Mar 19

Outdoor Woodboilers Part II

To burn or not to burn?

The bottom line is this; having a high demand for BTU’s and stacking your cold firebox with small splits of dry wood, mixed in with medium size splits, creates a minimal amount of pollution. If those conditions are met- the wood boiler will spew out heavy white smoke at first and then trail down to no visible smoke within 1/2 hour. You can add dry wood later, when large amounts of red coals are still burning and only have visible smoke for about 5- 10 minutes, then the stack will go back to clear or minimal smoke conditions. I do not burn all day and night, only one cold start in the early morning and maybe adding wood one or two more times depending on the outside temperature or if we are doing laundry. By then the house is warmer than I want and I let the oil boiler take over for the rest of the day, setting the thermostat for 61 degrees at night. Currently we are heading into the end of the heating season and after a year long quest to minimize the woodboiler pollution problem, I think I have figured it out.

Stacking your wood like this will allow the critical burn temperature to be reached quickly and no smoke will be visible from the stack within 1/2 hour causing minimal pollution.

Upon initial start up this is the kind of smoke you will get. With dry wood and a properly stacked firebox- no smoke will be visible within 1/2 hour.
In less than 2 hours my firebox burns down to this condition. This is the perfect time to add more wood. For best results add some small stuff with the bigger splits. In my experience as long as there is demand for heat the new wood will only smoke mildly for 10 minutes or less and then revert back to a smokeless condition.

In the spring of 2018 I had a lot of time to think about my wood boiler pollution problem since I was home recovering from a second hip replacement. I found some free online courses at Heatspring Magazine about buffer tanks and how to configure them into a system to create efficiencies. https://blog.heatspring.com/2-pipe-versus-4-pipe-buffer-tank-configurations/.  I knew that a buffer tank would help greatly in smoothing out my issues with the wood boiler and wanted to learn more about them. John Siegenthaler was the instructor and at the end of the brief course he referenced this article: https://www.pmmag.com/articles/86583-a-signature-system-br-john-siegenthaler . It was written in 2003 and references a heating contractor in Alaska who incorporated a large inverse, indirect hot water heater to use as a buffer tank.

This article on water heaters rang some loud bells in my brain because the previous winter I ran into a problem with my on-demand propane water heater failing during 10°F and below outside temperatures. Icing in the propane tank valve would restrict the flow of the propane. The kitchen stove would work fine but the narrowing of the valve orifice from icing would cause the propane hot water heater to shut down because the propane demand could not be met. We would be without hot water till the temperature warmed up or the sun came around and hit the propane tank. The point being, I couldn’t rationalize a large 200-gallon buffer tank filled with expensive antifreeze but I could rationalize a 72-gallon inverse, indirect hot water tank if I gained additional benefits.

The TurboMax arrived at the end of August

            During the fall of 2018 I was determine not to let what happen to me the previous winter happen the next. I wanted to be ready for the cold weather as soon as it hit and use the wood boiler from the get go. In the beginning of September I started working on the new primary piping configuration to incorporate the TurboMax. The pressure was on because I had to shut down the heating system to do it. The wood stove would have to suffice in the mean time. 

The TurboMax operates inverse to a normal indirect hot water tank in that the boiler water circulates around copper domestic water coils.

The guy in Alaska was using what is called an inverse indirect hot water tank. The TurboMax http://www.thermo2000.com/content/en-US/s2_produits/optimizer.aspx is inverse in that it has copper coils for domestic hot water running through it, instead of the typical other way around; hot boiler water running through copper tubes in a domestic, indirect, hot water tank. The largest tank TurboMax sold held 119 gallons of boiler water; the largest tank that would fit in my basement was the 72-gallon version. This is the kind of hot water heater that would be normally used in a large home or apartment building with multiple units. For me it could work as a buffer tank for my boiler water and secondarily heat my hot water. This is what the contractor in Alaska used it for; buffering a very large system in a residential home.

My new hydronic heating system design incorporating the TurboMax

Incorporating the TurboMax required rerouting the primary piping circuit. The primary circuit was now going to include the TurboMax, it would run directly through it. I did not add another pump for the TurboMax because the primary circuit already had one. The TurboMax had 1 1/2” fittings so with the primary circuit being 1 1/4″; I did not think it would add enough extra flow resistance to require a dedicated pump. Part of re-configuring the primary circuit required piping closely spaced T’s for the Guest House secondary circuit and installing a pump. 

Getting the TurboMax into the basement required some creativity.
This is the expansion of my primary circuit to include the TurboMax. The pump and insulated duelpex are visible center. I included a bypass so if someday I needed to make changes, it could be done without shutting down the house heating system.

         I commissioned the new system including the TurboMax by mid October and was very pleased with the results. Previously, I was always concerned that sometimes the oil boiler would go on and off for short periods of time and it seemed to short cycle, (even though the people at Biasi said reaching 125° was good enough). After installing the TurboMax in the primary loop the short burst stopped and became longer, more sustained. Apparently because of the large volume of hot water stored in the TurboMax, the low temperature, radiant floor heating system was satisfied for longer periods of time. The boiler would fire for longer because of the larger volume of water in the system. That was what this new plan was all about. The TurboMax would buffer either boiler. When the freezing weather eventually hit I was able to confirm that the 72 gallons in the TurbMax did indeed buffer the Wood Boiler. Usually the TurboMax would be sitting at anywhere from 90° to 115°, hot enough to satisfy the house demand. When I fired up the wood boiler, those additional gallons allowed the damper to stay open long enough for the OWB firebox to reach the critical burn temperature for the smoke to stop and not pollute so much before it started to close. When the wood boiler was burning the TurboMax would stay at 125 to 155ºF, depending on the outside temperature or whether laundry was being done or showers were in use.

