Thermal Mass: A Parable

(Yeah, I typed this offline and then logged on just long enough to squirt it onto the blog)

People talk up thermal mass as if it’s the answer to keeping warm in winter. And it certainly has its charms – the Secret Lair has next to none, and while it’s easy to heat up it also easily goes back to cold. Winter mornings in the Lair are no big treat, it’s shiver in a coat until the fire builds up to heat the iron, and the iron heats the air. Truth is the more I insulate the Lair, the less unpleasant the winters become overall. Which is why I look back on winters in Michigan, where I grew up, with ironic nostalgia. Michigan has its flaws as a place to be from, but they do have central heat and lots of insulation there.

People have told me over and over that what I need is more “thermal mass.” That is, I should pile rocks or something around my woodstove to catch and hold the heat overnight. It’s not a bad idea at all, in fact I did a little of that last winter and plan to do it again now: I’ll take all my leftover tiles from the floor job and stack them neatly in the corner behind the stove. I can’t stack rocks around and under the stove, as someone suggested, because I have to be able to pull it out to clean the stovepipe – I’m not giving that up. But I can do a little of it, and will. I’ve got lots of heavy ceramic tiles left over, since I bartered D&L’s entire surplus and they had lots. I had enough tiles to floor three Lairs.

It’s of D&L I want to write because Monday L said something bearing directly on the subject of thermal mass. She said – on September 26 in a latitude not known for long, vicious winters – “We’ll probably need to start running the pellet stove this week.”

Regular readers know that D&L built a house with lots of thermal mass. 4000 square feet of thick adobe under the floor. Every interior wall – even the closets! – eighteen inches thick, made of earthbags. Exterior walls of strawbales coated inside and out with adobe. They’re lounging around in robes and slippers at five in the morning while I’m shivering in layered sweatshirts and my canvas coat, praying for the fire to catch. It takes a long time for all that mass to dump its stored heat, and it’s great while it lasts.

But there’s a downside. D&L burn fuel constantly in winter, not in spite of all that thermal mass but because of it. They don’t dare let their house get cold. It would be really hard to warm it up again.

I’m not saying this because I think thermal mass is a bad thing. It’s better in summer than winter. This last June I suffered through several 100+ degree days – indoors. D&L’s house never got warmer than 80, and rarely that warm. Oh, it was great – when I visited I didn’t want to leave. And in winter it certainly smooths out the temperature cycles. But somebody’s always got to be there to stoke the fire, or refill the pellet hopper or the propane tank. If you ever let it get cold, it would be the work of several days to warm it up again.

So I’m not saying thermal mass is a bad thing, not at all. But it’s also not an unmixed blessing. If I ever left during winter I could drain the pipes and let the cabin go to ambient temperature, knowing it would only take an hour or two to warm up. If they ever do it, they’ll need to hire me to run their stoves for them while they’re gone.

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Three Point Seven Five, and so I must leave.

The little gauge on the hot spot said 3.75 last time I looked so on a starvation diet of the Internet, being very careful to turn the damned thing off when you’re not using it, one can get by with .1 “gig” per day. That would be enough for forty days per month, and most months aren’t that long. So I should be okay once it renews at the turn of the month. To show you how schizophrenic I can be about this, I was surfing knife ads on Amazon earlier this morning, but now I’m typing this post off-line. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little clichés, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and one-legged hermits.

But it’s clear I’m screwed for this coming week unless I want to find out what happens when you exceed the 4 “gig” limit. I don’t especially want to learn that, so I’m shutting down the blog until October 1 or whenever Verizon says I can start it up again, whichever comes first.

In the meantime, discuss: Mora knives – why so many great reviews for such consistently inexpensive knives? What’s the difference between a mora and a puukko? And does anybody make a combination of a Mora with a first-rate blade and a decent sheath? I’ve been carrying an old Schrade LB7 for the past couple of years because it keeps the best edge of any knife I own except (strangely, because I’m not generally impressed with Cold Steel knives) my CS UWK, which is too stupid big for everyday carry. But I’d really like to go back to a fixed blade.

See ya – I’m not going away, I’m just stepping out of the room for a moment.

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There’s still a lot of work to do, we’re no way done. But the part that required us to move right frickin’ out is complete, and well done.

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Little Bear has been a very sad puppy…

…these past few days, as in his life with stick-in-the-mud ol’ Daddy he has grown to expect his routine to remain more or less dependable. Then when Crazy Daddy showed up and started doing terrible things to LB’s Lair, culminating with his actually being expected to sleep somewhere else, well. You just can’t depend on anything any more.

