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.

A Week Working With The Walkway

Back in October or so of last year, we came to an intermission point in installing the floor and wall tiles. Two larger projects lingered — completing the outside walkway from the front steps around to my shop, and the carport floor.

Money was one of the issues, and in the time since then we saved our pennies to buy the remaining walkway tiles. We ordered them and they just arrived. I called Hanibal and Francisco (now I have corrected Hanibal’s name to Anibal) to see if they were available and lucky for us, they were.

At day four, we have the walkway, the wheelbarrow/wheelchair ramp, and all but one of the steps down to the carport completed. Here are some photos:

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Francisco prepares to mix some mortar.

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Anibal places a spacer and sets the tile with a rubber mallet.

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This is the walkway in front of my shop.

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A nice miter turns the corner.

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This walkway connects my shop to the front door of the house.

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The bottom concrete step will be covered with the carport concrete floor, so there is just one step left to tile. Note to self — paint my shop door.

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The tile stacked on the walkway is for the carport floor. The carport will double as a bohio, or outdoor party area. The bamboo in the planters that Armando and I made is doing very well.

In other news, remember Ramiro, the man that did a lot of welding and painting for us some months ago? We had some painting to do, and Ramiro had three days between jobs, so we invited him back to tackle the front gate. Two years is about all the time you can get out of a coat of paint fully-exposed here to the tropical sun. Ramiro sanded, primed, and painted the gate anew. Not a speck of paint on him, a very meticulous worker:

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The gate is dark green, the same color as the house trim.

I don’t have a photo, but Armando has been busy in the yard, preparing for the rainy season by cleaning and digging out all the drainage ditches. He seems to enjoy grading the bottom of the ditch so that the water runs freely and doesn’t puddle (no breeding ground for mosquitoes).

Cynthia has been busy, too. Here is her latest bowl out of the kiln. She named it Antiguedad. She made the bowl with a variety of five mica powers and a small-gauge copper screen. She intentionally left the edges of the bowl “organic”. I think that it is stunning!

P1020653-002You can see the copper screen through the clear glass on the underside:

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Nice job Cynthia!

That’s all for this 201st blog post. 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.

Working The List & New Plants Arriving Daily

With the exception of the carport floor, the last significant outside job is done. This is a good thing because the rainy season has begun. That last job was to finish the west end of container two:

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Notice that the sky is no longer blue. Rain is on its way soon.

Here is this end all painted, window washed, soffit panel installed, and the scaffolding disassembled and returned to its owner after two-years:

P1020561-001Trim was still lacking in the two bedrooms at the top of the clerestory wall. It looked unfinished with the uneven ends of the zinc ceiling panels. So I installed a metal angle which provides a more crisp look. The next photo is looking up at the ceiling:

P1020560-001While I had the hang of being on ladders, Armando and I finished the kitchen ceiling by installing the last piece of zinc panel. In the seating bump-out, we hung a piece of tilebacker (no drywall in this damp climate…) on the ceiling and painted it gray. I still need to hang one of Cynthia’s red lamps:

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Cat painting by our friend, Alexia.

Since I had the gray paint out, I decided to continue in the hallway to the master bedroom. Long ago primed with red and white paint, the area was very dirty. I washed the walls and ceiling, sanded and primed rusty areas, and ran beads of caulk around the door frames. I painted everything two coats of the middle gray. Now this hallway doesn’t stand out as an eyesore:

P1020558-001Finally, using some extra PVC pipe parts, I took a few minutes and upgraded the video surveillance cameras:

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I cut a two-inch PVC elbow on an angle and glued it to another elbow. The camera fit snugly and the pipe makes a conduit to run the wire up the wall. I’ll paint the pipe the house color to make it disappear.

In the meantime, we now have about sixty-four new plants in the ground!

To the left of the driveway turnaround, we planted sixteen purple Mexican Primrose. These grow and spread well, so this area will be much fuller a few months from now. At the left side of the next photo is a new bush — I’ll build a trellis for it to vine up and over the carport entrance. It will have flowers for the butterflies and hummingbirds:

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The new birdbaths are in place in the yard. Armando and I still need to apply mortar to the outside of the birdbath supports — I’d like them to look like tree trunks.

