My Shop ~ Part 1

October 29, 2011

I’ve been making progress on the windows, but it is pretty much a solo affair that I can take care of myself. And now that the yard is in good shape, Armando has run out of work. There is some grinding to do on my welds, but not enough to keep him busy. As he is basically day labor, and I can tell him “that’s all for now,” but I run the risk of him finding other work and not being available when I next need him. Also, it is good to have him around for when I need to lift, tote, and carry.

So I decided to get him started building my shop, and I can go back to window work. After a lot of back and forth on what materials to use, I made my decision. I could use the M2 panels (foam sheets with a wire covering that gets stuccoed) or go with the Panamanian-style concrete block construction. I really like the M2 because it is very fast, very strong, and isn’t prone to cracks like the block work, but Armando isn’t familiar with it and it is more expensive. Also, I would like to turn him loose on the project without much supervision from me.

I decided on block construction. Once the corner columns are accurately placed, I can let Armando take over and run with it. He likes the idea, and it gives him a chance to work without the boss telling him what to do every ten seconds. He even said that he will start at 6:30 a.m. to beat the rain instead of our regular 8:00 a.m. I could immediately see his sense of ownership of the project.

The shop is going to be 20’x24′, and is located where the 20-foot container that we didn’t get was going to go. Here’s an archival photo of the four columns that we placed for the 20-footer:

And here are those columns now, sadly knocked to the ground with a twelve-pound sledge to make room for my new shop. It was a tough decision to make as we had worked so hard on the columns. But progress is progress I guess. Here the corner batter boards are in place, and Armando is digging holes for the footings for the concrete columns.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating; block work here is different than in the States.

In the States, every block is laid perfectly plumb and level. When a block wall is done, it very strong standing on its own. Just stand back and look at all the perfectly straight courses of blocks.

Here, the blocks generally have less cement in them and workers generally have less training. A concrete block wall in Panama isn’t meant to stand on its own. The process is to dig and pour footings for concrete columns, embedding in each footing four vertical pieces of rebar where the columns will go. When the footings have hardened, wooden forms are built around the upwardly protruding rebar and the columns are poured.

After the column form boards are removed, a trench connecting the columns is dug and a concrete footing is poured. As opposed to Stateside block work, this footing can be “kinda level.” The blocks are then laid “kinda” in rows, “kinda” straight and “kinda” level. When you get just shy of the top of the wall, form boards are nailed across the wall from column to column and a strengthening top beam is poured that includes more rebar. The blocks are basically infill and it is the columns and beams that provide integrity for the building. Then, a coat of repello (stucco) is troweled over the entire wall — columns, blocks, and beams. The wall is now pretty much straight and can function seismically.

While Armando was digging the footings, I made two forms for the columns.

These three-sided forms will be put in place around the rebar and then the fourth side will be nailed in place.

In the next two photos, these forms are standing tall and proud, and Armando is making the journey up the ladder five gallons of concrete at a time.

In my next few blog posts I’ll probably seesaw back and forth between the windows and the shop. That is unless another project catches my interest, such as building the metal bending brake that I want to make. The house has lots of opportunities for bent metal trim, and I want to make new, thicker lids (to hold more insulation) for our refrigerator and freezer (see A Really Cool Experiment).

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.


Pop Up Garden

September 19, 2011

In this post, we plant a flower garden.

It is a frequent occurrence that neither Cynthia nor I can remember who’s idea it was to do something. There is an organic process that happens between us, a decision is made, and a day later we are oblivious as to how we got from point A to point Z. “Honey, do you remember how we decided to do such and such? Who’s idea was it to get started?” “Um, I dunno.” Well, it just happened again; a huge flower garden just popped up that stretches sixty feet across the the front yard.

Some background: We’ve been living in a nearby rental house for nearly three years. We really wanted to be in this neighborhood and this rental house was the only option at the time. It has a big fenced in yard, big enough for our long-legged, gotta-run dog (I’ve clocked him at 28 mph).

But the house wasn’t love at first site. We saw the outside, figured we could re-assemble our five-man crew from a former project and get the yard cleaned in a week or so. We signed a one-year lease without seeing the inside. When we finally got the keys and opened the front door for the first time, Cynthia cried so hard and so loudly that a neighbor way at the end of our road and up on the hill came down to see if everything was okay.

It wasn’t. The house — how do I say this nicely — had a lot of deferred maintenance “issues.” (Cynthia says this is an understatement.) As I said, the outside was overgrown with weeds and tall grass that we cleared away. Additionally, we spent a couple thousand dollars making vital repairs to the inside of the house to make it habitable. In return we got periods of no-or-reduced rent. Our elderly landlady, who often wears a stylish vintage hat and white gloves, loves us and often says in her broken English, “Oh, you make me new house!”