    I installed a Caleffi mixing valve on top of the TurboMax for domestic hot water and routed the return through the Rheem, tankless, propane on-demand hot water heater. I did not connect the TurboMax aquastat to the system because that was not my priority. Although I wasn’t sure about that, it turned out to be a beautiful thing. Cold water would first circulate through the Turbomax, then 16′ later, enter the tankless hot water heater. So if the hot water hadn’t been running, the tankless would always fire initially to heat the 16′ of cool water in the 3/4″ pipe and continue to fire or not depending on the temperature of the TurboMax and the set point of the tankless water heater. We set ours at 112°F. I started to use a lot less propane because the temperature going into the tankless was much hotter than the 40-50° temperature coming out of the deep well. In extremely cold weather, I never ran out of hot water because the OWB was usually burning, keeping the TurbowMax anywhere from 120°F to 155°F, causing the on-demand hot water heater not to fire. One morning at -8°F it did shut down temporarily but the water became hot once the TurboMax flow reached the spigot. Problem solved!

       The insulated, 1″ duel Pex, heat pipe for the guesthouse had been run in previous years but the distribution and radiators were not. I wanted all this to be done by Thanksgiving for my house full of guest but because of supply issues the Biasi radiators had to be back ordered form Italy. So the TurboMax system worked but no hydronic heat went to the guesthouse. The good thing was I was able to use the wood boiler for Thanksgiving. It was sorely needed because we had the coldest Thanksgiving weekend up in the mountains I have ever experienced getting down to 9°F one morning.

In December the radiators came in and I was able to install them in the guest house. I hooked up the overheat aquastat to the woodboiler and set it at 185°F to turn on the guesthouse pump for the dump zone radiators. It works like a charm so I don’t have to worry about the damper closing down and causing a smoky condition. Getting to this point was not easy but overall I am feeling pretty good about burning hardwood from my land to help heat my home. Solar panels will be coming eventually to reduce my carbon footprint.

Feb 17


EPA approved US Stove King 89,000 BTU with blower, from Home Depot.

I bought an Englander wood stove from Home Depot 18 years ago and have been using it as the sole heat source for my 1000 sq. ft., zone 4, country house ever since. Recently I completed a new, 2000 sq. ft. house nearby and bought a new wood stove to use as an auxiliary heat source. The new stove is an EPA approved US Stove King 89,000 BTU with blower, from Home Depot. The new house has an oil fired boiler and radiant floor heat. EPA approved wood stoves are a different animal than the typical old style. You can’t load these full of wood, get them going good and then damper down the air intake. On these stoves you can’t adjust the air intake at all. Don’t get me wrong- I love this stove- it makes a beautiful fire to look at through the glass because of its “air wash system” and if you dim down the lights at night, yellow light flickers off your walls. It throws out a huge amount of heat if you get 3- 21” split log chunks going good. This is not a fill and forget it wood stove. For best results after the fire is going I put in one 18-21” split piece of 2 or 3 year old dried wood every hour and leave my home thermostat at 60 degrees. The downstairs stays at about 70 degrees with an outside temp of 30-40 degrees and the upstairs stays cooler at about 65. The boiler only comes on late at night after I have gone to bed or leave the house and the fire has died down. I have a big masonry wall and chimney behind the stove, which holds heat through the night. The stove sits on a cement radiant floor heat slab. I only use the internal wood stove blower when the house has been unoccupied and cold. It’s works fine and isn’t as noisy as the old one. After the room heats up I switch over to a 20” x 20” filtered air intake above the wood stove that feeds 6” duct-work and in-line fan. Air continuously cycles past the wood stove and is distributed to my downstairs living room and bedroom through this duct-work in my kitchen soffits. I also have a 4” outside air intake feed at the base of the stove for a fresh air source to fuel the fire. You don’t have to have a fancy air distribution system but I do recommend at least a ceiling fan nearby – otherwise it will get too hot near the stove. The stove has a nice size ash drawer that I find works really well. Big enough that you only have to empty it after 4 or 5 days of continuous use.

After your house has warmed up you need to be very cautious about overloading these types of EPA approved wood stoves. You can not shut them down unless you use water. I do not like the idea of a flue damper- nor have I ever used one and the manual say’s not too. Two negatives; the stove black paint pealed off a portion of the top when I first fired it up- must be the stove wasn’t completely clean when they painted it. The other negative is the door handle is very wonky compared to my old stove. It is too short and you have to engage it just right to latch. I have gotten use to it but at first I was burning my hand at times trying to close it. I think they made this handle intentionally wonky so you have to pay attention to how you close the door and don’t just slam it shut and maybe break the glass against a log. I do not burn my hand anymore and I get it. The steel is of a little lighter gauge than old style stoves. In final I want to say these new EPA approved wood stoves make for a healthier environment inside your home and out compared to old models. Add your seasoned dry wood thoughtfully to this stove and you will have a beautiful warm fire that will give you peace.

