Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bugs and the work that bugs us most.

Being the season for bugs, we've had some interesting and sometimes scary little buggers visit. This big guy had very interesting eyes & seemed to like coming inside so much we had to evict him several times!

We had a Hornet's nest inside an inner wall behind the toilet. At first I just ignored it since they're beneficial insects (They eat other bugs as part of a natural cycle of life!), but unfortunately they become nastier in late summer and I've been stung twice and other friends visiting last weekend both got stung as they walked by.
As we didn't know how they might react, we took them to the hospital nearby, which made me decide enough was enough.

I searched the net for advice & got a pressure sprayer. I first tried a solution of ant powder (Blocked up the nozzles!) and fairly soapy water, spraying at night when they're unable to see and are mostly in their nest.
The soapy water seems to have done the trick.

There's still a larger hive further out in the garden, but I figure as long as they don't nest on the house I'll let them get on with their business. They'll be gone end of October anyway, with the queen hibernating until next year. If they try to nest on the house next year I'll be ready early with the sprayer before they make a hive that's too scary large!

This week Shinobu & I did the nastiest work of all: In the dining room there's an Irori traditional fireplace. This is essentially an insulated hole in the floor for burning wood.
Originally this would have been used for cooking and heating, with all the smoke going through a hole in the ceiling to coat the thatched roof with sooty dust. This would protect the thatch against insects.
Of course after over 2 centuries of use the build up of soot together with dust is considerable and frankly disgusting. If it gets in your eyes it stings and it gets everywhere. I needed to have several showers whilst we cleared this through a day and a half.

Initially when demolishing, to clean the roof beams Arnie & Shinobu opened all the doors and sprayed with compressed air whilst wearing masks and goggles, but it made a helluva mess as well as some 24 bag-fulls of soot! They did try a vacuum cleaner which broke within the hour.

So my solution was to buy a used Dyson vacuum cleaner.

The poor machine barely copes with having to swallow so much and the filter frequently blocks up, but since it's washable I've been able to coax it back to life each time. I've been sold on Dyson cleaners since we bought one some 5 years ago.
Yahoo! auctions are the place to look, they're a fraction of the new price used!

The dust is literally caked on and usually requires scraping with a spatula, as there's also been crystalised charcoal on the surface. After removing most of the dust we wiped each beam down with a wet microfibre cloth. One more day's work will involve final cleaning with a wire brush and finishing with a plastic sheet canopy, similar to the space above the children's room. This will give us two isolated areas in the loft for storage free of ancient dust. All rooms will be completely protected, meaning the house should be much easier to keep clean than would be traditionally. No pain, no gain as they say!

As Friday came to an end, 75% of the loft area above the dining room was cleaned, so we'll need to endure a few more hours of cleaning next week, before putting up plastic sheeting.

Kindly donated by Arnie's son Abe once again. Thanks Abe, even though we've never met you're a true star! I hope the beers went down well.

Once the loft area's cleaned the beams & slats can be stained and sealed with sellac and the ceiling completed the same as the children's bedroom.

There are only small wall sections, since the entire room is enclosed by sliding doors on all sides. Floor will be oak, leaving the original central kotatsu fireplace in. Walls are as simple as cleaning and lemon oiling wooden doors and re-fitting.

I'm anticipating long hours into the night to complete this room, but I'm hoping the fast pace of change will keep me motivated! Once Arnie and Shinobu have finished their work in the dining room the second lounge will begin to quickly take shape.

Stairs very close to completion, at last!

Much of my spare time the last two weeks has been spent on the stairs. In fact, this project despite looking small has been the most time consuming of all so far for Arnie. There's a lot of detail in making a spiral staircase like this from scratch especially bearing in mind the exterior walls were never meant to be load bearing and it's the first time he's made a spiral staircase (A lot of angles to work out and engineer, etc).

For those of you that have followed the build from the beginning you might remember replacement of not just the exterior wall's wood, but also ripping out and rebuilding of the totally bug-eaten pantry area. Before, for 200+ years there was a steep ladder to get up & down stairs. There were some nasty old wooden doors that barely slid any more and plywood covering worn out old exterior walls.