Here’s a photo of the kitchen as we found it, except we had already removed the termite-ridden upper cabinets. Remember, click a photo to enlarge it, click the back arrow to return here.

Here’s the new kitchen we built:

Some change, huh? Does Cynthia's apron coordinate with the curtains on the cabinets? She's a clever one, I tell you. Oh, and is the chicken coordinated, too? By the way, I made the pendant lamp over the sink, and three others like it, from stainless steel kitchen utensil holders and plumbing supply hoses that we found at a DoIt Center store in the city.

The point I am making here is that this place was a disaster, and relating to this post about our new garden, there were no nice plants in the yard. Here is a photo of part of the yard after the tall grass was cut and a lot of the weeds were hauled away:

And here is exhibit B, a photo of the yard once it was almost cleaned. Note that there were no flowers.

So, for the next few years, Armando would from time to time bring plants from his house, charging us only a small percentage of what we would have paid if we bought the plants “retail.” We ended up with quite a lush yard, and recently with our attention more focused on our new property than on the rental, it was really, really lush. I think I may have said it elsewhere on this blog, but my joke is that you can stick a METAL fence post in the ground here in Panama and a month later you have to come back and prune it. Everything grows so well here in the tropical mountains.

So a few days ago Armando and I dug up a slew of plants and trucked them to our new house. This photo is one of three loads:

Armando and Jabo ready to unload the truck.

With not much to do while all the welding and other infrastructure work has been happening, Cynthia has been chomping at the bit to contribute to the project. So she was on hand and was Project Leader as to the design of the garden and placement of the plants. Nice job, Cynthia! A very productive three days.

Here are some photos. Sorry some are blurry; it was raining fairly hard when I took them.

Overview of the new garden. Later, we will make the stone borders more permanent.

Ornamental ginger, antherium (little boy plant), spider plants, and a blue walking iris make up our new garden.

There is also a tree trunk that we have been debating whether or not to remove. Included in the garden, we think it will look great with orchids and bromeliads covering it. Maybe it will get a bird house on the highest point.

We have these in red, white, and pink. Armando put some rotten tree trunk pieces around each of the antheriums as fertilizer. How does he know this?

All the plants have started out good and healthy. I hope they like their new home.

Not bad for three short (rain by noon) days. We can’t wait to see the garden all filled in a few months from now. I hope that this post has given some enjoyment to those of you heading into winter. The key is under the mat.

To finish the project, Armando and I are getting a few yards of larger rocks and he will construct a more robust border around the garden and the path.

In other progress, when it was raining over the past week or so Armando and I sanded (random orbital sander) the interior container walls and ceiling in the space between 3 and 4 and number 4, and sprayed on a coat of oil red polyurethane primer. Here is the job in progress:

To spray, I am using my Fuji HVLP (High Volume, Low Pressure) spray gun. There is very little paint mist in the air when using an HVLP unit. The gun is powered by the black box which is basically a vacuum cleaner blowing in reverse. HVLP is nothing new — I remember that my parents had one back in the ’50s — it was an attachment to the Electrolux vacuum cleaner that I think they bought from a door-to-door salesman.

Fuji and I met on the world’s largest online tool dating service,, about five years ago. We have been very happy ever since. I quickly clean the gun after every few hours of spraying, and when I am done for the day I clean it within an inch of its life. I recommend this unit if you need to spray a lot of projects.

Bonus photo: Our neighbor cuts the grass early in the morning, kicking up the dew on the grass.

Tomas cutting the grass.

We are getting more and heavier rain of late. Now at mid-September, we are headed toward November, time of the heaviest rain of the year.

That’s all for now.

Hurricanes I Have Known

August 27, 2011

With Hurricane Irene disrupting the East Coast of the States and heading toward my brother’s house and my girl cousin’s house in New England, I’ve been thinking about my experiences with hurricanes. Commentee Bob H. asked me in an email if I’d experienced hurricanes in New England. Here’s the story, Bob.

I’ll have a construction post soon. Promise.

Here in Panama, we live at about eight degrees north of the equator. I have read that hurricanes historically haven’t come below twelve degrees, so other than some extra rain from the big low pressure of Irene, we are sitting this one out.

But I do know what hurricanes can do. I grew up in New England, and was about six years old when on August 31st, 1954, hurricane Carol passed through our small town. Carol was a CAT-3 storm and I remember it very well. I remember the power going off, and I remember my father making a fire in the fireplace and I remember making s’mores as the wind howled. My mother had a way with emergency preparedness; got sugar? I especially remember scouting the beach after the storm, and dragging home an enormous amount of junk, treasure, and building material for my tree house.