Dec 13

2013 Corner Stone

The spring of 2013 started with some long-awaited landscaping to the roadside frontage of our property. The time was right because of what Hurricane Sandy did in the Fall of 2012. Let me explain.

Town Road damage after Hurricane Sandy.  October 30, 2013

Town Road damage after Hurricane Sandy. October 30, 2012


In front of the house, an acre or so of land stretches out to the road in a beautiful carpet of ferns and forest. It stops abruptly at this roadside ditch drop off of 12 feet. In previous years I had cut down two huge, old, dying trees there and just left the stumps. It was ugly. The plan was to excavate this drop-off, and slope it nicely to the ditch. I started to do this in 2012– before Sandy. I knew from that experience my backhoe really wasn’t big enough for the job- the boom didn’t have a long enough reach. It was a bank almost 150’ long and I had only graded about 15’ of it when I tore the drive shaft out of my dump truck moving the dirt away. The truck had to be partially in the ditch for the backhoe to reach it and the stress was too much for the drive train.                                                                                 I didn’t know how I was going to finish the job.

Twisted drive shaft from 93 Chevy Dump Truck.

Twisted drive shaft from 93 Chevy Dump Truck.

Then along comes Hurricane Sandy and raises hell.  Up road, the heavy rains caused the creek to jump the crossing culvert and rush down, ripping 2 large gashes into the road shoulder opposite my property. I knew these ravines would have to be filled, so I suggested to the town road crew supervisor that they use my two stumps for fill. Stumps can make excellent creek side buffers against erosion. He said to mark the stumps and he would consider it when they got to my part of the road. After being in the city for a couple of weeks I came back to discover they had removed the stumps and more. I was thrilled with the job they did, removing my stumps and grading the whole bank, sloping it nicely to the road. They needed the stumps, dirt and all, to fill the opposite roadside destruction. It pays to be friendly and cooperative with the road maintenance people.

Newly graded road frontage. October 2013.

Newly graded road frontage. November 2012.

So, with this nicely-graded road frontage, it was time to do some landscaping. I planted rhododendron, blue globe spruce, and built some rock wall surrounds. Further down the frontage, past this area, I cut down a lot of small, annoying beech trees, as well as some overpopulated soft maple trees. This was all to make way for a line of Norway Spruce, and a few Austrian Pines. I had been nursing these pines from seedlings for a few years in a plot out back, and they were due to be transplanted. The project took too long, over 2 months, and it is not much to look at now but in 10 years this should make a nice roadside presentation to the property.

So it was not until July that I got going on my new house-building project for 2013. The transformation of the guesthouse into the main house was behind schedule. I needed to convert what was the garage entryway into the new dining area. Not so fast- -this area had no foundation, a 6” cement slab covering it, a vertical beam which supported the whole front corner of the second floor, and the new room would need a roof that would have to be slipped in under the deck above. OK?

Spring 2013

Spring 2013

The way I have learned to deal with overwhelming odds is to take things one-step at a time. First, I carefully removed the cement slab. I removed the slab whole to save time and to reuse it elsewhere. Removing it whole caused some scary moments, as I did not want to send the beam off kilter since it was holding up the second floor. I used my hammer drill to loosen the tight spots and, after some serious pressure by the backhoe, it slid free. The backhoe did not like doing this because the slab weight was so great and it was in there tight. But it came out eventually and the beam stayed put.

After the slab was removed. Digging the foundation.

Digging the foundation while trying to avoid the 2nd floor support.

Second, I had to cut a large 18”x18” hole through the existing basement wall. This hole was to accommodate a large pipe that was going to be buried beneath the new foundation. The pipe was for future use to allow an insulated heating pipe from an outside wood-burning boiler to enter my basement. The problem was that the steel-reinforced concrete was almost 12” thick in that area. Cutting through the concrete took over a day with my new ½ Bosch Hammer Drill. I really broke that baby in. I felt sorry for the tool when I was done, but it still works well. Go Bosch! The job was done using a combination of two bits- drill and chisel. A sawzall was used to cut through the rebar.

John cutting a 18"x18" hole through the 12" thick basement wall.

John cutting a 18″x 18″ hole through the 12″ thick basement wall with a Bosch hammer drill.

Further complicating all this was the need to run an insulated heating pipe from this house that had the new oil fired boiler, to the other house. I only wanted one boiler to heat both houses. Also the outside wood boiler would send heat under my new dining area foundation, into the basement heating system and then onto the other house through this pipe I needed to run. Do you follow? (More on that subject- Installing a Hot Water Boiler).

After the hole was cut in the basement wall, I took the opportunity to run this “Grand Scheme of Things,” heating pipe. It was a flexible, insulated, 6” pipe, with 2 one-inch pipes inside of it, a feed and return. I already had run an 8” pipe   between the two house years ago just for this purpose. I didn’t want to try and snake this 65’ long pipe through the door, down the basement stairs, wind it past the oil tank, into the 8” basement hole and then try and pull it through to the other house. That would severely aggravate my old hernia. The pipe was flexible but not that flexible. I also failed to mention that, along with this pipe, I was running a RG6 coax cable for TV and 2, just in case, CAT5 cables for Internet.

58 feet of HeatSeal, dual 1" insulated underground pipe, by Heat Link.

65 feet of HeatSeal, dual 1″ insulated underground pipe, by Heat Link.

