Clerestory Windows

Work on the house has been slow lately. There have been a lot of prolonged power outages, several days of non-stop rain, and I have needed a day off here and there to take care of personal business.

But one day, Armando and I moved two palms that we planted at the rental house four years ago. They have grown like weeds, and I’m glad that we didn’t wait any longer as these palms were heavy! We planted one by the electrical service entry wall and one outside the master bedroom. These palms grow into large multi-trunked groups. Here’s the one by the bedroom:

Our soil is wet, wet, wet, so we dug a small drainage channel to the left of the palm and connected it to a drainage ditch. We filled the channel with gravel. So far the palms seem happy.

Clerestory windows are windows that are up high on a wall. They serve to let light in and if they can open and close, they let rising heat escape from the room. Clerestory windows look like this (source):

If you have just tuned in to my blog, no, this is not a photo of our house. But we now have four clerestory windows of our own at container 4.

In the next photo you can see the process of installing the windows. It is the same process as the door frames and the other window already installed. On the left, under the yellow level, is one of the window frames that I fabricated back in November(!). I drew around the frame with a Sharpie. You can see the temporary wooden legs that I made to hold the frame off the roof of container 4. The second window is in process of being cut out. I have settled on using the big angle grinder with a metal cutoff disk rather than the oxy/acetylene torch to cut these big holes because the grinder gives a much neater cut; slower, but fewer fumes, no burning paint, and no metal globs to clean up with the grinder:

After all four frames were placed in the openings, I tack welded the frames in place. You can see that I am in the process of picking up my tools; it is 2:00 and the rain is about 15 minutes away:

I used the fan to blow away the small amount of fumes. I still have to seal the frames to the container siding with urethane caulk, inside and out.

Then I welded the security bars to the window frames, just as I did in the first window installation, including the big hinges and locking hardware so I can open the bars, wash the windows, and paint the trim as needed:

I used the electric winch to raise the heavy welder into the air. This way I had access to the on/off switch while I was working out on the roof.

In other news, while I was working on the windows I noticed that the roof had sagged just a bit after I cut the holes, so I jacked the roof back into place and installed three 2″x2″ steel columns. These columns will be enclosed in the walls that I will build to divide the bedrooms, bathrooms, and the laundry. Not much to see, but sparks in photos are always exciting; here I am cutting notches out of the 2″x3″ carriola wall that will be sheathed in plycem; the steel column will fit into the notches:

Additionally, Armando completed the little rock wall around the garden. Simple, inexpensive, done!

I have a stonemason cousin that would cringe, but our little wall is so, um, Panamanian!

I still need to caulk the new windows, but after that I plan to start one of Cynthia’s studios, the greenhouse, a sidewalk and a couple steps in front of my shop door, and a couple small planters by the flying buttresses. Armando is spending a few days cleaning the yard at the rental house. We have badly neglected it recently and we need to get the grass cut and the bushes trimmed. It’s not just for aesthetics; there are snakes out there…

That’s all for now.


First Window Frame Installed ~ Plus Odds ‘n Ends

I have installed the first window frame, and I’ll get to that in a moment.

But first, In my last post I mentioned that we ordered some tile for the columns at the front gate and for the two buttress columns at the garage. On the scheduled day of delivery, the nice woman at the Elmec company called to say that they were going to deliver only half the order because they were still searching for the rest of the order that the computer said was on hand.

“Hold your horses,” I said. “All or nothing, please.” I know how it is here, and I knew that there was a high likelihood that the second half would never be found and I would be in a pickle. Sure enough, some hours later she called again and said the balance was nowhere to be found. So Cynthia and I made a quick trip to the city and chose another tile. This one, also porcelain, looks like slate and has a slight green cast to it. Here’s a photo:

There would be a delay of another week because they only deliver here on Wednesday. As promised, the entire order arrived as scheduled. The truck driver, however, was the Worst-Backer-Upper-In-The-World, and promptly backed off our little side road and into the muddy ditch. To his surprise, I easily pulled the big truck free with the Honda Ridgeline and a tow strap.

But now the driver was completely unnerved and refused to try again. He suggested that I back the Honda up to his truck, and we would do a relay transfer, his truck to my truck to the house. We started, putting about 25 tiles in the Honda. But it was raining with gusto and I could see that this wasn’t going to be any fun at all. I baulked in my best Spanish and exclaimed, “No, no, no, no!” I dug my heels into the mud and told him he would have to use the other, better road and back the truck up to the house. I wasn’t going to do this 500-tile plus 13 bags of thin-set mortar transfer dance.