So early this morning we went to check on the Lair…

To finish the final corner I had to take the door right off the hinges, a decision I resisted until the last minute. But it was that or leave the corner untiled until after all the other thinset had cured and I could move back in. Trouble is, by the time I got to that part it was already getting late in the afternoon, so putting the door back on would have to wait until today. I wondered whether I’d have to fight something for ownership of my own house, but so far there are no obvious new boarders.

LB was happy! Happy! He ran inside and parked himself right where his bed is supposed to be, and at first flatly refused to move back out.

And there you have it, as close to a first official photo of the new floor as I can arrange with the crappy camera on my phone.

Technically I’m not supposed to even walk on it for 24 hours, exacerbated by the fact that the overnight temp got down into the 30’s last night – with the Lair wide open to the cold. So I’m going to play it safe and wait till this evening before we move back in. I’ll probably mop the kitchen and woodstove corner tonight – yes, I now possess an actual mop – and then start grouting those parts in the morning. The grouting part will go in sections more or less as the spirit moves me, unless it turns out to be a lot quicker and easier than my last grouting job did. In my admittedly limited experience, not even stuccoing can match grouting for sheer mind-numbery.

But yeah! I’m very pleased with myself. After sitting around feeling blah most of the summer, this past month has been a burst of activity leaving me in much better shape. I’ve got a ludicrous oversupply of photons for my batteries, a literally bulging woodshed, and a floor that doesn’t reflect the grand traditions of the Snuffy Smith school of architecture. Uncle Joel happier now. Also very sore.

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Ah, late monsoon weather. I’d have sworn it was going to rain and drip all afternoon. But the rain stopped and by 2 the sky was clearing. By 3 there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Which is good, because I spent a lot more time with the tile saw than expected trying to get things right rather than “good enough,” which a few years later when you’re better and pickier is just embarrassing.

It took the better part of three hours to do a couple of dozen square feet, and unfortunately finishing so late in the afternoon meant I ended up leaving the door off the Lair overnight which I am not happy about, but the floor is completely tiled. Think I’ll make a late morning of it so as not to push that “don’t walk on it for 24 hours” myth too seriously, but that’s okay: If I can get into town in the late morning I can (shudder) buy a mop. Which I now badly need.

And then I can start on the part of tiling I dislike even more than sticking tiles down: Grouting.

But for tonight Uncle Joel is pleased with himself. Also tired and sore in the back and for some reason the stump. Joel’s going to wash, change clothes and go collapse now.

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Well, the weather didn’t cooperate. You’d ask why that matters, since the tiles are being set indoors – and whatever other flaws the Secret Lair may incorporate, the roof does not leak.

Yeah, I wondered the same thing, until I ran out of thinset. Then the thought of spending 15 minutes in the pouring rain mixing more failed to possess any charm at all no matter how I weighed the pros and cons. Hell, for the last two rows I’ll be working halfway out the door, so I’d still be laying tile in the rain. I got soaked just cleaning my tools, and anyway I’m not sure … are cordless drills waterproof? Whatever.

Okay: I got a late start this morning because of unloading and stacking wood pellets with D&L. But still a good start once I got going, rounding the edges of the woodstove corner with half a dozen cut pieces. That was good, because after that flurry of activity with the tile saw the clouds started rolling in. Since I’m completely off grid, I need sun if I’m to spend a lot of time using a power saw.

Counting cut pieces I got 41 tiles stuck down before running out of thinset. Leaving a mere 24 to go, 15 of which are full size! And I had to quit by noon on account of rain. Grr.

Well, maybe I can go back after lunch. I really want to, because two hours’ labor this afternoon means I can move back home tomorrow rather than the day after. And I want my Lair back: frankly I’ve grown too old for this ‘camping’ thing to be at all attractive.

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Okay, well, I guess there won’t be photographs after all.

Having left my broken camera’s mem card at Ian’s, I rummaged around in the drawer for another this morning but it doesn’t now contain any pictures so I guess – surprise! – I made a mistake.

While scraping thinset I’d have sworn I scraped yesterday, I was put in mind of how putting a teenage boy in charge of accomplishing some necessary but boring and uncomfortable task unsupervised is a surefire recipe for disappointment. I know this because I was that boy, and I recall often being on the receiving end of my father’s aggravation since he never seems to have learned that lesson in my case. Yesterday afternoon I must have channeled my inner teenage boy because I didn’t accomplish as much prep work as I’d have sworn I did. The plan for this morning was breakfast, sweep up yesterday’s scraped thinset, then move furniture around. It took a little longer than anticipated but not too bad.