Now was the time to do this, “pain in the ass project.” I imagined I could lay the whole damn 65’ of pipe straight out and run it through this new hole I had cut in the basement wall, then straight into the little 8” hole at the bottom of the basement wall. Problem was, my pull rope kept snapping off from a snafu in the previously buried pipe between the houses. Each time this snafu caused me to pull the pipe back out, fish the pull rope back through, reattach it and start over. I did this about three times. Talk about aggravation- unfortunately, Deb got snarled at a couple of times during all this. “Sorry Deb.” Finally I succumbed to the realization that I had to dig up the existing pipe where the snafu was and fix it.

Digging up the snafu.

Digging up the snafu.

After that, the pipe pulled through with ease as planned. It took over a day of fits and starts but I got it done. Glad that is over and I hope the heating system all works as planned. Will not know for sure until I hook everything up, which probably will not be until 2015 or beyond.

HeatSeal 6" pipe. Into the basement, out the bottom of the other side, through the ground and out the side of the other house.

Into the basement, through a hole in the other side, through the ground and out the side of the other house- 65′ later.  Pulled gently by the backhoe.  HeatSeal 6″ flexible pipe.

Old culvert given to me by the town highway department. This will eventually be where I run my heating pipe from my outdoor wood boiler.

Old culvert given to me by the town highway department. This will eventually be where I run the heating pipe from my outdoor wood boiler.

Along with the heat access pipe, I ran conduit for satellite TV & Internet, outdoor temperature reset sensor, outdoor wood boiler power and thermostat control wires.

Along with the heat access pipe, I ran conduit for satellite TV & Internet, outdoor temperature reset sensor, outdoor wood boiler power and thermostat control wires.



It wasn’t until the middle of July that I started building the forms for the foundation concrete pour and the first week of August before we actually did the pour. I say we meaning Deb and I. By now she had done three major concrete pours with me. Not many women on this planet have done that nor would want too. She knows the strengths and stamina required, the urgency of setting concrete. She tolerates my steady, firm commands. In the TV business where I work, some new kids are taken aback when they hear me go into that mode, and are offended by it. I guess most of them never played sports or had a job and, if they did, it wasn’t paving blacktop or pouring concrete. I digress.

Ready for concrete pour.

Ready for concrete pour.


Deb shoveling concrete, helping to put the finishing touches on the foundation pour.

Deb shoveling concrete, helping to put the finishing touches on the foundation pour.

The walls are 4" higher than the floor to accommodate 2" of rigid foam insulation and 2" of radiant floor thin slab concrete.  Note the air intake for the indoor woodstove.

The walls are 4″ higher than the floor to accommodate 2″ of rigid foam insulation and 2″ of radiant floor thin slab concrete.  Note the air intake for the indoor woodstove, center left and right wall. The concrete pillar, in the background, will be removed when the walls are up.

After the pour, there is always a euphoric sense of relief and excitement for the building of walls. It doesn’t last long, as you get bogged down with details like removing the beam that holds up the house and slipping in the roof under the 2nd floor deck. And it had to be done by the end of September.

The new roof had to be slipped in under the upper deck. I had to remove most of the deck boards to do this.     Very expensive waterproof underlayment by WR Grace   was used. Later I added metal roofing on top of this.

The new roof had to be slipped in under the upper deck. I had to remove most of the deck boards to do this. Very expensive waterproof underlayment by WR Grace was used. Later I added metal roofing on top of this.


What was the urgency? I had to run radiant floor tubing in the kitchen and dining area, and then pour a thin, 2” slab of concrete over the tubing before winter. Why before winter? Because I wouldn’t be able to get a concrete truck up to the house in winter. If I didn’t get the thin slab poured in the fall that would screw up all my plans for winter.

Roof and walls up. Opening left in wall for bringing in the cement.

Roof and walls up. Opening left in wall for bringing in the cement. Windows also need to be framed in. Mid September 2013.

As the cold weather started to blow in, and the heartburn flared up, I started to get careless. I made a last minute angle adjustment to a board I was about to nail up and almost cut my left index finger off with a circular saw. IndexStitchTo make matters worse, a couple weeks later, I cut off the fingernail of my right middle finger in the table saw. Whoa!!! Slow down you moron!! The index finger is permanently damaged. I didn’t go to a hand surgeon as my doctor recommended because I was afraid of what it would cost and the actual benefit of the surgery was questionable. But mostly I want it to remain a reminder of how stupid I was.

This sense of urgency in the fall is a reoccurring theme. Deb says, “There is always something that needs to be done.” You have to ask yourself why do I do this? Why not just watch sports on TV? Or play golf? Or go to parties and hang out with friends and family? Instead, it has been an endless stream of challenges, accomplishments, satisfactions and then onto the next challenge. The winter is usually the time when I do not push myself as hard. But even then I do not allow myself the time to cross country ski as much as I should. When it gets late in the winter afternoons I keep pushing to get some task done and then it is dark. I usually try to ski just before sunset and finish in the dark with a headlamp but as the years slip by I do it less, knowing time is running out. Why is time running out? Well as I have discussed before, when I retire there will not be any extra money to build dreams.