My tree house was in a big swamp maple in the back yard right next to our garage. I must have had a bazillion eight-penny common nails in that casa. I remember taking my allowance every week and riding my bicycle to the lumber yard. I always asked for Eddie because he knew my father. “I’d like two pounds of eight-penny common nails, Eddie,” I would exclaim. He would always ask, “Are these for your father or for your tree fort?” “They are for my tree house, Eddie,” and I would ride my bike home with a “heavy” two pounds, more like 5 pounds as I now know. Eddie was a saint. Anyway, with all those nails, my tree house weathered the storm with nary a board blown off. Meanwhile, our old garage was gone with the wind, not a board left standing. And so started my building career of overbuilding.

I had a big rope hanging from the maple just below my tree house and I would swing past the garage like Tarzan. My father took this photo of me before hurricane Carol (click the photo for clearer view ~ use back arrow to return).

Here’s a photo of my tree house above the garage debris after Carol. You can see the rope I was swinging on in the previous photo. My tree house is still standing!

Some years later I had a different kind of fort. But I won’t get into that.

Hurricane Carol was the easy one.

Just before the previous photo was taken in Vietnam, I was stationed in Gulfport, Mississippi. I was due to leave for Vietnam that day, but hurricane Camille was due to make landfall right in our back yard, so the flight was cancelled. I was single at the time and had been standing night watch for some of the married guys who needed extra time with their families. I was dog tired and at about noon I went home to my apartment on the beach in Pass Christian and went to bed. I had been sharing the apartment with three other guys, but they had already deployed to Vietnam. I was to close up the apartment and turn in the keys. The apartment was directly across the highway from the beach.

I slept soundly and long. Some time after dark, I woke to the sound of wind and rain. Apparently, I had slept through the evacuation call.  The lamp on the bedside table wouldn’t turn on; the power was off. I swung my legs off the bed and put my feet on the floor. I was ankle deep in water.

Wearing only my olive drab service issue skivvies, I made my way in the dark to the front door. The knob was difficult to turn, but I finally got it. WHAM! The door was ripped out of my hand by the force of waist deep water that entered the apartment.

Oh expletive deleted. I had to get to higher ground. I started to move away from the door, but in the wind, and the rain, and the sea, I was immediately disoriented. No, I would not try to make my way up the street. Ah, the second floor. I inched my way along the outside wall until I found the outside staircase to the second floor. Up the stairs, and at the first door I found, I put my shoulder to the door and forced it open. The apartment was vacant.

Still only in my skivvie bottoms and now quite cold, I crawled on my hands and knees to the far wall of the living room. The layout was exactly like my apartment below. In the pitch-black dark I found what seemed to be a towel, probably left over from cleaning who knows what off the toilet. But I wrapped it around me and felt a bit warmer. Ever try to get a towel to cover your entire body?

Cynthia said that she tried once. She was at a private girls’ college. The bathroom in her suite wasn’t working and no one was around so she walked naked to the bathroom down the hall to shower. After her shower, as she was leaving the bathroom, she heard the call, “Man on the floor.” Well, her towel wasn’t large enough to cover both her top and um, her bottom, so she did the only thing she could. She draped the towel over her head so she wouldn’t be recognized and walked back to her room. Nice save, Cynthia.

Back to Camille, some time passed and all of a sudden over the din of the wind and rain, there was an enormous crash. I was covered in water, glass from the window, and who knows what else. Fortunately I was covered with the who knows what towel. I felt around in the dark and figured out that a large tree had blown through the wall and window of the apartment. Oh expletive deleted. Close call.

I made my way to the back bedroom and again sat on the floor. More time passed. I was shivering cold and wet and, um, scared. This was nothing like Carol. Where were the s’mores? Then, again in the darkest starry night only without the stars, there was another crash. Chunks of drywall (I recognized the taste) and glass and who knows what came at me and another something came through the wall. I moved a foot or two and felt a large metal object. It was a car bumper. You know, the big, old, triple chromed kind. And the car was still attached! Oh expletive deleted. Close call.

So after I gathered what I could of my composure, I turned tail and crawled to the center of the apartment and got into the bathtub. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy hadn’t yet been published, but I was nonetheless happy to have my towel. I sat in the cold porcelain tub for what seemed like an eternity.

The walls and roof were creaking and being torn off around me. I know because I was being pelted with rain and blown by the wind. I hunkered down real low.

Eventually the eye of the storm passed directly over Pass Christian and everything became calm. But it was too dark to move anywhere else in the apartment, and as I discovered in the morning, there was no more apartment other than my tub.

I wish I could go on telling about the second half of the storm, but honest to Biloxi, I don’t remember another thing until dawn.

At dawn I woke up. Or returned to my body. Whatever. I could almost make out forms in the retreating darkness. As it got slowly lighter, I could see, well, everything. The walls, roof, and floors were completely gone. As were the other neighboring apartments and apartment complexes and the supermarket next door. The only thing on the beach near me was an ocean-going freighter of some sort, beached on high ground beyond my bathtub. Nothing was recognizable. I had lost everything except my life. Not a bad deal I guess.