We put a row of the same Mexican Primrose along the yellow “Shrimp Tails” by the front gate. Again, these will fill in nicely:

P1020542We planted sixteen new grass plants along the west fence line. These will grow and hide the concertina security wire on the fence:

P1020544And five red-flowered trees that the butterflies and humming birds will like:P1020564-001The back yard is filling out nicely and is a good spot for one of the bird baths:P1020548The fern garden was doing well but looks better with the addition of a bunch of large-leaf purple plants. And we like the little flowers that Armando surprised us with:P1020551-001The hibiscus struggled through the dry season, and they were attacked numerous times by leaf-cutter ants. But they are doing well now that they have had a couple deep drinks of water:P1020547P1020546That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

A Brush With Paint And Cynthia’s Glass

The number of significant tasks is dwindling! The only two large items remaining, things that will take more than a day or two or three each, are to build out the kitchen cabinets and to pour concrete and install tile on the carport floor.

When I build the kitchen cabinet doors and drawers, I want to work outside in the carport so that I’m not breathing a lot of sawdust. But I’d like to work on a nice floor rather than on the dirt that is there now. But I can’t pour the floor yet because it is the dry season and there is no sand and gravel running in the rivers to make concrete with. So these items are on hold.

In the meantime, I have decided to tackle remaining projects in order of their greatest visual impact. For example, painting large areas will make a larger impact than installing a light switch. After so long at it, we really need the illusion that the project is moving along rapidly.

With this guideline in mind, I made an ordered shortlist of projects.

I decided to start with painting the walls in the loft. Some time ago I had prime-painted the container wall that divides the loft from the roof deck. The knee wall overlooking the living/dining room was still raw stucco. Cynthia and I decided to continue the same warm, medium-gray that we have used elsewhere in the house. I went to work.

I spent four days in the loft and it has made quite a difference. Cynthia is using the loft as her hot-glass studio so I had a few things to work around. The loft sure looks a lot better now. Here is a photo taken from the east end. The screened openings at the roof line are open year round; they suck the rising hot air out of the house:

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Cyn was looking for a way to store sheet glass, so we came up with the idea to make racks from plastic cutting boards and quarter-inch rebar. One important storage issue for her is that different glasses have different coefficient-of-expansion (COE) ratings. You can’t mix ratings or your glass will crack. Now she can keep these COEs separated, each COE in its own rack. Here are three of the four that I made for her:

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I made a template and drilled holes in the cutting boards.

Here is a photo of the loft from the west end:

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Over the seven years that we have been here, we have really culled and re-culled our possessions. Beyond art supplies, kitchen equipment, and the typical clothing and linens, we don’t have much left. We need to find a place to store a couple boxes of family treasures that you see in the foreground.

As I worked my way out of the loft and around to the stairs, we realized how badly-worn the charcoal paint looked in the stairway and in the dining room. I spent another day two-coating these walls. It made quite a difference:

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In the photo above, you may have noticed the two sconce lights that Cynthia made and I installed on the wall. Here is a closeup with the light off:

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I used L hooks to mount the glass to the wall.

And here is a photo with the light on (daytime). The triangles of glass match the triangles on the chandelier over the dining room table:

We used 4-watt LED bulbs in these fixtures.

We used 4-watt LED bulbs in these fixtures.

The next visually-important area to paint was the window and door framing on the west wall of the living room. I’ve been avoiding this because, well, it promised to be a tedious task. But the order of the list is the order of the list and so I began.

Preparation work is a large part of painting almost anything; I sanded, wire-brushed, and cleaned the long-ago primed metalwork and ran beads of urethane caulk at adjoining joints and seams. Then I spent a day re-prime painting everything, including all the metal rivets that had never been painted. As of this writing, I am most of the way through the project, just two top-coats of gray to go on the sliding doors:

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Cynthia dragged me to Westland Mall to buy some new work clothes. I guess I was looking quite shabby — she likes her workman to be smartly dressed. I’ve had a difficult time finding comfortable shoes for my old, arthritic feet, but so far I really like my new Nike Air running shoes.

