December, 2006

Snow Returns

Looking North
(click on picture for a direct comparison)

We now have plywood on about 1/3 of the roof. It might appear that we have fallen behind where we were two years ago, when there was plywood on most of the roof. At that time the rafter tails, eave trim and soffits were not done. The work required to do those before putting plywood on the roof is much less than doing it after, and the plywood goes on quickly. Also, two years ago the Entry structure was far from done, no timbers were in place, and the skirting (now concrete) was not done. So we can rationalize that we are well ahead of where we were two years ago. And, this was the anniversary of our problems when the contractor neglected to get a permit and we had to shut down for several months. Construction did not effectively resume until the beginning of April 2005, so we will use that as our reference point in future reports.

The month began with many cold, cloudy days and snow flurries. In spite of that, there was not enough snow for Bridger Bowl to open on 08 Dec as planned, a fact that was the lead story on the front page of the Bozeman Chronicle. They did open a few lifts on 22 Dec, with warnings that people should bring their "rock skis". Unseasonably warm weather mid-month made for good progress on construction. A couple of days were lost due to storms and low temperatures, but several workmen made up time on Saturdays. The lack of snow meant that we did not have to do a lot of shovelling to keep the house and surrounding area clear. However, the lead story on the front page of the 29 Dec Bozeman Chronicle was “Snow Returns”. Kendal was visiting and was drafted to help shovel snow out of the house. We hope to see most or all of the roof on early in January so we do not wind up shovelling snow on mornings when there is good skiing!

30 Dec 2006 – looking South. The snow on what little roof we have is an indication of how much fell at the end of the month. Around here, "BBC" refers not to the network, but to the Bridger Bowl Cloud, a phenomenon that means Bozeman is often bright and sunny while Bridger Bowl is getting a big dump of snow. We are just outside the typical BBC area, and get more snow than Bozeman, but much less than Bridger Bowl.

Murder Mystery

Over the course of one week we found three freshly killed deer. The kill sites were messy from a struggle. Dogs, birds and other animals contributed further to the mess when they came to take advantage of the kill, so we cannot tell what is responsible. The bears are asleep and are not suspects. We are not aware of coyotes or wolves in the area now, but they are not ruled out. We suspect there is a mountain lion prowling the area. This might also explain the fresh black bear skull a workman's dog found last month.

New Features on the Home Page

This month we are introducing two new features on the home page. First, there is a link to a weather station that is located very near us. The webcam at the site might give a glimpse of the Main House if only it pointed a little to the left and down. Second, there are links to KWIC indices for each year (updated monthly) at the bottom to help people who want to find desired pages based on topics we have covered.

A Short Course on Radon
Those not up for a technical discussion may wish to scroll to the end.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. We have been monitoring radon gas levels in the Carriage House air with an electronic monitor. Monitors are readily available over the web for about $120 (for example, here is the one we are using). We have found that the radon levels vary through the year, with low levels (about 1.3pCi/L) most of the year and higher levels (over 6.0pCi/L downstairs and just over 4.0pCi/L upstairs) in the Winter. The EPA recommends levels be kept below 4.0pCi/L in frequented areas (upstairs in our case). We had a lab test the radon level in our well water and found it to be quite low (equivalent to 0.12pCi/L in air), eliminating that as a source. The airborne radon levels downstairs are much higher than upstairs at least in part because radon gas is heavy and tends to stay in lower areas if undisturbed. Our theory is that when the ground outside freezes, the gas naturally occurring in the ground can only escape through the unfrozen ground under the Carriage House into the downstairs and thus into our upstairs living space.

Some scientists think low levels of radon are beneficial but this is not generally accepted. The accepted data on risk due to radon exposure is based on continuous, lifetime exposure at a given level. The risk for smokers is almost 10 times as great as for non-smokers. There is no formula to "average" varying exposure. The highest levels we have measured puts us at slightly higher risk than that of dying in a car accident if the exposure were continuous. In addition to the measured variation throughout the year, we have no way of knowing what our exposure has been in all the places we have lived in up to now, other than to speculate that until the 1970's homes were not built to be very air tight and were less likely to have problems. It is those newer homes we lived in after the 1970's that were more likely to have problems. Furthermore, exposure as a child poses a higher risk than as an adult.

We presume the Main House will have issues similar to the Carriage House. We plan to have an air-to-air exchange system in the Main House that will help exhaust stale air from the house and bring in fresh air from above ground. In case this does not also mitigate the radon, we have installed plumbing under the slab for a system to exhaust gases before they can enter the house. This is a relatively inexpensive precaution for new construction; we do not have to install the complete system until the house is occupied and fully measured. A complete measurement would take a year, but we plan to occupy the house in Fall and should get a good idea of the worst case once Winter 2007 comes. Since the highest levels in the Carriage House are not alarming for the short term, we do not want to spend a lot of money retrofitting a solution. Gary is experimenting with ideas on how to bring the levels down at low cost; it will take at least a month to see how these work out, so watch for results in a future report.

Be sure to check out the Main House Progress

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