After I gained my composure and finished wondering how my bathtub remained above high water, I slowly picked my way down the pyramid pile of rubble that supported my second floor porcelain sanctuary. Barefooted, skivvied, and toweled, at sunrise I made my way maybe eight blocks up what was left of the street to a friend’s house. I knocked on his door and when he answered, I said, “What’s for breakfast?”

I never did return the keys to the apartment manager.

Hurricane Camille: August 17, 1969. CAT-5. Winds 190 mph (at the time, I heard 212 mph. Felt like 500 mph). Camille was the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone ever recorded worldwide.
YouTube Video

That’s all for now.

Welding Frenzy ~ Welding On Shipping Containers

August 6, 2011

With the tilebacker walls in place, it was finally time to haul the welder up onto the roof of container four. The four-foot high wall that holds up the high end of the roof over the space between three and four was only tacked in place. I am now faced with the task of welding a forty-foot long bead, welding the wall to the roof of the shipping container.

Armando and I tried first to lift the welder with pulleys and a rope, but we were getting exhausted and the welder wasn’t budging far off the ground. When I bought the pulleys I wanted double-block (two wheels per unit) pulleys but could only find less mechanically-advantaged single-block pulleys. So we rigged an electric winch (thank you for the loan of the winch, Ivan) and effortlessly lifted the heavy welder to the roof. Once up on the roof, with the new ATW wheelbarrow wheels, the welding rig no longer bumps and bangs, but rolls across the corrugated roof very easily.

The wall to be welded is made up of metal siding cut from the wall of the container below. Here’s how the siding sits on the container. You can see that I have some significant gaps to fill while welding. White is the wall, red is the container roof.

This is the largest gap, about a quarter of an inch. Most of the spaces are about a sixteenth of an inch or the metals are kiss-fitting.

I really wasn’t looking forward to this welding task. If it rains, the gig is off. If it is sunny, working in a hot welding hood on the hot metal roof, body crouched so as to reach the area to be welded but avoiding flying sparks and splatter, legs falling asleep; no, I wasn’t looking forward to this task. But it had to be done, and afterwards no more water will enter the container below.

I also wasn’t looking forward to the job because I have been using number 6011 welding rods. These are the standard welding rod here in Panama and can be found in any hardware store and even some grocery stores right next to the duct tape. They burn paint away easily and work in any position. But they stick easily and this can be frustrating.

If you don’t know, the idea of welding is to touch the welding rod to the metal you want to weld, create a short circuit if you will, get sparks flying, then pull away slightly and maintain a gap that the fire jumps across, heating and fusing the metals. It is during this initial getting-the-sparks-flying stage that the welding rod can fuse itself (or stick) to the metal to be welded. If it sticks you have to wiggle the rod back and forth until it breaks free then start the process all over again. When I tacked the wall in place, there was a whole lot of sticking going on and I wasn’t looking forward to forty feet of frustration.

I have to declare here that welding is new to me. Previously my work life involved wood, glue, screws and nails. I learned a little bit about welding from Bob H. back in the States, just enough to get me going and make me dangerous as they say. I guess you could call me a back yard welder. I don’t know squat about the coefficient of this or that, or the temperature that bronze-molybdenum-strontium 90 alloy melts at. I only know to get the spark going and keep it going. So to all the professional welders who fall across this blog by mistake, those with multiple certifications in underwater welding and welding in deep space on the Space Station while holding a wet cat, please have pity on me for what I am attempting to do at this stage of my life, and maybe remember those first not-so-pretty welds that you made so many years ago. Thank you.

So for my birthday, friend Les gave me about ten pounds of not 6011 rods, but instead 6013 rods. I thought I would give them a try on this project. How bad could it be? As it turns out, not bad at all.

The ubiquitous 6011s burn real hot. They burn paint real quick. Lots of slag flies everywhere, the rods stick easily, and if you are thinking about last night’s fight with your wife and not paying 100% attention to counting the number of seconds that are passing, you can burn a hole in the metal the size of Texas.

Even though technically in the same family (I don’t really know this for sure, I’m making this up), the 6013s are a real pleasure to work with. If the 6011s are a stay-out-all-night rebellious teenager, the 6013s are their stay-at-home studious twin. Rod sticking is much, much less with the 6013s. They burn hot enough to eat through the numerous layers of paint on the container roof, but the burn is more surgical if you will. There is less flaming slag flying over the top of my welding helmet, thereby burning fewer holes my scalp. Both rods seem to want to burn well for me with 60-amps set on the dial of the welder:

The new (to me) 6013s also don’t burn big holes in the metal nearly as easily. And if I do burn a hole, I can close the doughnut hole much more easily. A blob of the 6013 seems to stay in place as it cools making closing the hole quite easy, whereas the 6011 blob shrinks as it cools, leaving the hole almost as large as when I started. And if I switch the amps down from 60 to 40, the holes close quite rapidly.

