Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Spring Project: Utility Mini-shed

Out here in Beachton I pretty much do whatever I want whenever I want. Whereas most people complain they "don't have time" I have sort of the opposite problem. I'm just trying to pass as much time as possible while I wait for some kind of break in this recession. So when I start a project I really drag it out.

I built my tiny house on the land where I grew up. I use the same driveway, power lines, well, and shed that I have known since I was an infant. The house burned down when I was in high school and the site was abandoned. When I needed a place to build a house for cash as I earned it I was grateful to be able to take advantage of the existing developments so most of my money could go for lumber and fasteners. After I got myself settled in my little house I turned my attention to what I could do with the old burned down slab. I had a crew with a backhoe and dump truck haul off the big non-burnables like refrigerator carcasses, metal file cabinets, the washer and dryer, water heater and bathtubs. Then I cleaned the slab, brick porches and patio with a flat bladed shovel and a wheelbarrow. The large gauge copper wires were sticking up tantalizingly from the slab where the main circuit breaker panel used to be. Out by the well the other end of those wires were also sticking out after I dismantled the burned down (in a separate incident) metal well shed.

So my spring project was to see if I could make electricity flow again. That wire sells for $2.46 a linear foot and there were three pieces of it running thousands of feet. It was either hook it up or dig it up and sell it. I couldn't just leave it alone.

Back in January 2010 I found the creosoted 2x6 that had been protecting the electrical conduit and water pipe for the last four decades. (For the complete story and bigger pictures click the album link to view the photos and caption on Picassa)

Finally at the beginning of March I got up the nerve to try to pull the wires out of the slab. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I just broke the conduit with my hands and pulled on the wires. Notice all the treasure piled up on the slab behind where I've been digging. This is all the copper and brass and rusted steel and melted glass that I found while digging.

Out by the well I had to dig under the slab to find the galvanized conduit elbow to find out which direction the wires ran and how deep they were. Really deep.

I finally hit the creosoted board on this end and had to keep digging to find the end of it so I could get it out of the ground.


Here we are mid March and the pear tree is blooming.
From The Minished project
And now it's the end of March and I'm back on the project. I had to finally spend money on pressure treated lumber and bags of concrete. I wish I had splurged on 10' 4x4s but I only got 8' ones. They fit in my car better.

I got the wires pulled out of the well end too. Next to the conduit there are two 1 1/4" water pipes. One goes to the old sprinkler system, the other to the old house.

Now by screwing the water hose to the pipe in the ground I can turn on the spigot and see what happens.


If I plug up this end it comes out faster from the old water heater line.
Now I know where that water pipe goes, but now let's go back to the electrical. I called in professionals!
From The Minished project
I had a lot of extra wire at the house end but not enough to reach the panel at the well end. The electrician thinks he can pull the wire through the conduit and make it work.

How to tie three cables of heavy gauge copper wire to a truck.

It pulls.

Now back at the other end there is plenty of slack.

There aren't any more knockouts big enough for this wire so the electrician punches a new one.

They got the wire through the conduit and into the box. They heated the conduit with a torch to bend it around the corner. There's a utility pole buried at the corner of the slab that it had to bend around. Notice the burned insulation on the wire. They'll cut that off.

While the electricians went to lunch I got the box mounted on the other end. The electrician looked in his barn and found this box prewired with two GFCI outlets running off two 30 amp breakers. I said that would work fine for me until I figure out what else I need.

The state of corrosion on this old wire that's been buried for four decades. Looks kinda bad, but it is seriously oversized for what I'm doing anyway.

I had to do some more work on the conduit connection after the electricians left. They cracked the old conduit when they tightened down the collar. Fortunately they'd run the new conduit inside the old one pretty far so I had some room to work with it.

After I finished working on the conduit I cut the water line back at the plastic pipe.
From The Minished project
I glued in the rest of the 1 1/4" pipe I had from working on the part at the well then switched to 3/4". I hooked up a hose bib and then some PEX tubing for a potable water spigot. I might want a drink of water over there. All of the above ground parts should be resistant to freezing.

I put a protective sleeve around the PEX tubing because I don't trust varmints out here to not chew on it, nor do I want it to get degraded by UV. It's bigger than it needs to be, but that's what I had.

