Five Reasons To Have A Reserve Water Tank ~ Part 1

We’ve been thinking about building a reserve water tank, and here are some reasons why:

Reason 1. A few weeks ago, a neighbor set a small fire of yard debris, then left for his house in the city. (I know, I know, I will refrain from comment…) A few hours later, Cynthia looked out our kitchen window and yelled, “FIRE!” I knew that that house didn’t have any water as a new well was being drilled. So I ran to the neighbor of the property on fire and roused the sleeping caretaker.

He and I stretched a hose to the neighboring property and fought the fire for more than an hour. We didn’t have enough water pressure so it was slow going. While the other man used the hose, I used a now-destroyed plastic leaf rake to move the fire away from the unburned pine needles. Had we not acted, lots of pine and palm trees would have burned, plus all our properties were in danger. The whole time, I wished we had more water. Here’s a photo:

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Reason 2. Sometimes, the power goes off. And with no power to the water pump, there is no water at our house. Not a real problem, unless the power is off for more than a few hours. Or if there is a fire! Of course we could get a 220-volt generator to power the pump, but that is another thing that needs maintenance and fuel and fussing with.

Reason 3. This was a tough dry season. We never ran out of water, but I suppose it could happen.

Reason 4. Sometimes we want to use two hoses at a time. But our pump is rated for seven-gallons-per-minute. Exceed this and the pump protection system shuts the pump down for a half-hour to allow it to cool off. By having a reserve tank, we can use two-or-three hoses or sprinklers at once.

Reason 5. Building stuff is FUN!

So armed with these reasons and a couple thousand dollars, we went to work. Armando and I scouted a location where the tank would be high in the air to deliver good pressure, and would be mostly out of sight. We settled on the area where we were going to build the hydroponic greenhouse (before we decided to sell). There was already a good foundation and a few rows of blocks. We went up from there.

Day one, Alex, who had worked for us before, joined Armando. We cleaned the area and started laying blocks:

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At the end of day one, we were up this high:

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Day two showed this much progress:

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We inserted a couple ventilation blocks because some day this area could be an employee’s casita.

It is common practice here to lay blocks, but don’t connect them at the corners. Reinforced concrete columns are poured here. At the end of day 3 we had the rest of the blocks up and corners formed and poured:

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Where’s Fred?

Day four was a long day. We stripped the corner forms and made forms for a beam that went around all four sides of the structure. We formed a welded rebar armature that fit in the form work and made a good strong base for the tank. Here I am welding the rebar armature:

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All four corners are connected so the beams won’t be able to pull apart under pressure of the heavy tank above.

We put the armature in the form work:

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There will be more blocks above this beam, so before we poured the beam, we cut and welded a LOT of rebar in place to support the blocks above from the massive pressure of the water:

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That’s a lot of rebar!

Next, we poured the concrete beam. It was still early in the day, so we cut a lot more rebar and welded it in place to make reinforcement for the floor of the water tank:

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While I was welding the rebar, the guys went into the jungle and cut 15 strong saplings that we would use to hold the floor form work in place. After we made the form work for the floor, we tied the rebar together with wire:

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At this point it was almost quitting time for the day, but the guys said they wanted to pour the floor, too, so that we would be ready to lay blocks tomorrow. I told them that I would pay extra if they wanted to keep going. The guys mixed the concrete, and we set up a relay to get the concrete to the roof. This was tough going for the old guy in the middle!

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The next day I stayed in the hammock while the guys laid more block. The blocks took two- or three-more days.

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Next, we formed another beam that went around the top of the entire tank, the rebar all connected as in the other beam. We also welded in place more rebar that we will bend at a 90-degree angle to make reinforcement for the concrete roof and will tie the roof to the walls:

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We were anxious to get the roof poured, but first to make our work much easier, we had to apply the plastering to the inside of the tank. Here is some of the first plaster:

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Armando applies the mortar while Alex paints a bonding agent on the smooth concrete beam and corners.

At the end of today, day ten of the project, we have all four walls plastered. In this photo, Armando finishes tooling an angled strip of mortar at the floor line to prevent water from leaking through the wall/floor joint:P1030704-001

We’ll continue next week when the guys return Monday or Tuesday. Left yet to do is to form and pour the roof and then plaster the walls outside of the tank.

In other news, when Cynthia was a teenager, she was in the Masonic order Job’s Daughters, and was crowned DeMolay Sweetheart. The Masonic youth organizations are planning a reunion for later this year. For the event, Cyn is making ten crowns for the former Sweethearts (they passed the crown on to the next Sweetheart so they never got to keep their crowns). This is a surprise gift from Cynthia for the Sweethearts who are attending the reunion. One of the Sweethearts has passed away so in accordance with tradition, Cyn has made a white crown in her honor for the memorial.

This has been a lot of work, but the results are handmade pieces of art that will be a reminder of memories from years ago. Here are some photos:

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Two 12″ x 12″ pieces of glass, a clear piece and an amber-colored iridescent piece, cut into 3/8″ squares, were glued together then fused together. Then each of those rounded pre-fired pieces were glue tacked onto a plain piece of glass, then fired in the kiln to fuse the pieces together.

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After she fused the crowns but before she curved them in another firing in the kiln, I drilled holes at each end for attaching wires that can be bobby-pinned to each woman’s hair:

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I drilled the holes with a diamond bit in a pan of water to keep the bit cool.

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My grandfather’s 65-year-old drill press is still going strong, but after the nerve-wracking stress of drilling a couple dozen holes, I was a bit dazed and confused…

Here are a couple of the crowns after Cyn curved the glass and applied some crystal beads.