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So far no paint on the new clothes…

Here is a photo looking from the loft to the upper west wall windows:

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The sink comes in handy for Cyn’s studio and also for rinsing dishes from the roof deck BarBQue.

Although I’m not done with painting the west wall of the living room, I had to wait for paint to dry, plus the afternoon sun was in my eyes. So I moved on to the last remaining large area to paint — the master bedroom. Because we didn’t want to sleep in all the toxic paint fumes, we relocated to the second bedroom, which is nice because the bathroom there is fully-functional including the shower. No photos of the master bedroom yet.

In other news, Cynthia continues learning and enjoying working with fusing and slumping glass. She has a few new projects to show off including this bowl:

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This bowl has some transparent seams and adds dimension to the glass. Here I held the bowl up to a window:

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The underside:

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Cyn is gaining enough confidence and quality of execution that she is almost willing to sign her name to her work and even part with some!

Here is a tray that she made from stacks of different color glass. The effect is called mosaic and is made like a pyramid, making numerous stacks of five pieces of glass each, and then slumping the assemblage in the kiln:

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Using the same technique, Cynthia made organically-shaped cabochon beads that she will wire together to make a necklace:

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Unintentionally, the sparkly frit created “faces” on these pieces.

The next photo is of a bowl. To me it feels primordial, elements swirling in The Great Nebula or perhaps plankton and primal fishes in the depths of the ocean. But it is art — you decide:

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Cynthia would like the ability to grind and polish some of her glass creations, so in my free time I’ve been building her a lap grinder. These things can be bought, but I can build one for a fraction of the cost.

A motor (that I don’t have yet), will spin a one-quarter-inch thick, twelve-inch-diameter aluminum disk, on which she will put various-grit diamond disks. I made the stand with PVC plumbing fittings. Still to do is to buy and mount the motor, make provisions for a small water pump, and construct a water-splash apron. For the top, I used an aluminum, large baking sheet. Here it is so far:

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One of the downsides of living in the tropical mountains of Panama is the termites and the rust. A few years ago, I think I posted a photo, I made 48 wooden drawers and a metal rack to house Cynthia’s 1,500 watchmaker’s tins full of seed beads. Well, over the years the termites have reduced the wooden drawers nearly to dust and the tins have started to rust. What to do? We purchased a bunch of aluminum, full-sheet baking trays to hold the tins. In time, I’ll build a new cabinet to hold the trays. So for four days, and one remaining to go, Cynthia and our maid have been cleaning each-and-every one of the 1,500 watchmakers’ tins and moving them to the new trays. It has been a tedious, onerous task but will be worth it in the end. The living room is in disarray from my painting and from the stacks of trays:

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But one of the wonderful aspects of living here in the tropical mountains of Panama is the multitude of bird life. With my smartphone, I recorded three very-short MP4s of birds.

First, an owl just before dawn:

Second is a flock of wild parrots that flies through most mornings around 6:30 and then later in the day:

And third is a toucan in a nearby tree. Not as good of a recording because Armando was trimming bushes nearby. Toucans sound a lot like frogs:

Finally, I have been chomping at the bit to make some videos of the house. But I’d like my work to be a bit more professional looking than just walking through the house with a jittery camera. Friends are coming to visit us in two months, and although they don’t know it yet, they are going to bring with them a few small items that will make my videos much better looking. I won’t promise cinematic quality, but I think that I can improve a lot on my previous attempts. You’ve been asking for videos, so stay tuned.

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

A Few Finishing Touches

This last month we have attended to a slew of finishing- or almost-finishing touches.