This is the finished product, which certainly feels like luxury by comparison!

For the last few weeks Arnie had been varnishing and sanding down the components of the stairs.

At the beginning of September Carlos, my designer friend kindly gave up one of his days off from Toshiba to come over and help me clean up the stairwell beams and stain. He also taught me the basics of wall-papering. I'd thought it was easy to do, but with so many irregularly shaped spaces to fill, working late at night mostly on my own and not having done this before it was easy to make mistakes.

Fortunately the textured nature of the wallpaper makes it quite easy to hide joins completely and there's colour matched caulking to blend corners & edges together.
But about half way through I decided I really don't like wall-papering at all and so the children's bedroom's going to be eco-walled too.

Glad the entrance / genkan & stairs are nearly finished now, at last. Just the wall next to the entrance doors to finish next week. A few hour's work at most. Well, that and flagstone flooring in the lower entrance level, but that's a job for after we move in. The current compressed earth floor's been there a very long time, so a bit longer will be fine.

Below are pictures of the newly papered paneling going up the stairs:

I wallpapered everything first, then Arnie fitted the stairs during Thursday and Friday. It's all very strongly bonded together and screwed into place. No way these would ever come out without ripping away the corner of the house. The glue's stronger than the wood!

There's still some faux beams to be made either side of the entrance to the stairs (Which will help protect corners), plus a wooden panel with a vertical hand rail (For children!) half way up the stairs - stained black of course.

The grey rectangular area on the floor is nothing more than a pile of plaster-board, by the way.

We figured under the stairs will be a place kids will want to play so I wall-papered there too and fitted two recessed flourescent lights.

There will be some heavy cast-iron double coat hooks close to the door frame (Sourced from Lee Valley in the States) and also mounted on the back of the door (Which will be made of Cedar & pine, stained red & black to match with the stairs).
In this cupboard we'll store things like vacuum cleaner, baby push chair, etc. We've already received 3 Suffolk type cast-iron thumb latches from the UK to go on the two doors on the stairs (Cupboard and door to guest room upstairs). Period-ish, although not really Japanese - but I always liked these latches on old houses in UK. As they can be opened from both sides of the door, hopefully it won't make it too scary for kids to hide & seek in...

From above it's not possible to see the red paneling (Cardboard was to avoid scratching the varnish whilst assembling).

Lighting here is an important consideration too. This stained glass sconce was bought from the States via Amazon:

It will provide a dim but ambient light.

There are also 5 x 12v stair lights and we may add two more to the upper level of the stair well.

I'll try to get better pictures when it's all finished. Unfortunately it's impossible to show the complete staircase without a crazy wide-angle lens of some sort!

Children's room is nearing completion - to be finished around end of September.

Originally the wall between the master & children's bedroom was wattle & daub with bamboo re-inforcement. We didn't want to keep such walls as replacement is a major mess if they break and pictures can't be hung on them (Consequently almost all wattle & daub walls have been or will be replaced with framing and 12mm thick plaster board)

And below is now:

About 6 of the ceiling beams were replaced due to having had varying degrees of old wood worm damage. Fortunately we had spares from the low ceiling that used to be in the 2nd lounge. There were some damaged slats too and new ones were cut and fitted before Shinobu stained all and applied a coat of sellac. The 11mm plywood ceiling was first cut so joints would always be concealed, then once all sized correctly, removed and covered with textured wallpaper before being carefully laid and screwed into place.

Arnie & Shinobu then installed all new wiring in conduit, closed up walls and filled imperfections caused by screw heads, etc.

As it's quite a dark room without any direct sunlight at all, only shade through the day we've installed wiring for 4 types of light to give a choice of moods: 8 x LED dimable spotlights, 1 x dimmable pendant light, 3 corner wall receptacles to control a choice of dimmable table or floor light(s) and picture frame light(s).