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And remember the climbing vine at the front of the carport? Well finally, finally after a year, the plant is lush and in full bloom:

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That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

PHOTOS!

At long last, the house is what I am calling 99.9998% complete! I have a very short list of unfinished items, most of which I can do in a day or two. But yesterday and today Cynthia and I staged the house and took photos inside and out. Here is a video with 93 pictures. To save you from me imposing my music choice on you, there is no sound. You can make it full-screen if you like:

So that’s it. Five-and-a-half years and all I have to show for it is 93 lousy photos!

I still hope to make a nice video. Stay tuned.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Hung Out To Dry ~ Kitchen Cabinet Doors

I’ve been working on the kitchen cabinet doors.

I planed the wood for the cabinet doors to its final thickness, cut the pieces to their final widths, then plowed a groove to accept the glass panels. Here is a photo with the boards cut to width and the groove cut:

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I used to have a router table, but the humidity here made Purina Mold Chow out of it. I looked all over Panama for a new router table but couldn’t find one. So using a small shop bench and a quarter-sheet of plywood, I made my own.

With the router set up with a single cutter, I easily made the groove for the glass panels (photo above). Next, I calculated the size of the stiles (the side pieces of the doors) and the rails (the top and bottom pieces of the doors) and cut them to length with the miter saw. Here I am sizing the doors and cutting the pieces:

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I put double cutters on the router and cut the ends of the rails. Here is my makeshift router table. The router hangs upside down under the plywood:

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Here is a close-up of the double cutter assembly that cut the ends of the rails:

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Here is a photo of a stile (on the right) and a rail (on the left):

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When all was said and done, I had a pile of pieces and parts, ready to assemble:

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I marked the bottom of each stile with the number of the door and the direction that the wood faces. Now to assemble the puzzle!

Whoa! Not so fast! Before I assemble the doors, I need to drill holes on the back of the hinge-side of the door stiles to receive the hinges. Here is my setup for drilling the holes with my grandfather’s antique drill press:

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Now with everything measured and ready to assemble, I calculated the size of the glass panels and ordered the glass. I had to wait the better part of a week for the glass to be cut. There is one glass company that we like to use, and they didn’t have any of the frosted glass that we wanted for the doors. It would be weeks (months?) before they would have any. But they did have frosted safety glass, basically two sheets of clear glass with a frosted safety film sandwiched between the panes. Although it cost a lot more, we went with it.

While I waited, I applied a couple of coats of polyurethane varnish to the edges of the stiles and rails where the glass panel will slide into the grooves. This will keep me from slopping varnish all over the glass when it comes time to finish the doors.

Next I pulled all the hinge stiles out of the pile and screwed the hinges onto the stiles. Then I screwed the hinge onto the cabinet. These hinges easily come apart into two pieces, making hanging the door really easy. These are Blum brand and have several adjustment screws for aligning the door in the frame. Here are the hinges shown with the parts connected and separated:

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I also took some time and installed the drawer slides onto the wooden carriages that I previously built:

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These are Blum brand self-closing drawer slides, the best. They aren’t cheap, plus I had to import them from the $tates. Here is a close-up:

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I like these drawer slides. They have several adjustments for tilting and moving the slides to easily-align the drawer front with the front of the cabinet.

I finally got the call from the glass fabricator, and drove down the mountain to collect my order. Back home, I wasted no time in assembling the doors.

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At this point, they don’t look very pretty what with the edge varnish slopped a bit here and there. You can see that the hinges are ready to remount on the doors.

I let the glue dry for a day then sanded the doors smooth and ready for varnish. Now they look like this:

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For the first coat, I painted on a coat of sanding sealer. Basically thinned down varnish, sanding sealer soaks into the wood, raises any grain that is going to raise, then dries hard and is very easy to sand. It leaves a satin-smooth surface for the polyurethane. Here I am applying the sealer. Notice that I don’t have to cut close to the glass because that part of the wood is already sealed:

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Here are the doors all hung out to dry overnight:

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After sanding the sealer, I applied a coat of polyurethane, let it dry overnight, sanded the doors again, then applied a second coat of finish and let them sit another day. I finally got to hang the doors and install the handles that we bought about a hundred-years ago. I like to mount the handles so that the top of the handles line up with the horizontal line of the rails:

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The door on the left is in direct window light and photographed much yellower than it actually is.

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We think that they look great. But now we can’t just reach down and pull something out of a cabinet; extra step — remember to open and close the doors!

The drawers are next and I have already started working on them. But this will wait for my next post.

In other news, just as a downpour arrived, Armando dug some of the yucca that we have growing on the other side of the road. He couldn’t wait to show it to me as it is Guinness Book-qualified BIG!

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Water from a long gutter at the front of the carport/bohio dumps a lot of water! The water goes under the fence and into the drainage ditch:

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The garden is growing on steroids this rainy season; there is a lot of sun but the downpours are substantial and deeply-soak the soil. Here are some going-crazy maracas:

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And some going-crazy ferns and what-ever-they-are big purple plants:

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What a dignified jungle we have! It is nice to have a mature garden at the same time that the house is nearing completion.

And last but best, Cynthia just completed a glass platter. This one was an amalgamation of two projects that she didn’t like. So we got out the tile saw and cut both projects into small pieces. She then arranged them into a new piece that is really fun to look at. Cyn named the piece, “Amalgamation.” In the photo below, the platter is casting a long shadow in the morning sun:

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We made a little video about it:

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Essentially Electrifying

We’ve spent the past week or two essentially electrifying the rest of the house. With very few exceptions, the electrical phase (pun intended for you electrical engineers out there) is now all done.

