etc. And there is a lot of internet trading going on, almost everybody had an ebay site on their cards and price lists.

It reminded me of last year, when we visited Mary’s relatives in Michigan…one of the cousins there had a tropical fish business she ran on eBay, out of the farm office there in Standish.

Speaking of the Michigan trip, Mary and I both had a chance to drive a big ol’ John Deere tractor there…tomorrow’s entry, the final on this series, will have photos of some of the vintage tractors on display at the festival.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Heritage Festival - Industry

There were three “heritage industries” that we found interesting at the festival last weekend. I have photos of two of them; we had fun talking with someone who has taken up the third industry as a retirement lifestyle.

The first industry was blacksmithing. There was a small forge set up - shown in the photo - to demonstrate how this craft is currently practiced, and probably a half-dozen artisans were present. Lots of wares for sale.

A second interesting activity was lumbering – there were two rip saws set up to make boards out of felled trees. To do this, one of the machines had a large belt hooked up to a steam engine that was designed to drive a saw blade. The second one, shown in the photo, used a tractor engine to drive the blade. They made boards and planks out of tree trunks. Some of the trees were over 20 feet long. At one point they were ripping up a cedar and the fragrance was everywhere.

As we moved into one of the covered areas, there was an association of local beekeepers with a booth, selling honey and beeswax goods. They had a small hive on display with about 3,500 bees in it – the queen had a small yellow paint spot on her so you could keep track of where she was.

In light of the blight that struck western industrial beekeepers earlier this year, we took a few minutes to ask questions about the trade. Turns out, one of the keepers lives between the Chevron and the Hawksbill CafĂ©, maybe three miles as the bee flies from our place. He estimated that his bees ranged just about that far as they collected pollen. He is retired and moved out from Arlington…there is an emerging Northern Virginia theme, we are finding.

I have two final entries on the festival that I will post:
Canning and Clogging

Then it’s back to posting about the work on the cabin!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Heritage Festival

I am continuing to look through the Moto photos I took at the Page County Heritage Festival over the weekend and have a couple more I will share later in the week.

First though, here is a shot of a little kiddie ride they had set up – a tractor-train that we saw driving kids all over the fair grounds. In fact, ridin’ stuff might have been a key part of the experience, as there were a number of old tractors and farm equipment demos going on around the place.

Here is a photo of the old Chevy I mentioned yesterday. Also, another ’31 Ford, this one owned by my uncle Tim in Stoneville, NC. Stoneville is just over the state line on US 29, almost due south of the cabin. Tim’s Ford is fully restored, and Tim currently has it outfitted as a hot rod – one of the major pastimes there in that part of the country, as it clearly is in Page County.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Columbus Day Weekend - Overnight

With the new roof on, we decided to make our trip this weekend an overnighter. While we still haven't moved furniture in, we have sleeping bags and matress pads that we use for this purpose. It was great to finally be able to use the cabin this way.

On Sunday, between a trip to WalMart and the Farmers' Coop, we visited the Page County Heritage Fair - more to come on this, and had lunch at the Hawksbill Diner - photo below.

I've mentioned the Hawksbill Diner before - obvisously takes its name from the mountain that overlooks this part of the valley, and the creek that starts somewhere up in the SNP. It is right there on Bus 340 South where we make our turn into the neighborhood. Their claim to fame, at least one of them, as far as I am concerned, is the $1.85 cheeseburger. They've got all kinds of pies, and Mary and I once had steak dinners there for less than $30, including tip!

During our visit yesterday, we ran into our realtor, Julia, who was having lunch with her family. Julia's web site is: http://www.joebowmanre.com/

Also, I have a load of photos from the Heritage Photo - have to go through them before posting. Here is one of the antique cars that were on display, I think a '31 Ford. In the interest of equal time, there was a Chevy from the 30's also, but my photo didn't come out.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

October 6 pre-trip

We are getting ready to head out for a work day. We'll also be checking on the lighting plan that we worked out with Jesse over the weekend, and staying overnight. There is a craft event at the fairgrounds in Luray today so we'll also be checking that out.

One note, Mary and I were in NJ yesterday. At breakfast in the hotel, we saw a guy with a tee-shirt that said: "New Jersey, where the weak are killed and eaten" -

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Battle of the Species 2: Snakes

aka "I am ...tired of these ...snakes at this ...cabin!"

Last weekend, when I talked to Jesse, he said, “You are going to have a lot of unhappy snakes around here because of all the work we’ve done to the house!”

With an inspiration like that, for this second episode of “Battle of the Species,” we are not going to follow the precise order I laid out for the serial last month. Instead, I want to talk about the snakes. Consider this:

When we first opened the trap door to look down into the pump equipment for the pool, we saw a little baby ring neck snake wriggling around down there.

When we had the septic guys come out to do their thing, they said, “Ughh, hostas!” about our plantings, and explained that they are a favorite hiding place for copperheads. (They are also a favorite meal for deer, more about that in another post.)

When we opened the door that the previous owner had used to pass firewood through into the house, we found two 5-foot plus snake skins from old sheds.

When the workers pulled down the aluminum siding from the back of the house to reveal all the damage to those beams, besides the termite damage, they found countless old sheds up in the eaves. This means they over wintered in the roof of the house, in the section above the kitchen and dining room!

When Chris took down the old lean-to shed (earlier photos showed the carpenter bee damage to it), he found the former owner of the large 5-foot sheds referenced above. Fortunately, it was a black snake, and we were able to hold Chris back from attacking it with a garden hoe.

Our neighbor up the hill, a dedicated hunter with some very nice trophies on display in the cabin, had collected four six-foot sheds and had them on display in his collection.

I take heart from the fact that the largest snake we have found so far is a black snake – that means there will be fewer mice and bugs around, for one thing, but also, since these species all raid each other’s nests for the eggs and young, it probably means we’ll have few - or even better, none – copperheads.

We are going to have to address the hiding place in the fire wood trap door. Figure if they can get part of the way inside it, they can get all the way inside. In order to keep them out of the house we’re going to figure out how to seal it off.

Photos today include a flattened hog-nose snake – about a foot-long – that I saw out on the road on Saturday, and one of the sheds that came out of the roof flashing. If I have misidentified the hog-nose, I welcome your corrections.

Monday, October 1, 2007

New Winders

There was progress to report this week - we decided to go ahead and put new windows in the cabin since we were already neck-deep in repairs. Mary was inspired by something we saw at the Pope-Leighey house - all the clerestory windows were operable.

In their original condition, the ones at the cabin weren't - that has been corrected now. We replaced all of the windows on the back of the house including the ones in the two bedrooms with these new ones. And we were able to add two additional windows in the kitchen by taking out the old vent (that didn't work) and some kind of old fashioned air conditioner (also, didn't work).

This really makes the place look like it is coming along. We'll have a lighting plan soon populating that ceiling with recessed lights, then we're putting up tongue and groove paneling to cover the beams. Really a great improvement!