I’ve done a lot of plumbing, including connecting two toilets, two showers, three sinks, and a bunch of faucets. Working under the house is pleasantly cool, if not a bit cramped. Here is some of the new plumbing:

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Inside the house, I have nearly completed the bathroom off the second bedroom by installing the toilet, shower trim, sink basin, faucet, mirror, and lights:P1020369The curved shower rod in the photo above created a challenge. The rod came in two pieces but the kit offered no way to connect the curved section to the straight section. Wandering around in my shop, I found a two-foot-long piece of 3/4″ PVC electrical conduit. The diameter of the conduit was too large to fit into the shower rod. But using the table saw, I made a couple slices down the length of the conduit. I could then compress the conduit and push it snugly into the aluminum shower rod, connecting both pieces of rod with this plastic spline. The fix is snug and won’t rust. Here it is, ready to slide the second piece of rod over the spline:

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Cynthia and I spent a day pulling wires and connecting switches and receptacles in the second bedroom and bathroom. It’s nice to be done with an extension cord stretched from my shop:

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Note to self — Punch list item: Install tile baseboards.

In the master bathroom, I installed the toilet, sinks, faucets, and mirrors. I still have some wiring to do and need to connect some piping to the shower.

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In the States, you can get glass block end caps. But I have never seen them here in Panama. Time to get creative again. Armando and I were going to pour plain concrete caps, but at the last moment I thought of using a row of rocks to echo the nearby rock wall. Armando did a good job as it was difficult to keep the stack of rocks from falling over before the mortar set:

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The container wall in the background still needs to be painted.

Here is the toilet area, all done except to unwrap the lamp shade and wire in the electrical receptacle. The lamp lends a nice touch to the loo:

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When we bought the lamp, the fish was swimming to the right. I disassembled the lamp and headed the fish in the right direction.

I installed a gas, on-demand water heater for the two bathrooms and the laundry. It took me some time as I had to cut and thread gas pipe plus solder the copper tubing.

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Cynthia has been busy making some pretty flower arrangements for the house:

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I keep trying to water this one but luckily Cynthia stops me in time:

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One afternoon Cynthia and I heard and saw a lovely bird on our west fence. I quietly made my way to the roof deck and took this photo:

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Reader Patricia (in the comments below) identifies this bird as a Blue Crowned MotMot. Thanks Patricia.

 

Vacation time — Cynthia’s cousin G. and his wife S. came to visit for a bit more than a week. We spent a day here in El Valle, doing some of the tourist things including a visit to our friend Jon’s Butterfly Haven. He was proudly showing off this beautiful new Starry Night butterfly:

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And we stopped to visit friends who rescue orphaned sloths. S. was initially apprehensive, but that quickly subsided when she felt how soft and seemingly affectionate the young sloth is:

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Eating a favorite red hibiscus flower (locally known as papos).

Cynthia and I had been wanting to return to Medellin, Colombia, so we enticed G. and S. along with us. Getting to Tocumen Airport in Panama City was quite an ordeal — usually a two-hour trip, that day, the first day of school after the “summer” break, took us more than four-hours. The flight is only an hour-and-twenty-five minutes! We were the last to board the plane and the door was closed rapidly behind us.

One highlight of our trip — In the center of Medellin is a thirteen-plus acre botanical garden aptly named, Jardin Botanico. We spent most of a day there. I hammed it up with a fruit vendor while S. enjoyed some fresh mango with lime and salt. The vendor was anxious to try out his very limited English:

DSCN0496 Here is a lovely bromeliad:

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We enjoyed a wonderful lunch at In Situ, a restaurant situated in the botanical garden. Waterfalls and gardens around the restaurant create a tranquil setting. The food and service was outstanding:

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Cynthia and I each had Flor de Naranja, a baked chicken dish that was dressed with an orange sauce, almonds, brie cheese, cocoa powder, pennyroyal, and served on a mound of pureed Peruvian potatoes seasoned with coriander. Geez it was tasty. Others at the table had fruit drinks or wine, but I chose the sangria, a pitcher-full that I couldn’t begin to finish. Drinks, an ample main dish, and a decadent dessert, about $30 per person tip included. The garden and In Situ will be our new destination spot in Medellin! By the way, the restaurant is a non-profit and proceeds go to maintaining the park. Entrance to the park is free to all who want an in-city nature retreat:

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Here we are enjoying ourselves at In Situ:

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Cynthia took this graffiti photo on the side of a hotel:

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Lastly, and of special note, I took the next photo on a shop window in Medellin. I am happy to join the cause against sexual trafficking of underage, vulnerable young women. Human trafficking is a global problem. No man, English-speaking or not, should participate in this reprehensible practice for his own gratification. For the young women, it is a completely destroyed life. Here is a graphic (in English no less) that is posted on many shop windows in Medellin:

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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.