In October I attempted to do something that I have lost some sleep over in the past few years, not a lot of sleep but thinking about it has kept me awake at times. The plan was to move the wood stove to the new dining area on the other side of the chimney. That means cutting another hole in the existing chimney. This can be tricky for someone who has never done it before- like me. You do not want to damage the structural integrity of the chimney for a couple of reasons: the chimney could fall down or, worse yet, you could burn the house down if you compromise the clay tile liner inside. I put up dust control tarps and go at it with my Bosch, 4” diamond blade cutter. It gets done without a hitch. What is that poem- “only I remain and the fear is gone” or something like that.ChimnyCutW

Now that I successfully cut a new hole in the chimney, the wall between the two rooms needed to be torn down and replaced with a cement block wall. I want the woodstove to sit safely in front of a masonry wall, not a wood wall. No more fires- please. So I jacked-up the adjacent upper floors and ripped the old wall out.


Ready for blocks.

Ready for blocks.

Rodger Grimsby

Rodger Grimsby

For some reason, I decided not to lay the block wall myself. I wanted it to look good and get done fast, so I hired a local guy, who gave me a reasonable price. Getting him to the job site wasn’t easy but ounce he showed up, it was done in a day. It was worth the hassle to hire someone for the job.


After the block wall was up, it was time to put down 2” rigid foam insulation on the floor of the kitchen and dining area. The original concrete slab was not insulated so this should do the trick. I have read different ideas about how much insulation to use in this situation but this is the solution I went with. Could there be more insulation? Of course there always could be more, but the theory is that this R10 insulation is of much greater resistance to heat flow than the ceramic tiles and the thin slab. Therefore, the radiant floor heat will radiate up into the living area and not go down into the ground.

On top of the rigid foam, I ran 3 independent loops of ½” pex tubing for the radiant floor heat. Not an easy task to do alone but I made my own homemade tubing dispenser and it went fairly well. The tubing is attached to 3/8” rebar from Lowe’s, spaced at 8” intervals. On top of all the rebar and tubing I placed wire mesh. The closets, cabinet, stove and refrigerator areas have no tubing runs because I have read that radiant floor heat is a waste in those areas and can cause problems.

1/2" PEX radiant floor heat tubing. Note left photo: the kitchen stove island center and sink, counter area on right. Photo right: dinning area. 3 separate adjustable loops were run for both areas. Perimeter pads were pre-poured by hand for screed purposes. It was the only way I could do it with my level of experience and crew.

1/2″ PEX radiant floor heat tubing.  Note left photo: the kitchen stove island center and sink, counter area on right. Photo right: dinning area. 3 separate adjustable loops were run for both areas. Perimeter pads were pre-poured by hand for screed purposes. It was the only way I could do it with my level of experience and crew.

The next big issue would be pouring the concrete thin slab. There was no way I wanted this to be done by just Deb and I. In fact I didn’t want to put Deb in this situation at all. It was a tough job that needed to be done perfectly because on top of this thin slab would be ceramic tiles. The concrete could not just be poured out of the truck chute onto the floor- it needed to be wheeled in via a wheelbarrow.   I needed at least 2 other guys along with me, and 4 people total would have been even better. I had no luck finding anyone at first and even started to call some cement contractors- I was that desperate. It was the middle of November and we already had several snow accumulation events, although none was on the ground at the moment. The contractors I called were not available for my timeframe but finally a guy gave me the name of a college kid who was taking the semester off. I called him and he was game and said he had 2 friends who would also be interested. Great, we set the date for the next week, Thanksgiving week.

As usual, I didn’t sleep well the night before the pour. After I finally went to sleep, I woke up to a beautiful winter wonderland. There was about 2” of snow on the ground and it was still snowing. The 3.5 yards of concrete was coming at 9:30AM. I went out at 8AM and started brooming the snow off the work area and some of the driveway. The driveway was over 200’ long so- so much for that.

The first 2 guys showed up late at 9:15. One of them lived about 20 miles away and he said the roads were terrible, especially the ones near here. Neither of them had ever poured concrete before and there wasn’t much time left for a lesson but I did the best I could. The kid who did have experience did not show up. I heard the big cement truck pull up out front and ran out to greet him. Recognizing the driver from a previous pour, I jumped up on the running board and passed him a twenty saying, “I got two rookie guys helping me out so keep an eye on them.” He smiled and nodded, putting away the $20. I guided him as he backed up the long, winding, snow covered driveway. The wheels didn’t slide until he turned at the top. He quickly controlled the slide. A sigh of relief went through me as he jumped out of the truck and started to put on his cement chute.

At this point I felt almost like I was in a dream and things were moving along out of my control. A cement pour is always a very sobering event because the concrete is going to harden quickly and there is nothing you can do to stop it. The cement was going to get poured in the house with the guys I had and there was no turning back. For some reason I wasn’t nervous or anxious, but a more Zen- like feeling had come over me. Maybe it was the effect of the sleeping pills or the snow-covered winter wonder world. I do not know, but things were going forward.

After the second wheelbarrow was dumped, I was totally in the here and now, heart pumping, wooden hand float pushing wet mud, screed working and calm instructions being given to the rookies. Pouring concrete inside was different in that I didn’t have to shout instructions over the noise of the truck engine. Never having poured concrete, the kid working the other end of my screed needed constant guidance. He went to college for PhysEd but was a little portly; beads of sweat were popping on his forehead. There was a commotion outside where the wheelbarrow was being filled. The driver stopped paying attention and overflowed my rookie’s wheelbarrow, dumping cement in the snow. The driver jumped out and helped shovel up the mess. Both of the young men worked hard, but I realized towards the end I should have had them switch positions. One kid got the concept of add more or less concrete when leveling and the other didn’t.