To weld, you have to keep the welding rod moving. There are numerous techniques: the back and forth wiggle, the circle swoop, etc. The technique that I found to work best for me is this: working in the general form of a backwards letter C, maybe something like this:  ]  , I start at the bottom left of the backward C.  I get the spark going and sit in one place on the roof of the container for a second-and-a-half to two seconds, burning paint and making a small puddle of molten metal. Then in the next second I sweep to the right and up, then over to the left. Then to prevent creating a hole, I get the heck out of Dodge, wait for the new metal to cool for a second, then repeat. I’m left handed and am working from right to left. So if you are right handed maybe you will find a forward C and left to right easier. Your mileage may vary.  If you figure that I move about an eighth-of-an-inch at a time, that makes only 3,840 repetitions in the forty-foot long stretch. It goes like this: weld, weld, weld, move, stretch, drink water, repeat. Simple.

Here is a photo of the mess I am making:

A lot of the mess is paint that has burned and flaked, and the weld cleans up fairly well with a wire brush. It looks to me like it will keep water from leaking into the house. Here is the weld all wire brushed but not prime painted. The roof was too hot and the paint probably would have boiled. Hey, maybe Monday I’ll fry some eggs for lunch.

I got to the half-way point today before I sensed the blisters on my knees from the hot roof. I quit about 2:00. Monday weather permitting I will be back at the second half. With my new knowledge of the 6013 rods and my experience today, I’m not dreading the second half at all. Still, it will be good to be done with this part of the job. I will have to repeat this process when I erect the wall over container two. Stairs will lead up to this wall, and a door will take us out to the roof deck. I am anticipating the hammock swinging in the breeze.

Thanks for the swell welding rods Les! That’s all for now. Happy welding!

Alan Gets Blog Cred ~ Rethinking The Roof on Container Three

August 4, 2011

In this post I talk about the roof over container three. I planned to pour a concrete slab.

In my previous post, Wallito, reader Alan wrote an extensive comment* (repeated below in its entirety) about the roof on container three. Thank you for going out on the limb to suggest an alternative solution. Most guys won’t give another guy suggestions or advice unless we ask for it. We don’t want to cut in on another guy’s turf. But thanks Alan, you did, and you did it with grace and class.You made me think, especially when you mentioned the half-life of caulking.

And another thing happened. We have had some wicked heavy rain since I applied the urethane caulk yesterday and the caulk all washed away. I thought it was urethane, but it turns out that it is urethane enhanced elastomeric caulk in a latex base. The urethane caulk that I have been using elsewhere on the containers is sticky-gooey in a non-latex base. It cures fast and remains flexible. Water doesn’t affect it even if it isn’t cured, but this elastomeric caulk didn’t have enough time to develop a water-resistant skin. Bye bye three tubes of caulk.

In my construction career I learned not to trust caulk of any kind for any mission-critical project. Make joints tight and right. But I guess I forgot or got lazy. Reminds me of the painter’s saying, “A little putty, a little paint, makes a carpenter what he aint.” Thanks Alan for bringing this to my attention.

Alan also mentioned that the concrete slab would accumulate heat during the day. Very true, and I was going to put a sheet of foam insulation under the concrete.

I was going to use the concrete slab on the roof of container three to direct water off the roof. This roof will handle a lot of water. If we look at the photo of the model again, you can see that two significant roofs dump onto number three.

The model is somewhat lacking, as there is actually a two-foot high wall on the right side of container three, and that wall is the tilebacker wall that I just detailed in Wallito:

I am going to duplicate this wall on the left side of the container for the other roof to sit on.

The concrete slab is now off the table. Alan suggested installing a sloped roof using cement board roofing tiles. Alan, I’m going to take your sloped roof idea, thank you, but I think I’ll use the corrugated metal roofing sheets that I am using on the other roofs. Several of our friends have the cement board roofing panels and they seem to need more maintenance to keep the green slime pressure washed off the roof. Also, it is slicker than slick to walk on and I see a lot of broken tiles. The metal roofing is not elegant in any way, but it is economical and the only potential leak points are where the screws penetrate the metal making it easy to diagnose and maintain. Another advantage of the metal roofing is that it is highly reflective and doesn’t accumulate a lot of heat.

With the two-foot high walls, I can easily construct a roof over number three that slopes from about eighteen inches at the high end down to nothing at the other end of the container.

The metal roofing is flexible and I can roll it up the wall and screw it in place. The screws won’t hold in the tilebacker, but I can place a carriola behind the tilebacker to receive the screws. Armando and I can work together; he on one side of the wall and me on the other.