Front Entrance Tile DONE ~ Plus ~ Master Bath Window Underway

After a grueling ten-day marathon, one of the last big jobs, the steps at the front entry, are DONE! I know I’ve posted a bunch — probably too many — photos of the job, but here are a few more of the steps all done. I think it adds a gracious, welcoming formality to the front of the house:

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View from the front door.

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View from coming out of the garage walkway.

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View from the driveway.

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View from the point of the triangle-ish landing.

And here is a photo of the front of the house at dusk:

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Our next task is to pour a black concrete bench in the master bathroom shower area and then to lay glass blocks above the bench. We’ve made good progress in just two days. The bench is poured and five of the eight rows of glass blocks are laid.

Using a combination of the big angle grinder and the reciprocating saw, I started cutting the hole for the glass blocks:

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Here is my progress from inside the house:

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For nighttime security reasons, I only cut a small part of the opening the first day. I welded rebar in place for the concrete pour:

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And finished building the form work:

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Next, Hanibal, Francisco, and I poured the tinted-concrete bench. We mixed the concrete very dry so that the colorant wouldn’t wash out as water raised to the surface of the concrete. Also, a drier concrete mix is stronger than a wet mix when it cures.

Hanibal and I worked the concrete into all the corners and under the rebar. The top of the concrete is pitched in two directions — outside the house it tilts down to form a window sill. Inside the house it tilts to drain shower water off of the bench. To make uniform slants, we used small blocks to set the level of the concrete. You can see two of the blocks between Hanibal’s and my trowels. As we struck a level, we pulled the blocks and reset them as we worked along the bench:

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Here I find and remove a block:

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Hanibal removes one of the blocks toward the end of the bench:

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After a block is pulled, we fill the hole with concrete.

After a ten-minute wait, we floated and troweled the slab, working extra concrete into the voids left by the really-dry mix:

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We closed the window hole with a sheet of plywood and walked away for the day. The next day, we laid five courses of glass blocks:

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After spacing and leveling the critical first row, I left the guys to their work and I found something else to do.

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The guys fill the spaces between the blocks. By the way, for added strength of each row of blocks, we put a piece of quarter-inch rebar in the mortar bed.

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I photo-ambush Francisco from the roof.

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Francisco cleans the grout lines and polishes the glass.

I’d like to show you the window all done, but there are three more rows to lay. We left it like this over the weekend:

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While the guys laid the blocks, I tackled another project. At the end of the last dry season, I sealed the concrete roof with numerous coats of a penetrating polymer sealer. The rain was on us and I didn’t have time to apply the elastomeric top coating, mainly because I wanted to do a test patch over time to assure compatibility of the two products.

Here is the roof before the top coating. Note the small white test patch that has held up well over the rainy season:

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There was a small shrinkage crack between the main roof and the newer overhang that was letting water slowly drip down the side of the container. I filled it well with the polymer and applied an extra coat of top coat here.

With a roller and a paint brush, here is the roof two-and-a-half gallons of top coat later:

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I wish that I had more to show you, but that’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

BIG TILE FLOOR DONE!

With the exception of a couple finishing details, the living room floor is DONE! We are just so wildly excited; this place is now a house for sure!