The the thin slab concrete pour crew. November 26, 2013

The the thin slab concrete pour crew. November 26, 2013

In the end it was my fault that things didn’t turn out perfect. I had a homemade 10’ screed that I put together last spring for the previous pour with Deb. I never checked it for true and, being wood, it had warped convex on me while out in the sun over the past months. The screed is what you use to level the concrete by working it back and forth, pulling and pushing the concrete. The convex screed created a ¾” low spot in the large dining room center. This wouldn’t have been a problem if I was going to use 12×12” ceramic tiles but I wanted to use the trendy large tiles and they don’t take to well to not being level. A week later I had to rent a heavy-duty concrete grinder and smooth off the side ridges. I had used one years ago on a summer construction job back when I was in college, so I knew what to do. $350 later and a day- now it should be fine.


My nephew, sister and her husband were coming for Thanksgiving the next day and when they arrived I was still cleaning up the mess from the pour. They were going to be sleeping in the finished upstairs apartment. Always moving forward, in the down time between libation and feasting, I took advantage of Dylan and Ken to help me set a 3”x12”x13’ hard maple beam. This beam was to help support the new dining room roof and a ceiling pitch transition. I wanted a tight fit and doing it alone would not have been fun. It went in easier than we thought and I used a hydraulic bottle jack to force it the final inches home. Just in time for turkey dinner.

Dylan Davis and Ken Mantai ready to hoist the beam.

Dylan Davis and Ken Mantai ready to hoist the beam.

The next day, nephew Dylan, who was a hair stylist by trade, said he wanted to learn carpentry. So I put him to work studding up the opening I had left in the wall to bring in the concrete. A large 3.5×5’ window was going in the opening and I wanted the boys to help me put it in place. They were leaving the next morning so we had to get after it. I put Ken to work varnishing the unseen inner wood frame of the window. I always do this to help stabilize it. Once we finally got the window in place, in my excitement to nail the window in and get out of the cold, I forgot to check for final level. I knew the windowsill plate was perfectly level but once the window was in place, it tilted down 5/8” because of the factory mull job, (factory joining of 3 different windows). Once you chalk the window flange and drive in 2” galvanized nails all around, you do not want to turn back. Ken and I discussed it and decided the discrepancy could be hidden with the interior trim and outside siding. This turned out to be true because when you look at it now, all finished—you would wonder what all the fuss was about.

Ken and Dylan hoist the Anderson combo window into place while John guides it home from the inside where it is warm.

Ken and Dylan hoist the Anderson combo window into place while John guides it home from the inside where it is warm.


Our Davis, Mantai, Thanksgiving group. Me, Dylan, Chris, Deb and Ken. We hope to have more people as the place expands.

Our Davis, Mantai, Thanksgiving group. Me, Dylan, Chris, Deb and Ken. We hope to have more people as the place expands. Note the 4″ x 12″ beam installed above.

The holiday was a success and I could now move forward with my winter plans no matter what happened with the weather. I love this time of year because it is the only period when I can ease up on the pressure I place on myself. If I have heartburn, it goes away then. That winter there was a slight hiccup in that “The Max”, my 4-wheel drive dump truck with plow, would not start. So I had to go to plan B and put my ‘86 Chevy plow truck back in action. That piece of shit, nasty truck always starts. It’s nasty because when the thing idles it either roars or barely putters in an ornery manner. The transmission is sloppy and mice run throughout its rust holes. When you shut it off after plowing, it usually backfires like hell.

3/4 ton, 86 Chevy

3/4 ton, 86 Chevy

I thought when I bought the diesel mason dump truck I could get rid of that thing; glad I didn’t because it saved my ass that winter. The winter of 2014 was the coldest winter in years in the North East and that piece of shit ‘86 Chevy started every single time.

So in the end, the year all went well. Maybe I am living the dream? My body tells me the dream is ending because that fall my legs started to go numb again every now and then. As the fall progressed they went numb more and more often. I did not know why and looming ahead of me was some terrible consequence I was sure. “Why don’t you get it checked out?” people asked me. Well, I did just two years ago and it cost me $2000 out of pocket to find out that my B vitamin level was low. What I needed were B vitamin injections to calm my pinched nerve. They didn’t know I had a pinched nerve because the expensive big time neurologist was too occupied with other things to pay attention to my description of a classic problem. Well, now the injections of B vitamin were not doing the trick and the numbness was becoming more frequent. I did not have a lot of confidence in the medical system in this country so I avoided it- thinking time heals all, literally.

Anyway, I, for the most part love this business of building, building and more building. Deb has gotten used to it and buys into it. We have a town to build–so let’s get ‘er done!

Get it done by 2017 or bust!

Apr 11

A photo essay of Wild Cat Dreams!

the house

The House 2006

bathroom windows

Three of five bathroom windows.










deb in the living room.

Deb in the living room. 2003


kitchen slate

Kitchen slate floor blended into living room.

guest house

Guest House 2009

guest bathroom

Finished Guest Bathroom

The Double Chimney










Tin Cealing

Albeta Spruce

Alberta Spruce after a spring rain.

guest house 2008

Guest House 2008

winter tools of the trade

My 1980 Case 580C Backhoe & 1986 3/4 ton Chevy.

red hill

Our backyard after the 40" snow storm. 2/28/2010

neversink reservoir

Nearby senic after a heavy storm.