I can also use Alan’s idea of the roll insulation placed directly on the container roof below the new sloped roof.

In other happenings, today was a near washout with torrential rains beginning at 10:30 a.m. But I did manage to spray two coats of white paint on the exterior of the 12-foot wall between three and four, and between raindrops I got one piece of tilebacker up on the triangular wall section.

That’s all for now. Thanks again Alan.

*Here’s Alan’s comment in its entirety:

Hi Fred,

Thanks for your most recent update. I’m enjoying the process of your build and I am taking notes for that day when I will also build a container home or container something.

In any case, I wanted to chime in regarding your roof and give you an unsolicted opinion. You know what that’s worth!

You may have already thought through your process so please don’t look upon my advice as expert, other than I’m building my own home and have lots of experience with leaky buildings especially where I come from (Pacific Northwest). I am also building a home in Panama and it’s a learning experience for me also.

With regards to mixing different elements like concrete, caulking, and metal; these are all materials that expand and contract differently. So it’s almost guaranteed that eventually your caulking will separate from your metal. If you put concrete over the seal, it may help but the mass of the concrete will expand at different rate as the metal on the roof. If the concrete cracks due to this dynamic, it’s possible water could penetrate the concrete and this will require you to seal and paint the concrete regularly to keep it from taking on water.

So, my thought is to suggest a slightly sloped roof for the top of our container made from concrete board (plysem) that is corregated and also conveniently stained red. The plysem overlap each other in the installation so you have a sealed, overlaping joint wherever they meet. The corrugated look may not be what you are looking for so this is also a consideration. I have installed on my own roof and it looks good the way it is despite the fact that I am installing reclaimed clay roof tiles on top of the plysem.

With regards to where the plysem meets your newly installed concrete board wall, you would simply install an L shaped flashing that covers the top of the plysem where it meets the wall by at least 5 inches and goes up your concrete board wall by the same amount. You can later cover your concrete board with a repelo to hide the flashing that’s attached to the concrete board wall. Ideally, the flashing would have been placed behind your concrete board and extended outward to cover the plysem but you’ve already got your board up and this will work just as well.

This should also allow you to install a radiant barrier (plastised aluminum sheet ) underneath your plysem directly on the top of your container roof. This is a cheap way to reduce your cooling and reduce the temperatures of your house. You can pick radiant barrier at Hopsa for about $96 per roll 4′x100″.

The other thing you need to be aware of is if you choose to use concrete to cover the top of the container, it wll also collect heat all day and dissipate into your interior as it will be directly connected to the metal on your roof that I believe is also the ceiling in your rooms.

You can overlap and tape the radiant barrier by a few inches and it also acts as an emergency secondary barrier for any leaks that may come through your plysem roof. The radiant barrier will most definitely reduce the amount of heat entering your home as it acts to deflect infra-red heat back up and into the plysem. You need to make sure there is at least one to two inches separating the radiant barrier and the plysem and the corrugated part of this concrete board provides sufficient space between the two.

Again, only a thought and most likely not what you’ve spec’d but may be worth the consideration.

Wallito (The Little Wall)

August 3, 2011

In Spanish the word ending -ito signifies affection or diminutive stature. In this post, I tell about the short wall I just built, hence the new English word I coined; wallito.

There has been a lot of rain recently, including a few complete rain-outs, so progress has been slow. But I have managed to work on the two-foot high wall above container three that holds up the low end of the roof between three and four.

Originally I was going to use some of the 20-foot scrap wall section cut from container three for this new wall, but we have amended the plan and now are cutting only doorways from the container. Because we decided to use tilebacker (cement board) for the interior walls, it seemed like a natural to use the tilebacker for this little wall overhead.

First I cut eight 2″x2″ square tubing “studs” and welded them in place to receive the tilebacker. Because I was working by myself, I made the runway scaffolding so I wouldn’t have to lift the welder.

The wall will go in that long open space above the container.

Speaking of the welder, I got tired of the anemic factory-installed wheels and put on some wheelbarrow wheels. Now I have an ATW (all terrain welder).

Some difference, huh?

Then Armando and I hauled the four sheets of 3/4″ tilebacker from container one to container four (it’s always a treat to carry heavy stuff through the mud). I cut them to shape with a tile blade on my circular saw and Armando sponged on the first coat of sealer. The sealer will resist water and dirt stains.

For the sealer, we decided to go with a wet-look acrylic polymer. Two coats sponged on quickly is all it takes to protect the surface. Ask me in three years how it worked. Here’s the sealer sitting on top of a piece of tilebacker after the first coat. The second coat brings up the shine.

Rain stopped production for the day, but this morning I swept the water off the top of the container roof and installed the tilebacker sheets on the studs. I used the same sheetmetal roofing screws that I used to screw the roofing to the steel framing. Here’s the wall all finished except for the second coat of sealer.