I trimmed out the spigot spot with some Hardisoffit and a piece of Trex decking for a shelf.

The future spigot. I bought two of these when I did the outdoor shower because I thought they were cute. Only problem is carpenter bees will try to raise their babies in there.

Paint first, then install the faucet. I used some Hardieshingle to face the back of the electrical panel. That's made with 2x4s and 1x6s with a 2x2 at the bottom. I used Great Stuff to fill the voids left by the 1x6s just so stuff doesn't try to live in there. I nailed the shingles to the 2x4s with hot dip galvanized roofing nails. Then I added some on the sides and used an old piece of galvanized flashing I had to trim out the top.

Preparing the roof. I have a lot of used industrial sheet metal I got from Metal Buildings after they replaced the roofs on a lot of mini warehouses. I scrubbed these short pieces and painted them with primer.

I used the maximum angle I could cut on my chop saw, about 48°, and made some rafters and attached them to a ridge. I propped it up on the structure and stood back to see if I liked it. This is what I mean when I say, "I just built it by eye." I don't necessarily know what I'm doing when I start. It just evolves.

See, it's just sitting up there.

Then I added 2x4s for something like a top plate. I screwed them to the posts with 4 Deckmate 3" screws. Then I marked the rafters in place and cut a birdsmouth in each one. The rafters and ridge are just sitting there, not attached yet. I'm still trying to decide what to do with the rafter tails.

I traced the center rafters to make the other 4. I decided on this plumb and level cut on the rafter tails. I sort of just marked it with a level in place on one of the center ones before I attached them then went to the chop saw and figured out the right angle of the cut with my lines to keep me from screwing it up. I cut the two middle ones while they were still screwed to the ridge.

Side view. Looks a little top heavy. You can see that I attached the rafters with big deck screws driven down from the top. This is a luxury afforded by 2x4 rafters.
From The Minished project
Primer! They say you can't paint pressure treated lumber until it's dry. Well despite my willingness to drag out a project I wanted to see how this was going to turn out so I went ahead and painted it wet. Check with me in a few years and I'll let you know how it turned out. Every bit of this project is made with pressure treated lumber. It was a toss up if I should worry about my fasteners rusting or the wood rotting. I decided the fasteners were oversized enough to last longer than unprotected wood.
From The Minished project
See the top plate touching the ladder?

This is how much I can move the structure just by pushing on it. This bothers me at this point in the project. A lot.

I added these braces and some purlins after a trip to town to get two more 2x4s. See I used that piece of lumber that had been a brace attached to the 2x4 in the ground.

We need a break. Here's a picture of a Cherokee Rose I took between painting the purlins and putting on the sheet metal. These project pictures are not very artistic.
From The Minished project
I guess I couldn't take pictures of putting on the metal cause it took all my hands to do it. You can't see it, but I pre-bent the top edge so water blowing UP the metal can't drip down the inside. The ridge cap was tricky. I had to buy this at Home Depot. I cut it long with tin snips because I thought I might bend over the edge. Well that was a disaster. I ended up trimming it into an artistic shape with my Dremel tool. I appreciate the little things. And I don't care how long it takes. Plus I had a whole canister of those cutting wheels and I used most of them
From The Minished project
Another break for baby woods ducks on a kayak trip on the Wakulla River.
From The Minished project
Painted and done!

From the other side.

I wish I had started with 10' posts.... But still, it's cute! The roof is blue on the bottom, like the sky, and brown on top, like the pine tree bark. The rafters are a different shade of brown like branches look way up high and the braces are asymmetrical like a longleaf tree might be. The shakiness of it continued to bother me while I painted it. The pressure of the paintbrush made it move. But I kept assuring myself that it was strong and stable and as long as I wasn't trying to sleep up there like Snoopy why do I care if it moves? A few weeks later it bothers me not one bit that it moves if you lean on it.

The next part of the project, which will be ongoing indefinitely, is to clean up the old chimney. The mortar that I break off will pave the area around the utility minished and keep mud from splashing up when I turn on the spigot and keep weeds from growing up. Now that I have power I can use a leaf blower to keep it neat.
From The Minished project
Now it's the end of April and I'm back on the well end of the project. This hole has to be filled up, but what to do about the plumbing?
From The Minished project
After consulting with my friend Ronnie (the archer artist) I decided to put a tee in the water line to the house, add a PVC ball valve in a box to turn off the water to the minished, and I also cut off the pipe for the sprinkler system and put a cap on it and a sleeve around it so I can get to it easily later if I figure out what I want to do with it.

