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January, 2007

T. T. T.

Put up in a place
where it's easy to see
the cryptic admonishment
T. T. T.
When you feel how depressingly
slowly you climb,
it's well to remember that
Things Take Time.
Piet Hein

31 Jan 2007
Looking South from the Entry through the Great Room
Morning dawns on a fresh snowfall

This month we are introducing a slightly different format for our reports. The primary benefit of this new format is that it gave Gary an excuse to hack on the tools he uses to generate the standard form. We think it looks and reads better on a wider variety of screen sizes as well.

Supposedly, El Niño is responsible for those huge snow storms in Colorado and the midwest. Whatever the reason, it means we are not getting as much snow as normal. The snow situation is better than two years ago , however. We are somewhat schizophrenic about this; on the one hand, we would like to get in some good skiing this year, but we don't want snow to delay construction.

As anticipated, things are moving more quickly now, although it did not seem that way at the beginning of the month. Our progress now is at or beyond where we were in May 2005, as illustrated in this comparison .

New Year's Day: Gary celebrated by putting on his climbing boots and 12 point crampons to shovel the late December snow off the Main House roof so the carpenters could get right to work finishing plywood on the North side the next day. The otherwise impossibly slippery snow and ice on the 4/12 pitch of the roof was no challenge with crampons but Pauline insisted on standing by just in case. After clearing the roof, we ran the snow plow along the side of the house to leave a clear work area. With the roof cleared of snow, the carpenters did not need special footwear. Before mid-day of January 3rd they had finished the North side of the roof. Carpenters Adam and Lars worked on joining the Entry roof to the main roof while Phil and Brian worked on the eave and soffit details of the southwest roof.

04 Jan 2007: We woke early to find that it had snowed again. We were out by sunrise to plow the road and shovel snow from the parts of the house the carpenters were using. Gary donned his crampons again to shovel snow off the remainder of the roof as Adam and Lars started putting plywood on the Entry roof.

05 Jan 2007: It snowed again! We rose early to eat breakfast and by the start of civil twilight we were shovelling snow out of the house, finishing all but the roof as the workmen arrived. That allowed us to make it to Bridger Bowl before the lifts opened and get in about 10 runs before lunch. The day turned windy and cleared the snow off the roof for us.

One fine Saturday after a 4" snowfall, we shovelled to an audience of almost 200 elk, seen in the accompanying telephoto shot taken from the South Patio. Pumpkin tried to herd them, but a couple of bulls stationed themselves between the herd and her. We finally leashed her to one of the pillars in the house for fear that the bulls would get aggressive. The elk hung around for several days, much to Pumpkin's dismay. [Note: bare spots at lower left are where elk pawed down to get grass.]

21 January 2007: The shovelling pattern repeated periodically through the month. We lost about 3 days of work to snow, wind or extreme cold. Clearing the inside of the house got to be less work as more plywood was put on the roof; we put plastic sheeting over the windows to help keep snow out of those areas. However, the roof itself became a real workout due to all the walking up and down the sloped roof needed to clear the increased area. One last clearing effort on the 21st followed by good weather meant the metal panels could be applied to the North side of the roof and timbers placed for the Great Room. See the Main House Progress for details.

31 Jan 2007: The good weather finally broke with a 4" snowfall of light powder overnight. The workmen called to say they wanted to get going in spite of the snow and 12°F cold, but they would be a little late. That gave us time to have breakfast and still get most of the shovelling done by the time they arrived. We're hoping sun and wind will take care of the snow on the finished portions of the South roof.

The recent lack of snow combined with wind and warm temperatures has resulted in very poor ski conditions at Bridger Bowl. We haven't done much skiing in the past couple of weeks. 4" of light powder over ice and rocks is not enough to improve the skiing situation. We stayed home a lot; Pauline worked on quilts and Gary made ¼ ellipses from scrap plywood.

Which segues to:

Oblate Spheroid Redux: skip the boring technical stuff )
The original Master Bedroom recessed ceiling was the hemisphere of an oblate spheroid (think plain M&M cut through its greatest circumference). This gave an impression of infinite height. Reduced roof height in the redesign makes an oblate spheroid impractical. And it was quite expensive, using large amounts of labor, generating waste material to make trusses and requiring expensive plaster work to accommodate curves.

Gary developed a scheme to get benefits of an elliptical reflective surface using 2' less roof height and avoiding much expense. The key ideas are to make a rectangular (rather than oval) opening and limit the elliptical curves to the outer border of the recess – think of it as filet of Chiclet. This would be similar to the halved solid of a superellipse, a favorite architectural element of Piet Hein. In the accompanying drawing, one can imagine that a strip of lights is mounted along the 6" shelf. Light will reflect off the elliptical surface above and hopefully give an effect similar to the original ceiling. Simpler curves mean standard wall board can be used. Doing only the border means we can use material that would be wasted anyhow and requires less height to make steep reflective surfaces near the light source. This steepness is augmented by a short vertical section between the shelf and the start of the elliptical truss. We are saving a bit more by making the ¼ ellipse trusses ourselves.

The disadvantage of the scheme is that the elliptical borders will come together in seams at the corners of the opening, which will be noticeable and interfere with the visual effect. There are also problems figuring out how the elliptical trusses intersect at these corners. The solution turns out to be simple, but is a bit complicated to describe; we may wind up creating a model for the carpenters to work from.

Radon Saga – Continued from Last Month

So far, we have managed to keep the radon levels upstairs below 4.0pCi/L. Gary installed a timer (cost: $19) on the downstairs Bath exhaust fan so it would run periodically throughout the day. The rationale for this is that air along the floor downstairs will be pulled under the Bath door and exhausted to the outdoors before it can find its way upstairs. As a test of this hypothesis, we moved the monitor periodically between the upper and lower levels and noted substantially higher radon levels in the downstairs Bath. The downside of this tactic is ongoing cost for electricity and heat loss.

We have noted that the radon level varies with outside conditions. It goes up with heavy snow and low temperatures; it goes down with warmer temperatures or high winds. After the significant snowfall followed by days of highs in the low 20's at the end of December, the radon level upstairs climbed to 3.8pCi/L. By January 04 outside temperatures had risen and the ground immediately around the Carriage House thawed. The radon level dropped to 2.9pCi/L. The Carriage House sits on a mound of several feet of gravel because it is in a gully and we were concerned about drainage. The gravel provides a good escape route for the radon when there is not a lot of snow next to the foundation. The addition of snow guards on the roof last year means that less snow slides off the roof to collect around the foundation, so they serve as a partial solution even though the reason for them is safety rather than radon. As an additional measure, we plan to seal the concrete floor in the Entry and Bath downstairs when summer comes (cost: less than $100). That should encourage more radon to escape through the gravel and the Garage floor rather than into our living areas.

Be sure to check out the Main House Progress

Parting Shot
Our Driveway

This picture was taken from Kelly Canyon Road, looking North across the Christie's farm buildings. Bridger Canyon Road is not evident; it runs between the buildings and our property. The driveway winds its way up the lower left of the picture and disappears into the trees. The Main House is in the exact center of this picture, obscured by trees. Those with sharp eyes might see a hint of orange plywood at the exact center and the pile of dirt at the East end just to the right of center. Above and left of center is the house where Feelgood Ranch weather station is located; to get to that house, one must go a mile further up Bridger Canyon Road, then about 3 miles on back roads.

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