The work involved several days of me under the house and Cynthia inside the house, the two of us fishing, running, and pulling about 500-feet of wire. After all that wire was placed, I spent the better part of a week wiring all the plugs, switches, and lights, and installing the switch-plate covers. The results are illuminating and it feels very good to be able to walk through the house and turn on any light we want. Cyn is thrilled to no longer have to trip over extension cords.

I may have mentioned this before, but many years ago when I was in my early twenties, I helped an older electrician by pulling wires and crawling under houses, doing the work for him that he could no longer do because of his failing health. In the process he taught me a lot, including the principle of “a path of light” through the house. So now, thanks to Ernie, we can walk from room to room to room, switching off one light switch and turning on another without ever being in the dark.

Following are some photos that show the completed electrical work:

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The lights over the sinks in the master bathroom are working.

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A switch on the wall as you enter the bathroom turns this light on by the toilet.

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At this point in construction even the smallest items make a huge difference. It is so good to see the switches and the metal covers in place rather than the gaping hole in the wall. By the way, we used safety grab bars for our towel bars; the thickness of the bars separate the towels so that they dry better in this humid climate. Plus, they just look industrial, don’t they?

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In the master bedroom there is a lamp on either side of the bed and a hanging lamp over the chair. The lamp over the chair turns on from either of the two entrances to the room.

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A strip of LEDs provide general lighting in the loft. (Cyn says don’t pay any attention to the chaos of the boxes, they’ll be re-organized soon.)

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To light the stairs, I bought ten, truck side marker LED lamps and mounted them under the hand railing. I ran the low-voltage wiring inside the square steel tubing that the railing is fabricated from.

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Here is a photo from the bottom of the stairs. The lights make a good night light and consume almost no electricity.

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The mass of spaghetti wiring under the microwave counter in the kitchen is now organized and nicely tucked into a large junction box. A sharp eye will see that the Romex connector at the top of the box is upside down — there just wasn’t enough room under the counter to install it correctly. But at least I installed one!

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The wires in the junction box go to and from the new switches that control the kitchen lights and the exhaust hood over the stove. I used waterproof exterior electrical boxes because they look so much better than the standard electrical box. We used a lot of these boxes in the house and they AREN’T CHEAP!

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Eight of Cynthia’s red kitchen lamps are now controlled by switches. Here are three of them. The open kitchen cabinets make a good segue to the upcoming cabinetry project. Stay tuned for a few more weeks.

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I took this photo from the second bedroom, looking through the laundry room, the master bathroom, and into the master bedroom. I wanted to show that the light in the master bedroom is working. Also, I don’t know if I have posted about how we used safety grab bars for door handles.

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You can see that the lamps in the living room are working. Also, I installed a light fixture high on the roof support column. This lamp illuminates the photos in the concrete frames and is controlled by a switch on the other side of the column.

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Looking from the front door, here is a shot of the dining room and living room with all lights working.

Back in the kitchen, there was a big-ugly-stinking-mess at the shelving and electrical panel to the right of the refrigerator:

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Using my homemade, DIY sheet metal bending brake, I formed some aluminum shelving and also a cover for the electrical panel. To cut the aluminum, I set up shop in the carport:

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My shop is a mess, but I had just enough space to bend the cover for the electrical panel:

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Here are the shelves and panel cover in place:

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The shelves hold the house phone, the wifi printer, and the monitor for the security cameras. Later I will stain the wooden baseboard the same color as the floor.

The door can be opened to access the electrical panel:

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So with just one or two tiny electrical details left to do, I can almost cross this one big task off my list. I consider the electrical work a success — I had just two small issues to figure out — I transposed two wires on one three-way light switch, and in the bank of switches in the kitchen I inadvertently screwed a switch mounting screw into a bunch of black wires, causing a dead short when I flipped on the breaker. Once the smoke cleared, both issues were easy to figure out and fix.

Next week I have some more aluminum to cut and bend to make shelves for the little office, plus make a few remaining shelves for in the walk-in master bedroom closet.

In other news, I spent a lot of last Sunday modifying my new GoPro camera. GoPros can take excellent quality photos and video, but the fixed lens gives somewhat of a fish-eye effect. Also, the focus is fixed so that the foreground and the background are always in focus. But a modification kit exists called the Backbone Ribcage that removes the stock lens and allows for using virtually any other lens made for photography. Of course I had to give it a go. Here is what the modification entails:

Here I am readied to do surgery. The original GoPro is at the bottom left. The other parts and pieces are for the modification:

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Here is the camera all torn down and ready for the rebuild:

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I drew little boxes around the screws that I removed and labeled them for proper reassembly.

And here is the final product with a nice little wide-to-telephoto lens:

P1020979-001Everything worked well, but when I tested the camera, the video came out black even though I had removed the lens cover. I sent a quick email to tech support and heard right back from the owner. He told me that he once made the same mistake — the iris in the camera was shut completely down, preventing any light from hitting the sensor. Duh Fred.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

350 Pounds Of Concrete Hanging On The Wall

As I mentioned in my last post, the long shipping container wall in the living room/dining room/entry was calling out for some art. So Cynthia and I looked through our photos and found eight pictures of flowers that we had taken around the property. I uploaded the photos to AllPosters.com and received the prints a couple weeks later.