Oh noes! When I was working on the other plumbing I created a leak at this joint!

I fixed it! I have a 14" pipe wrench I didn't have when I did this the first time. This is all MUCH tighter now. It's actually more convenient with the hose bib on this side too.

Oh noes^2! The main shutoff valve is leaking around the valve stem now. It never would turn off the water all the way anyway and I had to let it run out the spigot the whole time to be able to work on the PVC pipe. Now it looks like it's altogether ruined. What to do?!

Plus it's leaking here, too. I must have loosened that joint when I used it as a lever arm to tighten up the leak at the hose bib. Fabulous. So I decide to drain the tank so I can fix the last leaky bit of pipe and decommission the main valve. Now I have PVC valves at the house and in the line to the minished so I should be able to do whatever repairs come up. But draining the WHOLE TANK? It's a 550 gallon tank! What a waste! So I go to town for some supplies.

First I get two 4x8 sheets of styrofoam at Home Depot. I have to cut them in half with a random piece of flashing I found nearby in the store so I could get them in my car. Cost, $14.

Spread those out on the slab.

Next an $18 kiddy pool from Walmart.

Pipe insulation on the edges makes it possible to fill up a snapset kiddy pool by yourself. Otherwise you will make yourself mute cussing.

I needed more pipe insulation, but I managed with just this little bit and a closed cell foam knee pad. All this water came from the tank with the pump turned off.
After a while there wasn't enough pressure for the water to come out way over at the slab and I had to open the spigot at the well and just let the water run into my hole.

I took the valve stem packing nut off and prepared to cut off the extra bit of valve stem. I broke the handle off trying to get it to tighten enough to stop leaking.

All cut off. I'd bought a cap the right diameter to go on here, but it was the wrong threads, dammit. I had a new valve stem nut the same size though, so after brainstorming with Ronnie on IM I set off to make that work.

I have a butane stove that I used when I was camping in my unfinished house and that I use during power outages. Now it is going to help me solder a brass nut.
From The Minished project
A dime was just barely too big to fit in there, so I cut a piece of scrap copper tubing open and flattened it out in my vise, traced the dime, cut the copper roughly with tin snips then filed it down until it fit just right.
From The Minished project
All I have is electronics solder. I'll try to keep it out of contact with my drinking water in a later step. I tinned the disc and the nut and then heated them together over the butane stove and added solder from the inside.
From The Minished project
I made a cap! While that cooled off I went back to the rest of the plumbing problem, the leak in the last galvanized part before it goes underground. The tank was draining the whole time I was working on the cap. It was about empty when I sawed the plastic pipe in two again. It drained a lot faster when I had two openings. It gasped for breath, spurted out some more water, and then stopped.

I hooked up an new arrangement of elbows I liked better than before. I miscalculated and it was too short at the last joint though and I had to add another section and a union. Plumbing is hard!

No leak!

I packed the cap with plumbers putty before I put it on, just to be sure it would be water tight and to keep the well water from touching the lead solder.

Something about that little depression in the cap bugs me. Breeding ground for a single mosquito? I don't know. I have 1500 of these pipe caps though, so glad to find a use for one. It just fits right on there.

And now I can enjoy my pool knowing my plumbing is all fixed!

But while I was enjoying my pool I was distracted by house wrens desperately trying to build a nest in my minished!

Dammit that is NOT a bird house! I thought it was cute when I had to move two tree frogs off the roof when I painted it, but these birds are just messy.

They had a real hard time getting their nest to stay up there. Especially when I keep pulling it out whenever it gets about this far along.

Finally no piles of dirt. The hole is filled up. I kind of need some more dirt. I may have to start a borrow pit nearby.

And now the pear tree that hadn't even bloomed yet when I started has fruit on it as big as a chicken egg. Trees definitely take a different approach to a spring project. Steady progress versus my fits and starts. Either way we're both up against the birds at some point.


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