I sealed the tilebacker to the top of the container with urethane caulk. To control water runoff from the roof, I will make the standard Panamanian roof gutter system: take a piece of 4-inch PVC tubing and slice the length of the tubing with a saber/jig saw. A circular saw is faster, but the PVC will most likely shatter, making a mess of the tube. Out in the pueblos in the mountains, they use an old rusty handsaw. Tedious work for sure.

Anyway, after the cut is made, you spring open the tube a bit and slide it over the tail end of the roofing metal. Pieces of bailing wire wrapped around roofing screws holds the gutter in place. You can paint the gutter any color you want, but our previous gardener Miguel liked to use tar thinned with lacquer thinner as the paint. Any color you want as long as it is black.

Ultimately the container roof will be covered with a concrete slab, sloped toward the center of the container and down and off the back end of the container. The slab will cover and protect the urethane caulk. I hope.

I am concerned about the corrosion/rust between the metal container roof and the concrete slab, so I am considering painting the roof with an elastomeric roof coating. I could paint the coating up over the caulk and a few inches onto the tilebacker, then pour the concrete slab. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Here’s a picture of the wall from the inside:

Later, when I work on the interior of the house, I will apply a second sheet of tilebacker on the inside of the studs. For protection from potential smashers/robbers, I will probably weld a couple pieces of 1/2″ rebar in the stud cavity. The tilebacker is strong for the elements, but probably is no match for a big boot and would be a weak point in the building envelope. But for now I am only interested in getting the building dried in.

Tomorrow I will work on putting tilebacker on the triangular section you see up in the first photo. Before that, I need to paint the exterior of the wall below the triangle with white paint.

When I don’t need Armando to lift and tote, he is busy working on leveling the lot and preparing it for grass. Sod grass can be had here, but it is expensive. Armando said that he wanted to clear out some of the grass close to his house because he has had some close encounters with the slithering kind in his house lately. Replacing the grass with gravel will slow the critters down. So early one foggy morning, I went to his house to get a pickup full of grass. He lives on a dead end off a dead end off a dead end, and by the time I get within a few hundred yards from his house, the road is very narrow. I can’t make the turn into his “driveway,” actually only a wide path. So we worked for an hour with two wheelbarrows and got the truck loaded.

Sod from Armando’s yard is somewhat of an exaggeration, as he dug up the grass shovel by shovelful, pieces breaking, some only a few inches square at best. We kidded that planting the grass in my yard was like getting a hair transplant, hair by hair. But he got the job done in two days, and now the yard is starting to look like a yard.

(Normally when I write these blogs, I re-size the photos to be a bit larger on the page. This time, the re-sizing option doesn’t exist. Sorry. You can always click the photo to make it larger.)

I’m glad to have this little wall out of the way. Soon I can haul the welder up to the roof of container four and finish welding the upper wall to the container roof. That’s all for now.

About Time

July 16, 2011

This post: Clocks, time, and memories. This entry is a complete time waster. No real news, no house progress, only one photo.

Clocks have been in the news in our household lately. Neither Cynthia nor I wear wristwatches. We have one clock in the bedroom and one on the wall in the kitchen. And of course, the time is displayed on our cell phones, computers, and on the radio display in the car. The cell phones, computers, and the car clock are not easy to glance at unless you are working with them at the time.

So in effect, only the bedroom and kitchen clocks keep their faces in our faces, giving information to us even if we aren’t needing it at the moment. A few weeks ago, time ran out for these two clocks and they kicked the bucket. Simultaneously, right on time. True, they were still correct twice a day as they say. But life was a different experience without these two time pieces.

I noticed that I really didn’t need to check the time when I got up in the morning. Daylight happens about 5:30 to 6:00 and I wake up. Armando arrives about 8:00 most days, and I found that the morning routine of shower, dress, blow on my oatmeal to cool it and eat it, clean the cat box, and activate the walkie talkies pretty much gives me a few minutes to spare until Jabo announces the arrival of Armando’s bus. After some initial adjustment, punctuality and clock-fixation-angst became moot.

I noticed that I reliably get hungry for lunch about noon. I don’t need a clock for supper either, as Jabo, the cats, and the chickens and our own bellies relay that information. Law and Order comes on the TV just before dark every day of the year here near the equator. Later in the evening after I’ve checked email, etc., I spend an hour or so in the dark in the hammock on the patio. Our watchdog Jabo and I bond and play, and when he has had his fill, this long-legged dog gets up in one of the plastic chairs near me, curls into a ball, and takes a cat nap. At the appropriate time, both he and I decide that it is bedtime and I head for bed and he heads for his crate.

Here’s a photo of our watchdog, Jabo:

I've got time on my hands. Go ahead. Make my day.