Last week Arnie glued 3 lengths of pine together side by side before routing them to make a replacement upper channel for one of the garden facing sliding doors. This week he's going to replace a couple of the floor guides.

This coming week I expect to spend a late evening or two applying Eco-Wall cream coloured plaster, before getting on with the time consuming job of laying oak flooring during several evenings and some daytime as work allows me time out.

We decided not to keep the God-box, as mentioned before for lack of space and the fact it would block too much light. Instead as it's a square space Arnie will be making a round shoji window similar to this:

Behind it can be a place for a small study. This way the children can be working on whatever project they're concentrating on whilst being able to gaze through the glass doors to the garden and it also allows a passage for heat from the intended centralised wood burning stove fitted in front of the adjacent wall.

At the corner of the 2nd lounge and dining room there will be an L-shaped fitted wardrobe where part of it will be hidden recesses for the house's centralised audio equipment and CD collection. For now we'll leave this as there are other rooms to be finished in time for our planned move at the end of October.

First lounge, nearly finished. At last!

Sometimes I can't help thinking progress has been slow, but it's interesting to look back the last 2 weeks and see how far we've come, or even further back to how the house was when Shinobu & Arnie began demolishing interior walls, or replacing exterior wood paneling and where we are now.

There are so many pieces to each puzzle it's difficult not to miss all the tasks that go hand in hand with finishing each area properly. I tend to under estimate, being inexperienced & sometimes need to remind myself this is an old house so it's not all square and symmetrical as a modern building would be.
Arnie often has to engineer solutions on the go and in turn I've been learning various techniques from him.

It's encouraging to look back just the last 2 weeks and review how many things have changed!

The above picture shows the old ceilings, raw wood planks that sat beneath tatami and below - no wall to separate the bedroom, back in April:

During the last two weeks, having routed all our wiring, inclusive of wall mounted speaker terminals with 12 gauge speaker cable hard wired in, Phone, LAN and digital TV, we sealed up the wall with plaster board. If I've worked it out right, we should have no visible cables anywhere running alongside the walls once we've furnished the place.

There are two spot light (dimmable) circuits, plus switched wall receptables for floor or table lamps and wiring in place for picture lights to be located on the wall.

During late nights into the last two weeks I spent time painstakingly laying oak flooring, carefully glueing and nail gunning each strip into place after spacing correctly.

Sanding followed, with a darker (Mahogany) stain:

This afternoon before finishing up for the weekend, I applied a 50% thinned first coat of Eurethane varnish after having vacuumed & wiped the floor clean with a damp microfibre cloth thoroughly. Note there's a lot of reflection on freshly varnished wood, it's not texture.

It'll get at least 4 coats of Eurethane with more sanding in between. Should have a classic look when done, similar to the stairs (See other post today).

Sanding (With our trusty Dyson vacuum cleaner attached to suck away dust) and varnishing don't take long to do, so I'll finish these in between others stuff I'll be doing over this month. Where the original ceiling slats used to fit, we'll be putting a facade over and slightly above, to hide the wiring for the spots and speaker by the corner.
I'm looking forward to re-fitting the beautiful wooden lattice panels that seperates this lounge & bedroom and allows ventilation! The green plastic sheeted temporary windows will soon be gone at last. Once it's finished, I can paper the shoji doors too but before I get onto that, there's some panels in the corridor that need painting and wood re-staining. Rome wasn't built in a week, as the saying goes...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Everything You HAVE TO KNOW about Dangerous Genetically Modified Foods.

There's a huge amount of overwhelming evidence of the dangers of GMO's and the lack of action that's being taken to protect our environment of irreversible damage and resultant difficulties, suffering & even farmer suicides that continue to develop as results. These are some of the reasons we feel it's of essential importance to develop a permaculture food solution in this home project, which we plan to share learning and produce with friends and like minded people.

Here's an important lecture by Jeffrey M Smith author of Seeds of Deception & Genetic Roulette on the dangers we need to know about in GMO's.

Everything You HAVE TO KNOW about Dangerous Genetically Modified Foods from Jeffrey Smith on Vimeo.