He caved, and after much backing comedy he finally made it into the driveway and within a few feet of where I wanted to store the tile. The rest was uneventful, and the deposito now looks like this. I’ve got my work cut out for myself:

I mentioned all of the above first because this tile delay gave me two weeks to fill. I decided to install the window frame that goes in the white wall between containers 3 and 4.

I cut the hole with the angle grinder because it does a neater job than the torch, although both options work well. I installed the frame just as I did the door frames. Here I am dry-fitting the frame in the opening:

After it fit plumb and level, I tack welded the frame in four places, ground the welds smooth, and using the pneumatic caulking gun, caulked the joint with the black urethane windshield adhesive:

Next I welded the security bar frame to the window frame and gave everything a first coat of polyurethane oil red oxide primer:

With hinges and locks on the security bar frame, in the future I will be able to open the security bars to wash the windows and to repaint the metal.

I had made the hinges some time ago:

I also welded short pieces of angle iron to the window frame and the security bar frame, the pieces having aligning holes for bolts or padlocks when the security bar frame is closed:

I should have waited to caulk until after I welded on the hinges and angle iron pieces because heat from the welder damaged the nice caulk line. I'll touch this up later.

You can see the installed window frame assembly in the next photo. This photo is my new banner photo at the top of the blog; I’ll change it from time to time as visual progress warrants:

I still have to install the glass, but I’m holding off for a while so it doesn’t get damaged during construction.

For another time-filling project, remember that I had previously made forms for plant pots:

Armando and I poured concrete in the form and I put a broom finish on it. I’m letting it cure for a month or so:

Then I noticed that the jobsite was messy:

So I spent two days cleaning the area and it looks a lot better. I also sprayed the quart of potential paint color on the white panel. It’s close, but it came out too blue. We want the same color only in green (more sage but not sage) if that makes any sense to you. I’ll pick another color the next time I go down the mountain. I also took some time and removed all the decals on the doors of 3 and 4. It was an easy process; I used a propane torch (a heat gun would also have worked well), heated a decal for a second or two, then the decals peeled off easily. The trick is to get the decal and surrounding metal just hot enough to activate the adhesive but not so hot that it doesn’t melt the decal or raise a heat blister on fingers. Here’s a photo:

All cleaned up, door decals removed, and the wrong color sprayed on the wall.

I ended up with the small pile of scrap metal shown in the next photo. I had Armando flag down the recycle truck, and along with a bag of flattened Coke cans, Armando picked up an extra six dollars in his pocket for the day. I always give him the recycle money; it’s not much for me but is a big boost for him:

Let’s see, what else has been happening? Oh yeah, Armando put the repello (stucco) on the squat wall in the carport:

Jabo sits on the squat wall.

And the carport roof over the doors of container 4 wasn’t quite finished so I tackled that one day:

A Plycem (tilebacker) wall and a good bead of mortar stop rain from entering the garage here.

This area of the completed roof looks like this from below:

So that’s been my past two weeks. I’m excited to begin the tile work, but that will need to wait just a bit, as Cynthia and I will be going to Texas for at least a week.

Here’s the story. It is a very personal story, and if all you want from this blog is information about building a shipping container house, you should stop reading now. Otherwise, what follows is an intimate view into our lives together.

I’d like to tell the following story as a tribute to the woman I love, to my wonderful wife, Cynthia. She was dealt a life-altering, ability-reducing, medically-induced injury. She can’t always be pleasant about it, and neither can I. Although it has been a grueling couple of marriage- and character-testing years for the both of us, I am constantly amazed at her grit and determination to recover. Not a day goes by that I am not impressed by her ever-renewing fight to improve her life and our lives together. Thank you Cynthia, you are the definition of bravery.

As some of you know, a year ago last November Cynthia had open heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. They replaced a failing heart valve, and in the process something went very, very wrong. For whatever reason, she was without sufficient oxygen to her brain for an extended number of minutes. As a result, she suffered brain damage to numerous areas of her brain. When they brought her out of anesthesia, she suffered convulsions, so they kept her in a medically-induced coma for nearly ten days while they tried to figure it out. We don’t think know that they didn’t figure it out, but they were finally able to bring her out of the coma. The damage was done. Since then, even with numerous changes and tweaking of a lot of anti-seizure/epilepsy drugs, she still suffers convulsions nearly every night; three or four or five of them, and they last ten minutes to an hour each. I wake up with each convulsion, stroke her hair, keep her from falling out of bed, and neither of us gets enough sleep. A lot of her fine motor skills were also affected and she has worked valiantly long and hard to regain functions that the surgery took away. I give Cynthia massive, massive credit; I have never met a person more determined to overcome her significant medically-induced injuries. Yes, the surgical team did save her life, and that is noteworthy, but beyond that I don’t give her doctors much credit at all; the surgeon simply told me that the surgery “went very well with no problems.”  Add on top of the convulsions the side effects of the ineffective drugs plus debilitating headaches, and it has been a very difficult time for us both.