Now what to use for frames? Easy would be to buy some frames off the shelf at Machetazo or other local store. But as you know, this whole house project isn’t about easy. So, NO!

But what? With our concrete counter tops, benches, and shelves, well, why not concrete picture frames? That sounded exciting so I got right to work.

Last time, I posted the following photo of the form work for our concrete picture frames. I still needed to apply some strips of wood to make a recess in the back of the frame to receive the glass and pictures:

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After I had the forms assembled, Armando mixed a rich (more cement than normal) batch of mortar and placed it in the forms.

Two days later, I pulled the forms. The new concrete frames looked quite good, but they had air holes and honeycomb here and there. They looked even better once we applied a coat of dark-gray grout to all the surfaces that would be seen. When the grout was dry, I sanded the frames smooth.

Next, Cynthia and I, each with a sponge, walked around the table a dozen times applying 24 coats of sealer as we made our rounds around the table:

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Cynthia is putting the first coat of sealer on the first frame. Notice how the sealer darkens the grout that is spread on the surface of the frames.

The next photo shows the frames all sealed, although they still need to be fine sanded and one more coat of sealer applied. These things are heavy — fifty-pounds each! P1020840-001My next step of the process was to drill holes in the tops of the frames, tap in some plastic expanding anchors, and screw in heavy-duty hooks.

Now with the frames ready for hanging, I moved inside the house. Armando and I screwed a 20-foot length of sliding door track high on the wall.

We chose to hang these frame-beasts with chain hanging from wheels that I inserted into the sliding door track. Here is a photo of the wheels:

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Note to self: Get a manicure.

Cynthia and I cut the chain and set the glass and photos in the frames.

With everything assembled, finally, we hung the frames on the chains and we were done.

Here are some shots of the photos mounted in the frames and the frames hanging on the wall:

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The largest photo is 16″x20″ plus the two-times the width (almost 4-inches) of the frame, making it about 24″x28″. They are BIG but the wall can handle it.

Here is a panorama of the entire wall:

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Ignore the curvature of the panoramic photo.

Now, isn’t that better than a huge blank wall?

We couldn’t be more pleased, and the whole project — enlargements, glass, wood for the forms, screws, sand/cement/sealer, door track, wheels ($14 each and we needed 14 of them), chain, and miscellaneous bits and pieces, and Armando’s labor sits at around the $500 mark plus about six person-days of work. It couldn’t have been easier!

Plus, we have one photo/frame left to hang in the half-bath off of the living room.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Unexpected Progress!

The day after my last post about tiling the walkway, we tiled the bottom step to the carport floor and installed a few missing tiles here and there. I thought that that would be the end of our supply of tiles, as I had estimated the job with a very sharp pencil.

But we did have nine tiles left over, just enough to tile the ramp to the back yard with only the tiniest bit of scrap left over:

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To fill out the day, we moved operations to the electric meter wall at the corner of the property. Armando and I had tiled it a couple of years ago, but the stucco at the top of the roof line was too smooth to bond the tiles to. One-by-one and over time, the tiles loosened and fell to the ground. Francisco roughed the stucco with a hammer and chisel, then Anibal painted on a bonding agent, and we cut and fit the tiles. Here is a photo that Cynthia took of the crew:

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At the end of the day our tile crew was all caught up until time to tile the carport floor, and I was about to dismiss Anibal and Francisco for lack of work. But I really didn’t want to lose them as it may be some time before I could get them back.

Anibal and I got to talking; he still had no other work on the horizon, so we decided to start the carport floor the next day. I had previously purchased the rebar for the floor, but we still needed sand, gravel and cement.

There still isn’t a lot of mixed sand and gravel deposited on the river banks, but Ramiro’s brother, who lives next to a river, had the ten-yards that we would need. He promised it for the next day. Then I went to town and ordered 30, 94-pound sacks of cement that were delivered the next day.

The next day, Armando, Anibal, Francisco, and I prepared the carport area for the pour. We have used this area to mix concrete on for five-years. Some areas were quite thick with remnant concrete and mortar, and to level the floor it was tough work with pick-axe, sledge-hammer, and shovel. We used a string to determine the level of the floor and picked away at the high spots and filled the low spots with the chipped-out debris. This took most of the morning. Here are some photos:

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We dug a trench along the front edge of the slab to allow for more concrete here — I don’t want the slab to crack the first time I drive over the edge! In the next photo I am driving rebar into the ground, making support for a 2″x4″ metal cariola form for the concrete:

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When we had the earth scraping and filling done to allow a five-inch concrete slab, we moved on to the rebar. Here Armando cuts some rebar with the angle grinder:

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We measured for the cross-pieces of rebar:

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Then we cut all of the cross pieces:

P1020706-002Now with the grid of 1/2″ rebar, spaced at 16″-on-center, we tied the rebar intersections with wire. Cynthia got in on the action, too, cutting and bending the 300-plus tie wires:

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Here the guys wire the rebar together:

P1020716-001After the rebar was in place, we drove some long pins of rebar into the ground, then I welded angle iron to the pins. Using a string from front-to-back of the carport, we adjusted the angle iron (by hammering on the pins) to set the top of the slab:

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You can see the angle iron — one at either edge and one running down the middle of the carport. We’ll use the ten-foot length of aluminum tubing to strike the concrete level.

Now we are ready for concrete.