It’s remarkable how just moving a few things around has transformed my safe friendly Lair into an unfamiliar place one goes to do work. That’s one of the downsides of living in a one-room cabin, I guess. But if I stay with it today we’ll be sleeping in our own beds tomorrow night.

As of now – you’ll just have to imagine the pix – I have tiled a baseline stretching the length of the Lair’s habitable bits, the entire kitchen and desk/chair corner, and most – but critically not all – the woodstove corner. Having eaten breakfast, I grabbed coffee and dog food then shuffled furniture around from the untiled to the tiled area. Counting pieces I had to cut I laid 45 tiles yesterday and have quite a lot more than that to do today but most of it is open space so it should go more quickly.

I start at the woodstove corner and work my way backward toward the door! A plan! The sun is still with me and the tile saw is working well. No good reason I can’t finish laying tile today.

Unfortunately somewhere in there I must pause and go help D&L unload a pallet or two of wood pellets. I hope they’ll be ready early because I don’t want to get a call right after mixing a bucket of thinset, y’know?

In fact I should call them right after finishing chicken chores. Which I’m on my way to do this minute. Or after I finish this cup of coffee, whichever comes last.

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If you want to make LB very, very sad…

Just tell him, “Buddy, the first thing we have to move today is you.” and then do that, and then throw his bed out of the cabin, and then shuffle all the furniture around, and then start doing something bad to the floor.

He spent all morning under the Lair not making a sound, and now we’re over at Ian’s BOL and Antique Weapons Emporium having lunch…

…and he’s just not a happy camper. Even though at the moment we’re pretty much literally camping.

I did okay this morning but I’m trying to psych myself up to going back for one more round. I didn’t quite hit the ‘best case’ before running out of thincoat in the bucket; if I go back for one more round I’ll be able to grout the corners where the furniture and the woodstove go, then move everything back where it belongs and tile the center section all the way to the door. One more session and I’ll be in very good shape for tomorrow.

Yup. One more session – a fairly short session! And I’ll be golden.

Uh huh. That’s what I should do.

The good news is that I’ve found an activity I dislike even more than painting. The bad news is that, having now finished lunch, I should go do more of it. The worse news is that, now that I’ve applied the seat of my pants to the seat of a chair, I probably won’t do that.

Also: This morning I packed up a bunch of stuff I knew I’d need elsewhere, once I couldn’t walk on the Lair’s floor. But I didn’t think it through and make a list. So now I have my filter cone and cup, but no coffee. I have LB’s food bowl, but no dog food. Yes, there are B-plans for both those commodities. But I shouldn’t need B-plans, I can stand in the Lair’s door and see both things.

Also, I should have acquired booze.

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I know, I know. We’re drifting apart.

I’m spending very little time online, this will probably continue for…well, until October. Because bandwidth limits somehow become more stringent when you’ve got 4 gig than when you’ve got 750 meg. I dunno: This modern logic, it escapes me.

Also today the Lair officially becomes uninhabitable because the floor mustn’t be walked on, so LB and I are moving out. Not even sure I’m bringing the computer with me, but maybe.

Thanks, btw, to those of you who emailed me yesterday. Apparently the spam locker problem, while real, doesn’t happen in every case. Plus it looks as though I’m going to end up going back to two annoying email addresses, same as always. Ah, modern conveniences. I could never be secretary of state, I don’t have the technical prowess.

At least I don’t have this guy’s problem keeping my practices in line with my rhetoric…

#BlackLivesMatter Leader Robbed – Demands More Police Protection

Good luck with that, Jerry.

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Ah ha! Well! That’s a problem.

It seems, thanks to Big Brother who thought to go look, that my emails are going out just fine: They’re just landing in spam folders thanks to the tag.

Pee pee. Ca ca. Other expressions of disgust and dissatisfaction with the world.

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Joel’s never-ending narrative battle against entropy

It’s a cool and cloudy September day, which would have been perfect for cutting wood. Really wish I hadn’t blown myself out doing it yesterday in the sun.

Be that as it may I did, so I scheduled today for light chores while I kind of heal up. Two stops on the circuit involved screwing things down better than they were before…

A few weeks ago a mildly windy day pulled up the windward side of Former Neighbor J’s greenhouse wall. The screws came out of the apparently softening baseboard wood. I put it back together with more aggressive screws, but always wanted to get some more washers and do it more. So today I got around to accomplishing that before the next windstorm ripped the whole thing to shreds.