In a recent email, a Panamanian friend noted that a friend of hers, in a similar situation, went to an epilepsy hospital in the States and returned medicine and seizure free. That started Cynthia on a Google Frenzy of searching for answers, and the upshot is that we are going to an epilepsy hospital in Texas, initially for a week of testing. The results of those tests will determine future medical tests and possible “curative” actions. Here’s a couple pictures of Cynthia during and after the haircut I gave her to prepare for the week of electrodes she will have to endure on her head in the hospital:

Cynthia was a great sport about cutting her hair. I asked her if it was a badge of courage and she said that yes, it was.

We recently read a book that says that you can't see brain injuries. I think she looks great. Is that Jamie Lee Curtis?

So my blog will be quiet for a few weeks, I hope you will understand.

Thanks for stopping by.



Windows ~ Part 1

At long last, we are working on windows. We still have a few interior partitions to build and Plycem to hang, but I wanted to use the wide open work space in container 4 a bit longer before building those partitions.

I should insert a note here about a recent change in our plan. Way back when this was to be a two story house, we had plans for two bedrooms — one downstairs where our master bedroom is going to be now, and one upstairs that was going to be the master. When the price of containers went sky high and we changed to a one story house, we were going to make a guest bedroom in a detached 20-foot container. But the 20-footer was the same high price as the 40-footers, so our plan stagnated a bit, and we have been floundering with a new plan to have one bedroom in the house and someday add a second.

Both Cynthia and I were unsettled by this un-plan, but we thought that time would iron out the bugs, and it has. Our newest, new and improved plan is this: we will put two bedrooms, two baths, and the laundry in the space between 3 and 4 and in container 4. My shop has been moved to a detached building (yet to be built) at the end of the driveway.

So now, the two bedrooms and bathrooms need windows. The areas to get windows are:

  1. the big open wall between containers 3 and 4 in the master bedroom. This entire wall will be windows. More on this area later in another post.
  2. the clerestory windows in the high wall over container 4, and
  3. the walls in the two bedrooms

We’re starting with areas 2 and 3 first. Cynthia and I talked about where and what size we wanted the windows, and I made a materials list. I bought some two-inch square, one-sixteenth-inch thick square steel tubing to make window frames from. It comes in 20-foot lengths. Here it is on the material rack in container 1:

I also ordered some jalousie windows to be made to fit the steel frames. Although we are not big fans of the look of jalousies, they make a lot of sense here where the rain and saturated fog can blow sideways. You can have the windows open for air but still have protection from the rain. Most of the older Panamanian houses have jalousies, although the newer houses seem to be going to vinyl sliders.

I used the metal chop saw (the red tool on the floor in the above photo) to cut all the pieces for the steel frames. Here’s a photo of the pieces all cut and the jalousies standing by for installation:

Next, I took a sheet of 3/4″ plywood and cut it to the size of the 4’x6′ pane of glass that will sit above the jalousies. Actually, I cut the plywood 6′-3/16″ so that the glass will have a little wiggle room. I also drove a big-headed nail into the 4-foot width, leaving the nail head sticking out 3/16″, making the height of the opening 4′-3/16″, like this:

With this plywood jig, the frames will be the perfect size for a piece of glass 4’x6′ and absolutely square, ready to receive the glass without problems. Here is the plywood jig with the first window frame being welded together:

By the end of day one, here is what I have welded together:

The two frames on the left are for a window in the north wall in each bedroom. The top rectangle is for the large pane of glass, and the lower part of the frame is for two, 3-foot jalousies. I still have to weld the bottom pieces on these frames, but I need to cut another piece of plywood to use as a jig so the jalousies will fit.

The frame on the right side of the photo above will be for the security bars. We plan to use the same design as the front gate, minus the cat tail seed pods. We think that the seed pods would be too busy looking in the design. This frame will be overlaid and attached to the frame that holds the windows. More on that detail in another post.

After these large frames are done, I will make a narrower frame for the east wall of the guest bedroom, and then frames for the short windows in the clerestory.

In another post I will use my new oxy-acetylene torch to cut holes in the container walls and install the frames. Stay tuned.

Bonus photo: As I welded the corners of the window frames, flaming balls of steel flew off the welding rod and rolled onto the plywood, burning this pattern in the plywood:

Welding calligraphy? But is it art?

Reminds me of the wood-burning iron that I had as a kid. I think I remember making a set of drink coasters for my mom for Mothers’ Day one year. Butterflies, I think.

That’s all for now.