In the last week-and-a-half, tile by tile, Hanibal worked his way across the entry/living/dining room floor. My job as usual was to cut all the perimeter tiles. Here we work around the steps to the master bedroom:

P1010907While we were in the neighborhood, we decided to set the tiles for this set of steps, too. In the next photo Hanibal places mortar and I stand squat ready with a jig that I made to determine the height of the mortar on the steps:

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The next photo is a closer look at the jig — I measured the total height of the staircase and then divided by three (the number of risers), equaling even steps of four-and-three-quarters-inches. To that number, I added the thickness of the tile (five-sixteenths-of-an-inch) to yield a jig height of five-and-one-sixteenth-inch. In the shop, I cobbled together a few boards, making this:

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The jig rides on the tiles already in place on the step above the one being worked on, thereby setting the height of the mortar to set the tiles on.

We decided to tile the steps with some left over tile from the bathroom floors. The different style of tile sends a safety warning to a person walking nearby that says, “pay attention, something is different here.” Here is the end of one of the steps where I cut the tiles to fit against the rock wall:

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We still need to install tile on the risers and grout the staircase.

Finally, with the exception of a few finishing touches, the floor was done. Here it is looking from the living room toward the front door. The little set of stairs at the far end goes to the second bedroom:

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We planted some Mother-In-Law Tongues in concrete pots on the landing.

And looking from the front door into the living room:

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The next photo looks from the master bedroom landing into the living room:

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We went shopping on Black Friday and got some good sales on some big pots for the living room.

You may have noticed in the above pictures that the long container wall, the one with the long bench, is no longer white. Hanibal didn’t need me for a day, so I painted the wall two coats of a warm-grey satin latex. I’ve found that a brush works just fine to paint the container walls:

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Once I got two coats of paint on the wall, both Cynthia and I commented on how tranquil the room had become. We think that this tranquility will make a great backdrop for a few vibrant punches of color:

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One of those punches of color will be the dining room table. One day I had a chance to roll five coats of “Red Hot Mama” polyurethane (fifteen-minute drying time) paint onto the table that Ramiro and I made some months ago. The name of the color is written on the can in English — I translated it for the guys and they couldn’t stop laughing:

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A thick slab of glass will top the table. After painting the inside corners with a brush, I found that a small foam roller applies a nice smooth finish. When you look at the front windows you’ll notice some squiggly lines. Cynthia put those up with a yellow highlighter so the birds wouldn’t try to fly into the windows. Apparently the birds see the lines”fluoresce” and we’ve avoided many head-on collisions.

With the big floor done, it was time to move upstairs to tile the roof deck floor. We laid one long row first; Hanibal calls this row El Maestro (the teacher):

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Cynthia inspects the first row. As we near the outside edge, we’ll move the plants inboard so that we can finish tiling the floor. A tarp protects the recently-laid end tiles from an imminent afternoon rain.

On the second day, Hanibal continued laying tile and I spent most of the day marking and cutting the border tiles. I am happy to announce that I have officially cut THE VERY LAST TILE that abuts the intricate innies and outies of the container walls. Glad to have that done!

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With so much mortar and tile to carry up to the roof, Hanibal brought his son-in-law, Francisco, to be his helper. Francisco had to do double duty with the edge tiles — after bringing them up to the roof, I marked them, he carried them back down to the saw, I cut them, and he carried them back upstairs. You really don’t want to carry more than five of these tiles at a time as they are thick and heavy. Here is Francisco ready to hand a tile to Hanibal:

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When a new guy comes to work for us, I take his picture and send him home with a copy. The next day they always come back smiling, saying that their family responded, “Guapo!” (pronounced wappo), or “handsome.” This was the photo I gave him.

As of today, the roof deck looks like this:

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The roof deck pitches about a quarter-inch-per-foot toward the outside to shed rain. Armando’s job this Saturday was to grout the floor, making a space ready to move the plants to.

The rainy season is going out with a bang — we’ve had some pretty good downpours in the afternoons and also in the hours just before dawn. Here is one at two in the afternoon — we are really happy with the water management on the property:

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As wet as it looks, we’ve also had some lovely sunny days. The rainy season will end around December 15th.

Once the roof deck is done, the last big tile job is the front steps. We’ll probably get started on that project sometime this week. Can’t wait.