Who needs clocks when you are retired and living in the tropics? No one, as far as I can tell.

But the other day when we were checking out the Discovery store in the city, they had clocks. Lots and lots of clocks, nearly an entire aisle full of clocks, and they were cheap. With so many clocks, I thought that maybe they were selling the clocks cheap so that we would be lulled into paying a Time Service Provider a monthly fee for the time. If you don’t pay, they stop the clocks and then what would we do? It’s like cell phone vendors who include the phone at no cost just so you will pay monthly for the rest of your life. Nice work if you can get it.

I thought again about my idea for an invention. I would like to have a digital wristwatch that every second, or even better randomly, simply flashes “NOW.” “NOW.” “NOW.” It could be programmable in 17 fonts and 28 languages. An aqua neon display would be nice.

Still in the clock aisle of Discovery, there were round clocks, oval clocks, square clocks, and one clock where it looked like all the numbers had fallen off the face and landed at the bottom of the clock. I remember that my father said that time was circular and that clocks should be round. Period. He was an architect and also objected to front doors that didn’t fit with the architecture of the house. He called them Door Of The Month Club doors. But I digress.

So we looked at each other, Cynthia and I, and one of us, I can’t remember who, declared that something was missing and that it was time (4:19 precisely) to replace the clocks. So we did. $5.99 each.

Given those few weeks of clock freedom, I now find that clocks are somewhat of an intrusion. I think I liked not knowing for sure, depending on my own inner timekeeper and the rhythm of the natural world all around us. Now when I pass those two beacons of fleeting seconds, minutes, and hours, I do my best to avert my eyes. But it doesn’t always work, like when you rubberneck past an accident scene. Try as a you might, the magnet draws the eyes.

On another somewhat time-related theme, I recently told Cynthia a few stories from my military boot camp experience many, many years ago. I told her how I, a mid-height white kid from New England and Shelly, a very tall black kid from the south side of Chicago, hit it off. He looked out for me, but I’m not sure what I did for him. Maybe I taught him how to be superlative but invisible, to not stand out, to blend in, meld if you will. It seemed safer that way. For a long time, I had a photo of us standing together, me up to his armpit with his arm swung over my head.

One night Shelly was standing watch and the Officer of the Day (OD) started climbing the stairs to our barrack. Shelly appropriately called out, “Halt, who goes there?” The OD hollered out, “Superman,” to which Shelly snapped back, “Well fly your ass up here and get i-dentified.” I can’t remember the outcome of the exchange, although I can imagine Shelly ended up on the wrong end of that schtick.

Toward the end of our twelve weeks of boot camp, it was time for our off-base liberty. Near Chicago, Shelly invited me home to his house. Being 1967 and the recent race riots around the country, I was concerned. But Shelly told me just to stick close to him and nothing would happen to me. So I went along. His parents and family treated me well, even warning me to what chitlins were made of. I remember that the whole bunch of us packed into their car and we went to the movies. I remember that his sister and I flirted a bit and we sat next to each other.

Now here is where the topic of time comes in. I told Cynthia that we saw the movie, Shaft. I remember seeing the big poster for the movie. I remember the popcorn. I remember the family talking about wanting to see the movie. But Cynthia said to me, “Shaft didn’t come out until 1971.” (She knows that trivia.)

Dumbstruck, I had to Google it and sure enough, 1971 it was, not 1967. (She had that “I told you so” look on her face.) But it was such a crystal clear memory, just as if it had happened, well, forty-five years ago. It begs the question, “What else don’t I remember correctly?” Was I in boot camp in 1967 or 1971? If I am ever in court, should I just automatically respond, “I don’t recall, your honor.” Remember Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes? “I know nu-thinggg!” Carl Sagan might ask the question, “Did the past really happen at all or are we just hallucinating? Is the present really happening?” Greater minds than mine will have to figure that out. Maybe there’s an app for that.

I now understand how three people can witness an accident or a crime and report three different versions of what happened. “He wore a red baseball cap.” “No, it was beige.” “No, he wasn’t wearing a hat.”

I have to question even more. Did I really graduate high school as salutatorian? Did I almost die in hurricane Camille in Biloxi Mississippi? Did I really used to live in the United States of America? (Answer to this last one, “Yes.” I had to check my passport.)

I have to say that this has really shaken me. I’ve never smoked pot in my life, so I know the Shaft experience wasn’t a drug-induced fantasy. I was a real fan of The Twilight Zone; maybe I was pulled unknowingly into an episode. Who knows? Who knows?

So I’m wondering. Has this ever happened to you? (I’m looking for company and moral support here folks.) Feel free to relate your mal-memories in the comment section below. Please be cool; I’ll delete stuff I don’t like. It’s my blog.

Cynthia usually reads my posts before I publish them and does a little proofing. She said it was about time I wrote this one. Good one, Cynthia.