The sand and gravel mix didn’t arrive in the afternoon as promised, but I was told that it would arrive early in the morning tomorrow. Tomorrow arrived, along with the men at 7:00 a.m., but still no material, so Ramiro called his brother. It seems that the two-block-long road down to the river was too washed out and the truck couldn’t use it. So, the delay was caused — if you can understand how much work this must have been — by the three men having to physically wheel-barrow all ten-yards uphill on the deeply-rutted two-block “road” to the truck. Uugh!

The truck arrived with the first four-yards at 8:30 and we got right to work. Spreading out the entire four-yards, the men then added the cement,:

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then they mixed and added water:

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They make little troughs throughout the pile to contain the water. Anibal, the oldest on the crew, was assigned hose duty.

After the pile was mixed, Armando grabbed the wheelbarrow and kept at it all day long:

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Anibal and I placed the concrete and struck it off using the angle iron guides:

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We caught little breaks when we could:

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We ran out of concrete when we were almost done with half the floor, and had to wait an hour-or-so for the second four-yards to arrive. Here is the floor half-done and starting on the second half:

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With just a bit left to do on the floor, we waited again for the arrival of two-more yards of sand and gravel. This was a lot of mixing in one day for our small crew:

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The next photo shows the slab ALL DONE! Also, note that the driveway is a mess of sand and cement (this stretches all the way to the front gate), making it difficult to walk into the house without bringing in a bunch of junk on your feet:

P1020759-001So I sent a WhatsApp message to Jesus (man with truck) and ordered four-yards of gravel for the driveway. Yesterday, Armando and I spread the pile. We’ll still need at least another load, but I’ll wait until we are all done with the sand pile Here’s a panorama with the driveway almost all graveled:

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So having the floor slab done was a big surprise for us, we thought it would happen in June or July. But here it is at the tail end of May and it is in and done. Now just to tile it…

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Five Years In The Making, My 200th Post

This blog entry marks my 200th post on PanamaShippingContainerHouse.com. Cynthia and I began this house-building project on June 6th, 2010, just two-weeks away from five-years ago. And now we can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

Tackling much of this Big-Person’s Erector Set myself, I’ve had to push pretty hard, and keep on pushing pretty hard, if I ever want to see the project completed. As such, there has been a never-ending stream of items-become-reality.

I have become conditioned to frequently having something new to enjoy, appreciate, be frustrated by, and be proud of. As an artist, I like the creative process. It feeds me. It stimulates my brain.

This is not to say that it hasn’t been exhausting and that I haven’t wanted to walk away. Many times. The size of the project, the learning curve of creating a unique, owner-designed and owner-built shipping container house, the new skills that I have had to learn, plus the general decrapitude of my age (I can see 70 from my house), have been daunting.

But artists wouldn’t have it any other way, would they?

I know that the house isn’t done yet, however several readers have asked me if I would do it again — If I knew then what I know now, would I do it again. It’s a hard question to answer (indeed even some of our political elite have fallen into the trap and bungled the answer). And like a politician, I’d like to dodge the question and ask a different one.

Are we glad that we built this shipping container house? The answer, from both Cynthia and myself, is a resounding, “Yes!”

Would we do it again? (Ah, you still want me to answer that question…) “NO!” But not for the reason that you think. We think that building anything from shipping containers is a cool idea. We think that this has been a worthwhile exercise. We have learned a lot. We can’t identify any major mistakes along the way that have made this a stupid idea. We love the way that it is turning out.

But we wouldn’t do it again because we are more artists than builders. A builder can replicate the same house a thousand times, maybe flipping the floor plan every other time. But an artist — an artist is in it for the creation of new ideas, new expressions, new processes, new enlightening. So no, we wouldn’t do it again.

The house “works” for us in its design and materials. The containers provide a modular design grid that allows for a very fluid and usable living space. The large spaces, such as the 16’x40′ kitchen/family area, work well here in the tropics where airflow and ventilation is everything.

The still-somewhat-uniqueness of using shipping containers has enlivened the project, even more so than if we had built a good design from the standard concrete block method. We’ve enjoyed knowing that we’ve taken four containers out of the junk pile and up-purposed them into a home that has a lot of living potential.

Lastly, Cynthia and I have created this design from the ground up. We didn’t buy plans on the Internet, and we didn’t hire out any of the creativity. We’ve worked well together to solve really-difficult issues. Often Cynthia won’t like my ideas or I won’t like her’s.

But our philosophy around this is that if one of us doesn’t like the other’s idea, we look for a third option. We’ve discovered that the third option is never a compromise. Neither of us has had to give up anything along the way. The Third (or Fourth — or Seventh) Option that we find is always better than what either of us has thought of individually.

To everyone who has followed along, subscribed, or commented, thanks very much. I haven’t “monetized” this site because I like it the way it is. I’m not even selling the idea. This blog is my diary, and I’ve enjoyed making it public. I hope that you have enjoyed reading it.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

I Can’t Think Of A Title For This Post

Since my last post, I stripped the forms off of the latest batch of counter tops. The following photo shows the counter in the master bathroom. Also in the photo, we were going to have a mirror cut for the wall, but we decided instead to tile the wall and hang two mirrors. (I’ve done the same in the second bedroom but no photos.) In the photo, I just finished tiling the wall. Armando will grout it on Monday, then I can install the faucets and sinks:

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This area will look much better when it is all dressed up with sinks, faucets, mirrors and lights. I still need to tile the wall under the counter. We’ve decided to use the shower floor tiles for this area below the sinks.