Remember this? It’s Landlady’s new solar panel rack. I have no argument with the design, and she wasn’t shorted on cement or lumber, but the means of fastening the lumber to the cement perplexed me. The rack is braced admirably in every direction except the one in which the wind will push it, and I can only assume he just didn’t bring enough lag bolts.

So I got more lag bolts and washers, and now all the pedestals have four bolts each rather than two. It may not have been necessary, I’m not a construction engineer, but I feel better now.

And I think I’m going to take the rest of the day off. My back is still sore and my stump is still throbbing a little. Give it a little rest and it’ll be better, push it and it can suddenly get way worse.

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Private to correspondents…

I’m beginning to suspect I have an email problem. Since switching email addresses I have sent emails and received emails, but I have never received a response to an email. This makes me suspect there’s a setting I left unswitched. Since some of those hoped-for responses are business, it makes me concerned.

If you have received an email from me in the past 2+ weeks and sent a response, I probably didn’t receive it. Could you drop me a quick note to say so?

Thanks. We now return you to your regularly-scheduled blog, already in progress.

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QoD: “It doesn’t matter what comes out of my mouth” edition

Ladies and Gentlemen, Senator Harry (excuse me, I landed on my head) Reid:

“It’s hard to believe in America today an FBI terror suspect not allowed to fly on an airplane can walk into a gun story in Las Vegas, New York City, anyplace, and legally purchase explosives and assault weapons. But it’s true because Republicans refuse to close the terror gap loophole.”

Possibly for the first time in his career, Sen. Reid has said something with which I agree: It is indeed hard to believe. But I must plan my road trip to NYC immediately, so that I may legally purchase some of these explosives and assault weapons of which he speaks.

From the same link, the new Dem anti-gun bill would have prevented the latest terror attack, which did not involve guns.

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The Really Great Dictator

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Joel the Sweaty

So today I went from this…

To this…

And of course this…

And I still didn’t make it to the top. But I’m not going to worry about it for a while. Maybe I’ll get a wild hair and cut up another four pallets, just so I can say all five tiers are all the way to the top. If so, I will surely photograph it. And maybe print it out and hang it on my wall.

Now I must let my back heal, and then get back to work on the Lair’s floor.

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Slo-mo: The best thing that ever happened to gun videos

Busy day today, just how busy I’m not yet sure but I’m currently obsessing over a pile of old splintered wood. Plus there’s a trip to town I probably ought to make even though I don’t want to, and I’m awaiting a series of emails concerning a possible new paying gig I could really use right now.

So I won’t be hanging out at the blog this morning. But while I’m gone, please meditate on the following koan: If somebody shoots at you with a .44 Magnum, ballistic gel is neither cover nor concealment.

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Ladies, please. Punctuation is meaning.


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Gotta slack off on this “Internet” stuff…

It’s September 17 and according to this really cool hotspot I’ve been using for the past two weeks…

…I’ve somehow used up 3 gigs of my 4-gig monthly bandwidth limit.

I don’t really see how that can be, since the download limit on that Wildblue account I suffered under was 750 MEG and somehow I got through most – though certainly not all – months without offending the Wildblue Nannies. I haven’t suddenly started downloading movies in the past two weeks, nor indeed have I done anything out of the ordinary but every day I see my usage according to this chart right here soar upward.

So to keep from finding out what happens when you hit the top of the thermometer, I’ve got to back off the stick. Which, I emphasize, I wasn’t really leaning on to begin with.

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Secondary use works fine…

When this area was bought up by some real estate people and laid out as residential plots, they bulldozed a bunch of halfhearted roads here and there. Those that were never used have pretty much gone back to young versions of what they looked like before the bulldozers, and those that get used still look like roads. Then of course there are the ad hoc roads such as those people like me tend to make: Wind around the junipers and the gullies and big rocks often enough, and your Jeep tracks just sort of become roads. Sort of.

The junipers that didn’t get bulldozed down don’t care about any of this, they grow slowly but they grow and eventually they start encroaching on both sorts of roads. There are three or four I’ve wanted to cut back for some time but my chainsaw is put up for the season and it was always too much trouble to mix gas, tune up the saw, tighten up the chain, drag the saw and all its support equipment out to the boonies just to lop a few inconvenient limbs, then bring it home, clean it, drain it, run the carb dry, store it all safely away again…

This is an application pretty much made for a cordless reciprocating saw, is all I’m saying.



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