Jan 11

January 2011

After fighting my way up an unplowed driveway with my intrepid Jeep at around 4:00 PM on a December night, I was greeted by a very cold house. It was about 34 degrees inside when I first lit the wood stove fire. The house was too cold to sit around and do nothing so I went out and took these pictures. The house warms up in about 2 hours before you can take off your coat and it takes all night for the walls to warm up nice. In the morning you’re fine. Notice in this photo that there is no visible smoke coming out of the chimney–when you have a hot fire and dry wood, there won’t be any.

I drain the pipes when I leave so they won’t freeze.–turn just 3 water valves and put some RV antifreeze in the toilet traps. I can’t see wasting all that money and energy on an empty house. I do keep the hot water tank going in my small basement.

It is all worth it for the peace and tranquility of the winter mountains.

Nov 10


Landscaping the North lawn.

Landscaping a new lawn was the big fall project. I was never to interested in having a large lawn but as time went by, the idea of guests arriving, a play area for volleyball or for kids to run around and who knows, maybe even someday a large tent party, a large lawn was needed. Most of the little town I have created is surrounded by ferns which I love and protect. The ferns don’t like being walked on or driven over too much. They will have a trampled look and will not bounce back till the next year.  On the North side of the property is a slice of meadow with no ferns or trees. This was the perfect spot for a lawn but it needed to be excavated to make it level.

Topsoil on right. Clay deposited East. With my backhoe I stripped off the topsoil into a big  pile. I then dug out the remaining clay up to three feet along the property line blending the excavation  level with the existing grass lawn. I deposited the clay up-hill to create a leveled off vista east of the lawn.

Start of the rock wall.

Along the 3′ deep excavated property line I built a rock wall. Rocks of which I collected from around the property. I split some of the larger rocks with a chisel and hammer which makes them easier to deal with and nicer look.

Find a nice seam in a rock to split it.

Rounder rocks are harder to stack. Like a puzzle!

I shoveled in gravel behind the rocks as I placed them to allow for good drainage and add stability from frost heave. The only problem I encountered was in my rush to complete the excavation I dug to deep on one end and created a nice low spot to collect the rainwater that inevitable comes in the fall hurricane season. I had to pump it out several times with a sump pump any time I wanted to work in the muddy mess. Some of it was just too muddy and I had to leave it alone gradually filling it as dryer weather allowed. I had hoped to get it seeded and grass growing before the freezing weather started but that was not to be. I am just glad I got the rock wall almost completely built and the topsoil spread. Now the the soil will consolidate over the winter and firm up nicely so I can give it a final grade with my machine in the spring and plant grass.

November 2010 situation.

The garage with siding almost finished. Fall 2010.

The garage siding is 95% done and I am very happy with the results. I still plan on putting a coopala on the top of the garage but that will again be put off till next year. The road down to the river I started last summer has been put on hold till next year.  Soon the weather will force me back inside.

Jul 10

Summer 2010

Finished Guest Bathroom

The Guest Bathroom was finally finished the first week in July. There are two windows in the bathroom. This one that you can see was designed so that a person could lie back in the tub and look up at the trees,  stars, or falling snow. Because of the slanted ceiling there is a cut out for tall people to stand and pee. There is  a Toto toilet, the Drake model, I highly recommend them.  To find out more go to: https://www.toiletsthatwork.com/

Rheem on demand LP Gas water heater.

With the new bathroom comes hot water.  I just installed a Rheem Tankless 84 on demand water heater. For more about these types of hot water heaters go to energysavers.gov here .

With the cold, underground well water temperatures typical in the Northeast, I hope to get about 4 gallons per minute at 120 degrees of continuous hot water. Depending on the temperature of the water in your storage tank, you can get up to 8GPM. The reason I chose the Rheem is that it has the lowest .26GPM minimum flow rate and a low activation rate of  .40GPMs. That refers to the amount of running water it takes to activate the burner and the minimum flow rate required to keep the burner running. This is an issue with these types of hot water heaters.  For example, dishwashers have a low water use rate and may not activate this type of burner. The main reason I installed an on demand tankless heater is, not only for the energy conservation factor, but because I can still have hot water during our frequent power outages from storms. My 5K generator is not powerful enough to run a 220Amp electric hot water heater. This LP Gas Rheem model has an electronic ignition and no standing pilot light.

Siding the garage.

My full attention now is on siding the garage I built last year. This is white pine from a local saw mill that has been stained with Olympic Solid color stain. I like the idea of a stain because, even though it is not supposed to last as long as paint, it won’t peel off. In my lifetime I plan on just letting it fade into dark whatever and never reapply anything. Like an old barn. The gable ends will have horizontal siding which I shiplapped, as will the top third of the side walls. Below this horizontal siding will be traditional barn board-and-batten. Furring strips will not be used on the vertical siding as the upper treatment will overlap the bottom for rain run off.

Opening up a magnificent part of the property

Snagging an old beech tree with my backhoe.

Also this summer, I decided that, after over 10 years here, it was time to build a road down to the river. My property is long and narrow, the bottom 1/3 drops off dramatically as it goes down. The river is not very accessible for the casual encounter. It requires you to pick your way carefully downhill and get a good workout coming back up. I want to end that by blazing this road. My plan is to make it accessible to 4-wheel drive vehicles and the old dirt bike I just bought, as well as the casual hiker. This road will open up a magnificent part of the property, where there are towering 100-year-old Black Cherry, Hard Maple, Birch, Ash, Beech and Hemlock. The adjoining properties have been logged several times and the difference in feeling is unmistakable (I don’t want to log my property but I may have to if the recession continues to lay waste to my career. If so, the road could also be used to get the logs out).