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

 

New Plant Bonanza Plus Yet More Tile

With just a month or so of the rainy season remaining, Cynthia and I decided that we should get some more plants in the ground so that they can get a good start before everything goes dry.

So Friday morning, after I got Hanibal and Bolivar started on another tile floor, Cyn and I went to a nursery in town. There are other places that we like to buy plants too, but for quality and sheer volume, Sr. Chico at Plantas del Valle was our choice this time.

It sure is nice to have enough Spanish under our belts to be able to easily describe what we were looking for — we talked about sun vs. shade, drought tolerance, colors, the heights of the plants, and how many of each. A worker took us into the yard to confirm our choices. Cynthia and her new hip navigated the muddy paths really well.

The nursery really is quite large. Here are some photos:

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We purchased 80 of these. The women are removing any dead leaves for us.

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Here the workers are choosing and cleaning 16 nice ferns.

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An hour later their truck was loaded for delivery.

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Here is our bounty, unloaded in our driveway turnaround:

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Eighty of the variegated plants in the foreground, sixteen ferns, three tall red-trunked palms, six grasses, and five mother-in-law tongues.

Armando arrived Saturday, saw the plants, and said, “I guess I know what I am going to be doing today!” He made great progress, not finishing only because a pounding rain that arrived at noon:

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Armando is planting the new variegated plants between the two rows of green plants. In time, they will all fill out and provide a colorful border along the garden path.

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View from the window at the top of the stairs to the loft and roof deck.

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Two of the three new red-trunked palms are placed at the end of the container. They still need to be moved around to find the right spot.

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The new grasses will hide the concertina wire.

The north side of container #4 is a good place for the sixteen new ferns:

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In tile news, in the loft, I cut the edge tiles, ready for Hanibal to mud them into place:P1010885-001

Here is the loft, now all done except for the grout on half the floor:

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I am in the process of installing a sink at the far end of the loft, by the door to the roof deck.

This is the landing at the top of the stairs, with the roof deck through the door:

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Earlier I mentioned that I got Hanibal and Bolivar started on the next floor — and it is a big one! It seems surreal that we are FINALLY getting to this floor — the entry, dining room, and living room. We’ll be a week or two on this monster:

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When Cyn and I returned with the plants, Hanibal and Bolivar had laid out a T-shape of tiles, using only the tiles and a framing square to determine a right angle. Personally, I wouldn’t have done it this way because if you are even a little bit out of square, the effect of compounding errors is greatly magnified when you get to the other end of the line of tiles. I find it better to lay row after row.

I didn’t want to second guess Hanibal, but the mortar was still wet, the tiles not yet set firmly in place. So I risked insulting him and interjected myself into the process to make sure the layout was square.

The best way to determine square in a large area is to use a 3-4-5 right-angle triangle. Units of measure for the 3-4-5 can be inches, feet, meters, etc. I used feet.

To use the triangle, go three-feet in one direction, then four-feet in the other direction, then the hypotenuse must be five-feet.

For an even larger area, you can multiply each number by two or three or more to be even more accurate. In this case, I multiplied each number by three. So my measurements looked like this on the floor:  P1010882-001

I’m glad I checked because the layout was about three-eights of an inch out of square in nine-feet. Using a rubber mallet, we tapped the tiles to their new location where they met up with the correct points of reference. Now we won’t have to trim tiles to get them to fit or, conversely, have overly-wide grout lines; it could have been ugly.

One day after the guys left, I installed an LED strip of lights under the long bench in the living room. The lights come on a spool; you just unroll them, peel back the paper to expose the sticky-tape, stick ’em up, plug ’em in, and you are done. These lights came with a dimmer that I mounted under the bench. Here is a night-time photo:

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In the pretty picture department, I took this photo at the nursery:

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And lastly, here is lunch that Cyn made for me one day:

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Egg salad, real chemical-free salami, peas, tomato, and grated carrot. Thanks Cyn.

We’ll be working on the big floor for a while. See you next time. Thanks for stopping by.