The concrete shelf in the toilet area turned out nicely; it has a nice shine due to the polymer sealer. One of our goals in designing the house was to create light-but-cozy spaces. Even the toilet area qualifies:

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When Armando grouts the tile wall, I’ll have him grout the honeycomb edge of the shelf.

The stone wall in the shower area looked drab, so Armando sanded the wall to remove grout from the stones and to smooth the mortar lines. Then he washed the wall and applied two coats of polymer sealer. Now it looks like what we had envisioned:

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In the laundry, I stripped the forms from the small counter top and sanded and sealed it. I put it in place and installed the faucet, sink trap, and drain line. This sink now works!

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A little grout will touch up the edge of the counter.

Out in the yard, Armando spent two-weeks making the last segment of the driveway edging:

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After we pour the concrete floor in the carport, we’ll order a few more truckloads of gravel for the driveway.

The big thing for us this week was the delivery of the glass table tops and the mirrors for the bathroom behind the sink.

We placed our order on the 10th of December and were told that we could expect it to arrive in two weeks. But being Panama, it just didn’t happen. All of December passed, as well as January. I kept checking with the company and kept getting promises for the next day. Or next week. There were lots of excuses. The company that put the edging on the glass broke the dining room table top and another one had to be made. The truck was broken. The driver didn’t show up. The men were all working out of town. We’re waiting for glass. One of the two edge grinding machines in Panama was broken and work was backed up. I half expected to be told that they had run out of sand to make the glass!

Exasperated, I finally visited the glass company and talked with Kathy, the woman at the desk. By this point we knew each other well. I explained that many promises had been broken and that we had been very patient. But now, our patience was worn thin.

In Panama there is an agency, probably like the Better Business Bureau, with the acronym of ACODECO. If you have a complaint with a business (or even a government agency I think), you can file your complaint and they will follow up. Apparently ACODECO has sharp fangs and razor claws (and the ability to impose big fines), because businesses quake at the mere mention of the name.

So playing good customer/bad customer, I politely told Kathy that I heard Cynthia snoring in her sleep. I told Kathy that with each exhale, I heard Cynthia exclaim, “ACODECO!, ACODECO!, ACODECO!”

Kathy’s eyes widened and she said, “Oh, por favor no Sr. Fred.”

“Oh, I have no control over what Cynthia will do when she is at the end of her patience,” I said.

The glass arrived the next day.

(The long delay in getting the glass is what prompted us to tile the bathroom walls above the counters and hang mirrors instead of ordering custom-fabricated mirrors.)

The first piece that the three men put in place was the much-anticipated, half-inch, 250-pound dining room table top. With a wide bevel on the edge, it looks great!

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After the delivery crew left, I hung the mirrors in the bathroom under the stairs. The photo is difficult to figure out; there are two mirrors that hang on the 45-degree walls behind the sink. Kind of like being in a Fun House:

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The glass tops arrived for the smaller tables, too, including the one in the dining room:

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And the second bedroom (under the mirror):

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Instead of wooden end tables (mold, termites), we are using clay vessels with glass tops. Here is the living room with the round glass tops on the vessels:

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We’ll plant a plant in the brown pot in the far back corner and maybe put an up-light in the pot. And yes, that is a pig (piggy bank) with wings and wheels.

The screened bump-out in the master bedroom is a sweet place to sit and have a glass of iced tea:

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Cynthia has been busy learning about slumping glass. Her latest creation is made using a bubble pot melt form. After all the colors had melted/dripped through the form and fused together in the kiln, I cut the edges square with my tile saw. Next, she will place it on a different form in the kiln, slumping the glass into the shape of a tray. Here is the piece held up to the light:

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What’s not readily visible in this photo is the sparkle of the little blue spots (from blue aventurine frit). It’s really pretty up close. This color combination is reminiscent of a tie dye.

Lastly, I’ve been all work and no play for a long time now and it is getting old. I’ve been aching to learn to play my new classical guitar, so even though I’m dog tired at the end of the day, lately I’ve managed to carve out a few minutes at the end of the evening to sit and strum a bit.

Here’s the guitar that Cynthia bought me for my birthday (was it last year or the year before?); it is hand made in Spain (all wood, no plywood, with a hand-selected cedar soundboard), fabricated in the traditional way. With a deep, rich resonance, it is a wonderful guitar for the music that I want to learn to play — Nuevo Flamenco and jazzy Latin styles such as the Bossa Nova. Thanks Cyn (and thanks again to our friend Cynthia McC for hand carrying it to me from the States):

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That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Lovely In The Night

Armando and I start this post by pouring the concrete for the counter tops in the master and second bathrooms. It took us about three hours to mix and place the concrete in the forms that I showed in my last post. Here are some photos:

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We’ll put a lamp on this little concrete shelf that is (soon to be) next to the toilet.

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We took extra pains to work the somewhat stiff concrete around the rebar and into all the corners.

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This is the counter for the two vessel sinks in the master bathroom. Just to the right of my arm you can see two pieces of pipe sticking up out of the concrete. These pipes create holes for the faucet and the sink drain

We even made a small counter to go behind the deep sink in the laundry. Cynthia is looking forward to having this little project done so she can use the sink:

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After we leveled the concrete, I returned to the concrete several times during the day to steel trowel the surfaces smooth. As of this writing, the forms are still in place until the concrete cures more fully.