This is a fairly easy part to the road.

Digging the road is a slow process and dangerous. The acid in my stomach starts to rise and my heart starts to pound as I head down there–I know my Case 580C backhoe is not the right machine to do this job, but it’s what I have. A big excavator in tandem with a small bulldozer would be more like it. I have tried building this road over the years, but gave up because of the challenge and need to stay focused on my house.

I started on the road in early June, taking my backhoe further down the mountain than I ever had before –but I couldn’t get back up. It was one of those times when I had to get down off my machine, walk around and take a look at my situation, and remind myself not to do anything stupid (It would be very expensive if I made things worse somehow, and had to get towed back up the mountain). So, I walked away and left the rig down there. I would walk back down to it every so often and work a couple hours, building the road further down, driving back and forth over the new road, packing the dirt. The first week in July I came to the most challenging spot of all–I wanted to grade a steep, 140 degree turn that will traverse back and down across the land. Facing that challenge, I decided it was a good place to take time off from road-building. My new cast iron tub had just arrived and I needed to hoist it up into my second floor bathroom–using my backhoe which, so far, was still essentially, “stuck.”

I knew I could put my winter chains on and drive up– no-problem– but that wouldn’t solve the big issue, which was making that part of the road equipment-worthy in the future. I wanted to be able to get back and forth without tire chains all the time. To do that, I had to solve what I didn’t when I first went down.  This part of the road was a steep, straight section that was part of an old logging road from many years ago. I hadn’t graded it on the way down, and it was covered with grass, large round rocks hiding here and there, and the road pitched precariously sideways in spots.  So I took on the job grading it backwards up the hill.   Basically, I put the throttle up all the way, became a screaming demon, and pulled myself up a few feet at a time with the hoe or digger bucket then raise the machine up with the side  stabilizers,  smooth out the road with my hoe and continue on this way till I could back up without spinning the tires.  I don’t like doing that to my old circa 1980 Case Backhoe, because I have lots more plans for that thing. Needless to say, it was a huge relief to get out of there. (To be continued–successfully I hope!)

Raising the Claw Foot Tub.

Jun 10

Spring Project: 2010

Working on the guest bathroom.

I am trying to finish the guest bathroom. I tiled the floor this winter and have just finished making and installing V-groove cherry paneling. The cherry was a delight to work with from planing the raw stock to running it through the router.  I used 5/4 rough cut cherry to make the vessel sink stand on the right. Below the picture window will be a 60″ cast iron claw and ball roll top tub.

Wood in a bathroom you may wonder? I think tile is way over used in bathrooms. If you wipe up standing water when you are done there won’t be a problem. I used 4 coats of Helmsman indoor/outdoor satin varnish, it goes for over $43/gallon.

Last spring I used the Helmsman on my outdoor deck made of beech hardwood and it held up fine all winter. I thought I would have to reapply but so far so good. It has been a year outside with no peeling.

Jun 10

Spring/Summer 2010

April 2010

I don’t know what these are but they are very fragile. They are all about sex and after pollinating they fall away to create a lush ground cover. You can see green stalks of chives trying to get a dominate foothold. I pulled these out.

Do you know what these are?

This is what they look like a few weeks later. I didn’t plant them, they came from the gray shale I had trucked in to dress the driveway.

Chives after a rain. June 2010

These are chives, very invasive but beautiful.  For the most part we just let them roam.

Jan 10

The Garage 2009

20' x 30' x 10' Garage

Although this project is asleep for the winter, it is alive in my heart and has been a long time coming.  My first garage on this property, which was going to be a staging area for the construction of my house, burned down in 1996.  After the fire, my direction was lost–and lo and behold a house emerged from the ashes (shown on my front page).  In the spring of 2010 I will start the siding on this garage.


The garage interior.

Having a place to keep my plow is so nice. I use to keep it covered with tarps; had to dig it out after the storms and pray that the engine would start. This is a 1986, 3/4 ton Chevy. Don’t ever buy one! It backfires and causes me ongoing headaches. I have tried to replace it, but in the time it takes me to find a reasonably-priced used one, I figure out how to get this piece of crap started. Usually, that happens by replacing plug wires that the leaking exhaust manifold burned out.

The big deal in this photo is the sheet-rock ceiling. I never dreamed the garage would be insulated, with R30 and 5/8″ sheet-rock installed  by now.  I had time to get this part done in November and December of 2009. The upside to the Recession is Lowe’s had a sale on 24″ insulation–30% off. These are 4 x 10′ long sheet-rock panels. I installed them myself with the help of my trusty back hoe, raising up the sheet-rock very carefully with the front bucket. I paid to have the garage door installed and it was done December 31.

The Back Hoe Shed.

Having a haven for my Back Hoe was a dream come true. See how happy it is? Check it out, there is a chunk of cement bolted to the front bucket for winter ballast, and I’ve added tire chains on the front and back. In the winter you can’t drive this thing around without all that. It’s a two wheel drive. I only use it for special situations in the winter, like digging out a stuck plow or using it to plow when the snow banks are too big, etc.