My next project was to make-pretty the hallway between the second bedroom and the steps that lead down to the dining room. A long time ago I hung sheets of plycem (tile backer) on the metal studs. To start, I patched the screw heads with Bondo and sanded the spots smooth. Then using urethane caulk, I sealed the edges of the plycem where it met the container walls and ceiling. Next I washed and prime-painted the shipping container metal ceiling, and then gave everything two coats of the warm gray paint that we are using elsewhere in the house. Quite a transformation from its formerly uninviting space. Before:

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After, much better:

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On my monitor I see a yellowish glow around the door frame — it must be a lens flare or something because the frame is totally gray in real life…

Next, I tackled the stair landing area. To get rid of the useless triangular dust collecting area in the far corner, I hung a piece of plycem and caulked it into place between the two metal walls. Then I cut and installed some steel angle to make a suspended-ceiling-like support for the ceiling and screwed it into place. (At this point I was still unsure what to use for the ceiling panel…) So far it looks like this:

P1020265-001Next, I had to make the ceiling panel. I was loathe to buy another $35 sheet of plycem, so I spent some time kicking around the jobsite, checking out our dwindling piles of building materials. I had a piece of plywood that would have worked, but because of my none-or-as-little-as-possible wood policy because of termites, I nixed that idea. I thought about using the zinc roofing panels, but I would have to buy some.

Finally, I stumbled upon a piece of rusty one-eighth-inch diamond plate steel left over from building the staircase to the loft and roof deck. Oh, why not (as I had no other use for it)? I cut it to size with the angle grinder with a thin cutoff disk and buffed it out with a steel brush on the angle grinder.

I was going to paint the piece, but Cynthia walked by and suggested that I simply apply boiled linseed oil to it (as I did to the staircase). The steel was outside in the hot sun, so I oiled it and wiped it dry in no time at all.

The remaining task was to lift the heavy piece of steel and drop it into place on its support angles:

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One step and maxed-out muscles at a time…

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Ooph, this is heavy!

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And DONE!

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Unless Earth suffers a catastrophic failure of the Laws of Gravity, this hunk of steel is in place to stay. We think the diamond plate provides an unexpected design punch.

I still need to paint the surrounding walls the same gray as the hallway, but now several arduous hallway tasks are done.

While I had the gray paint ready to go, I decided to paint the indoor-side of the metal framework around the big front windows. The job started out looking like this:

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The top two panes of glass are high off the floor. My tallest stepladder is eleven-feet high, but not high enough. So I lashed another ladder to the stepladder to create more height. I didn’t climb on the extra height, but (note to my friend Robin in Colorado) it gave me a sturdy hand-hold while I painted. Falls from ladders are no joke and I didn’t want to join Robin in that unenviable club. I like my Little Giant ladders — note how the base of the ladder flares out for more stability.

I’d primed the metal a long time ago, but I gave it another coat of oil-based primer for good luck. Then I applied two coats of the latex gray. When I was all done painting, I cleaned the windows inside and out. Twice. I finished the job at dusk and decided to finish the day with a few photos:

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Inside, looking from the living room.

We think that the house is lovely at night:

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The next photo may take you a moment to figure out:

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Call the magazine editors:

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Lastly, tired from trying to keep track of me, Jabo chills out on the cool tile floor and relaxes to the sound of the bubbling fountain:

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That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

It’s A Good Thing That I Take Pictures

It’s a good thing that I take pictures. Otherwise I would have no idea what I did in the past two weeks!

Let’s start with the glass block window in the master bathroom. Except for a piece of metal trim at the top, the window is done. It adds a lot to the north elevation and pumps a lot of light into the bathroom:

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From the inside, once it is painted and the rest of the finishing details are completed, the bathroom will be an inviting space:

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Looking through all three glass block walls shows a striking pattern of contorted grout lines:

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Hanibal and Francisco finished the glass block window about 10:30 in the morning. As this was the very last project for them here (except to do the carport floor in a few months), we celebrated the completion of several month’s work with a glass of sparkling apple juice. I paid them and sent them on their way with most of the day off:

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Official photos seem to be a solemn affair…

Now on my own, I was free to tackle a slew of smaller projects. One thing that had been bugging us was the open space above the glass block wall in the kitchen. The kitchen lights at night were a magnet for mosquitoes and other insects.

To make a bug-proof vent, I cut a piece of expanded metal and painted it black. I folded it in half with my bending brake, then slipped a piece of window screen between the two layers of expanded metal. I screwed the assembly to the outside of the container; it can be removed to replace or clean the window screen:

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Here is a close up:

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Keeping on with the bug-proofing projects — I bent some L-shaped pieces of scrap aluminum and screwed them to the wall above the big security doors at the living room west wall. This closed a big gap and also redirects water away from the glass doors. I had installed window screens some time ago:

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Next, it was almost impossible to work in my shop, so I dedicated two days to a good mucking out. Much better now. Here is what I had to deal with. Shameful:

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Next, Cynthia and I tackled the electrical work in the living room/dining room. We pulled a couple hundred feet of wire, Cynthia feeding wire to me from above while I did the worm walk in the crawl space, threading the wires under the house. Now we can plug lamps and the fountain into the wall, just like regular people, and the extension cords are all gone!

I installed a receptacle in the roof support column in the living room. We will plug a table lamp in here; it can be switched on or off from each of the two bedroom step landings as well as at the kitchen door. In 1977 I learned to create a “path of light” from an electrician who called himself Sparky, and it has served me well for many years. He said that you shouldn’t have to walk anywhere in the dark. Cynthia and I pulled wires to create this mess:

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With the help of a wiring diagram book, I was able to connect the receptacle and the four-way switch arrangement:

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Instead of using the supplied screws, I simply pop riveted the receptacle into place.

Another place that was a lot of fun to wire was at the three switches at the front door; two switches for the chandelier and one switch for the outside flood lights that I installed high over the front door:

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Above the three switches is a stack of rare earth magnets. I had to use them to retrieve a drill bit that I dropped into the column.

What made this challenging is that I messed up on my spacing when I cut the top hole for the switches in the 4″x4″ steel column; using the saber saw with a metal cutting blade, I cut on the wrong marks, making the opening too tall. But with some flat stock metal, pop rivets, and a few choice words for myself, I fixed the hole. I patched my boo boo with some Bondo. Here is my ugly fix before the Bondo:

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So now the dining room chandelier is working; here is a nighttime photo with the bottom light on:

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We hadn’t originally planned to tile the big triangular wall at the staircase in the living room, so the already roughed-in electrical boxes ended up too deep in the wall. First, I cleaned the tile mortar from the screw holes with a threading tool:

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With the threaded holes set back so far in the wall, it was good to have a small kit of different length screws on hand:

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How many tools does it take to install an electrical receptacle in a tile wall?

While I was in wiring mode, Cynthia asked if I would install a light in the kitchen exhaust hood over the stove. We bought a sealed LED light strip — it can easily be removed for cleaning. Here is a shot looking up into the hood. I still need to install a grease filter on the big round exhaust hole:

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The light switches for the kitchen ceiling lights, as well as for the exhaust fan and the light in the exhaust hood will all be by the kitchen door. I chose to not put the switches for the hood on the hood itself to keep the switches from getting greasy. So far I have some temporary wiring for some of the switches. I think it is quite entertaining:

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But, is it to Code?

At this point I ran out of wire, so I moved on to other projects. We have family coming to visit in about two months, so the guest bedroom and bath became the current priority. I painted the two container-end doors with an oil-based primer and two coats of latex; they had been a gnarly, rusty mess:

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I assembled the bed, Cynthia bought bedding for the room, and we hung the mirror. There is still some minor painting to do in the room:

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Speaking of the mirror, the one that we bought came with a Masonite backing. In this humid climate, within a month the Masonite was a moldy mess. I removed it and tossed it into the trash:

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In the guest bathroom, I made a form to pour a black concrete counter top (like the kitchen counters). It is still lacking rebar:

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The blocks of plywood will make a space on the underside of the concrete counter so I can install the nuts that affix the sink and faucet. This bathroom is still lacking paint, mirror, and lights, but the tile is all done.

While I had the tools out to make the form for the counter, I moved to the master bathroom to do the same:

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How many tools does it take to make a counter top concrete form?

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After I made the form, I placed the sinks and determined spacing. BobBob helped:

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And still while I was at it, we needed a shelf near the toilet to put a lamp on, so I made yet another form for that shelf:

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As soon as I can get some black concrete colorant, Armando and I can pour these counter tops. Right now, the only hardware store in town that has colorant has it at three-times the price at other stores. I refuse to patronize the scoundrel.

In the kitchen, we have been enjoying having breakfast in the little bump out area with the glass block wall. But the white walls (the container doors that form the walls) were a bit too bright and glaring in the morning sun. So I painted the area two coats of the same gray paint that we used by the concrete bench in the living room. It made the space much more cozy. It was difficult to get a good photo with all the morning light coming through the glass blocks:

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One big bonus of painting the walls gray is the shimmering pattern from the glass blocks:

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Cynthia has been working on some projects of her own. The next photo is of a ten-inch diameter glass bowl that she made. As her first bowl, she made it relatively unadorned to make sure that her slumping and fusing times in the kiln were correct before she spent the big bucks on colored glass. With this success, she can now make more with colors and textures:

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The bubbles in this bowl were intentionally made for decorative purposes.

Cyn is also making some light sconces for either side of the mirror in the dining room. After several failed attempts (the glass kept cracking when it came out of the kiln), she determined that window glass is not window glass is not window glass. She had mixed regular, clear window glass with some of the frosted glass from the slatted-louver windows that we had left over. Apparently, the COE (coefficient of expansion) is different for the two window glasses, creating cracks when the glass cools. Who’d a thought.

So now she can go on to use just one of the glass types and I am sure that she will be successful. Here is one of the failed attempts. This was pieced with broken pieces of frosted slatted-vent window glass over regular window glass with dichroic leaf embedded in the spaces. The cracks appeared at non-conjoined areas:

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With the dry season upon us, our hundreds of plants now need to be watered. With a hose, the job takes at least three-hours. Maybe four. We hired a local girl for the job. We explained the time needed to water to sufficient depth for the roots, but at only fourteen-years-old, she was constantly texting her friends. On the first day at the two hour mark, she declared the plants sufficiently watered. On the second day Cynthia and I reiterated the need for more time on the job, but again at the two-hour mark and after a lot of texting, she was again done. I told her that I thought that she should be spending more time with her friends and that she didn’t need to come back to our grueling job. She seemed relieved. Here she is, cute as a button but not ready for the world of work:

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I have since purchased a good sprinkler and can do the job myself, moving the sprinkler around the yard now and then.

Speaking of plants, one of the orchids in the carport is at it again:

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And the tree that we call the Ballerina Tree is in full bloom again:

P1020156And last but not least, Cynthia is rich! She closed a checking account that was gouging her for outrageous monthly fees. Here is her final check for closing the account. Try not to be envious:

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After taking the photo, the check promptly went in the trash. It would have cost more to cash it.

For a blog entry about small jobs, I think that this is the longest post I have ever written! That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.